Marry in haste

“Marry in haste, repent at leisure.” (English proverb.)

In 1873 Richard Gude, of Valleywood Farm, died.[1] He left an estate worth £2,378, an amount that could be worth up to £3,479,000.00 today. Gude left one executrix, Harriet Hone, who had been his cook.

Harriet came from a farming family in West End. She was always a bit economical with the truth where her exact age was concerned, but at this point she was 39 years old, and a spinster.

Her marital status was important. A wife’s legal identity was submerged into her husband’s, so that on marriage the man was absolutely entitled to all his wife’s belongings.

Under the terms of the Married Women’s Property Act of 1870, married women had some rights to their own earnings. Later the Married Women’s Property Act of 1882 gave women control over property they inherited, or brought into the marriage. But this was 1873. There were ways in which a woman could protect herself financially, but Harriet doesn’t seem to have known them.

Harriet had been given an income and home for life. A friendly letter from John Gude Wenman encouraged her to “enjoy the fresh air of your healthful common, & prepare your House and Garden to receive your nice plants.”

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Harriet’s home, Valleywood Farm,in 1947.(Image from Britain from Above, image EAW011887)

All she had to do was to either stay single, or marry wisely.

She did neither. Harriet married Frank Cutler, an 18-year-old waiter from Chobham, on November 13th, 1873.

A notice proclaiming this was proudly put in the London Evening Standard. She must have assumed that she could keep control of her recent wealth and her new husband. Frank was probably accustomed to strong women. (At a time when most women were listed in the census as having no occupation his redoubtable mother, Susannah, had an awestruck note beside her entry in the 1861 census; “Farmer of 40 acres of land employing 2.”)

Frank signed a document allowing Harriet to act independently of him in business matters. Unfortunately we know of this because a year later on 24th November 1874 a letter was sent to Harriet rescinding this. “We beg to inform you that Mr. Frank Cutler has written to us withdrawing his authority for you to continue to act alone as Executrix of the late R Gude.”

By this time the marriage had collapsed, and the couple were living apart. Frank was ensconced at Valleywood, or “Chobham Common”, managing the farm his wife had inherited. She had fled to Southampton, and had taken shelter with friends, Mr and Mrs. Cushen.

Both Frank and Harriet employed solicitors, and bitter letters were flying to and fro. Harriet was desperately attempting to disentangle herself from matrimony, complaining “her life would be a perfect burden to her if she returned to her husband.” She claimed that Frank, still only 19, was idle, living without a proper occupation.

His solicitor replied that Frank had no desire to be separated from his wife, but if she insisted “It is therefore a question of what is a fair allowance for Mr. Cutler.” The problem was greater in that nothing could be done until Frank came of age. He was under 21.

The fact that they were living apart was frowned upon. Even the solicitors believed that they should resume married life; “in every sense of the word it is our duty to effect such an object.”

But Harriet wanted a divorce, which was shocking. Before the Divorce Act of 1857, this could only be granted by a private Act of Parliament. After 1857 it was permitted, but only on grounds of adultery, and the woman had to have added proof of cruelty too. Her solicitors were horrified; it was “better to avoid the scandal of a divorce.”

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A ballad about the Divorce Bill of 1857. (From Broadside ballads online from the Bodleian Library.)

Finally, in August 1876, a Deed of Separation was drawn up between the two. Frank had moved out of Valleywood. He got £1000, a vast amount then, and he agreed to pay any of Gude’s outstanding debts. Harriet got £485 under the Deed, and kept her leasehold and freehold property. Frank agreed that his wife could live apart, and that he would not visit her without her consent.

Frank went back to his old trade, and became tavern keeper at the Horn Tavern in the City of London. His purchase left him short of money, sadly a sign of things to come. (His solicitor’s bill had been £535.) By September 1877 he was instituting a bankruptcy case, and was summoned to a meeting of his creditors. Finally he went back to working in hotels.

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The Horn Tavern, Knightrider Street, City of London, where Frank was a tavern keeper. It is now the Centre Page. (Image courtesy of Centre Page public house, Knightrider Street.)

Harriet would not have known this. She died in Southampton in January 1877, and was brought back to be buried at West End, where she had been born. Her estate on her death was a fraction of her inheritance from Richard Gude; the wealth had trickled away through her fingers.

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Sources.

Surrey History Centre. 6200/(272) parts 3 and 4 of 17.

Allen Horstman, “Victorian divorce.” Croon and Helm, 1985.

Oxford Companion to the law. Oxford, 1980.

[1] The son of the Richard Gude who had protested about the enclosure of Chobham Place Woods.

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