Non-conformist Marriage by an Authorised Person

In previous posts in the 50 Marriage Mondays series, I have discussed the effect of laws on the process of marriage and the documents produced.  To recapitulate briefly, after Hardwicke’s Act of 1753, all forms of marriage in English law required:

  • prior notice of the marriage, recorded by banns, a certificate from the registrar or license from the diocese
  • that the parties are free and eligible to marry one another, sworn during the marriage ceremony
  • that the marriage is performed in a place and by an official authorised by the state.

Over time the dominance of the established Church of England was eroded and marriage law was amended.  The introduction of civil marriage by the Marriage Act 1836 brought in the procedures I discussed in ‘Civil Marriage and Witness Identification’.  Non-conformists could then choose either a Church of England or civil marriage, but their own religious ceremony still had no legal standing.  Examples of Baptist’s choices were included in ‘Religious Affiliation and Who’s the mom?’ and ‘Baptist Marriage and Birth records’.

This marriage was performed in a non-conformist Congregationalist church:

Marriage certificate - Davies, David Llewelyn & Coulson, Winifred Rose - annotated

Marriage certificate – Davies, David Llewelyn & Coulson, Winifred Rose.
Annotations in red show the wording that tells us this marriage was conducted by an Authorised Person

Bride: Winifred Rose Coulson
Groom: David Llewelyn Davis
Date: 20 April 1935
Location: Kingstanding Congregational Church, Brackenbury Road, Kingstanding

Notice that the official who signed the marriage register was neither a registrar nor an Anglican clergyman, but an Authorised Person.

What is an Authorised Person?

The Marriage Act 1898 was ‘An Act to amend the Law relating to the Attendance of Registrars at Marriages in Nonconformist Places of Worship’.  It allowed the governing body of licensed venues, such as non-conformist churches, to appoint an ‘authorised person’ with approval and supervision of the registrars.  Such a person was entrusted with performing the legal checks prior to a marriage, recording marriages in the venue’s register, safe-keeping of the registers and official forms, making returns to the General Register Office and associated paperwork.  The non-conformist minister was typically an obvious candidate for appointment as Authorised Person, but it could also be some other respected member of the church.  So, Perrin James Spooner was probably a Congregational minister.

The Kingstanding Congregational Church was a short distance from the bride’s home at 17 Twickenham Road, Erdington.  The church was demolished, but there is a photograph of it on Voices of Kingstanding, a treasure trove of oral and local history.

© Sue Adams  2013


5 Comments on “Non-conformist Marriage by an Authorised Person”

  1. Interesting post, Sue! I have been told that my grandfather acted as an ‘authorised person’ at the baptist chapel he attended, although he was not a minister. Must follow that up sometime….


    • Thanks Kirsty. As I examine commonly used records closely, I find that there is to them than I first thought. Still making new discoveries each day, but I have still not tracked down all the marriage legislation.


  2. […] Non-conformist Marriage by an Authorised Person […]


  3. Sue Downing says:

    Rev Perrin James Spooner was my grandfather. Yes, he was a Congregationalist Minister:)


    • Excellent!

      Do you know when your grandfather served as minister? Over what time period might we expect his signature to appear on marriage certificates?

      As far as I know, there is no congregationalist directory of clergy like ‘Crockfords Clerical Directory’ for anglicans. So, signatures on certificates is an alternative method of tracing a mininster’s career.


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