Strange marriage

What is the likelihood of two couples with identical names being married in the same quarter?  Well, I guess if they were John Smith and Mary Jones it would not be such a surprise,  but in this case they were Josiah Cooper and Edith Maria Birch.

watling st os 1900 1901 1903
Watling Street, Brownhills. Cooper’s farm circled. Ordnance Survey revised 1900-1901, reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

Josiah, born at Pelsall about 1847, was a farmer, resident at Watling Street, Brownhills in southern Staffordshire.  His bride was also living in Brownhills.  In about 1896, aged just sixteen years, Edith bore her first child, a son named Josiah.  The following year a second son, William, was born.  Ordinary enough so far:  these would not be the first or last to be born out of wedlock.

Josiah and Edith decided to get married and in July 1899 had the banns read at the nearby parish church of Norton Canes, following family tradition.  The parish register, image online via Findmypast, tells that the banns were read on the 2nd, 9th and 16th of July, but there is no record of actual  marriage.

A search on Ancestry finds and entry of marriage for the July-September quarter between just one couple whose names were Josiah Cooper and Edith Maria Birch.  Oddly, it was registered at a place named Ecclesall Bierlow, which covered much of south west Sheffield, Yorkshire.  But wait!  What?  Yorkshire?  Whatever for?

I looked in the censuses for Josiah Cooper to see if, by some strange coincidence, there were two couples of the same name.  Oddly, there was a Josiah Cooper at Ecclesall and he was born about 1845 at Bloxwich, Staffordshire, but a stone’s throw from Pelsall.  “Could this be the same man?”, I wondered.  Eventually, I found one Josiah at Ecclesall and another at Brownhills in the same census.  Now it would not be unique to find the same person apparently in two places at once, but this seemed a stretch, especially given that the Eccleshall Josiah was married to Sarah.  “Bigamy” flashed across my mind, but was quickly rejected.

In 1891 Josiah (Ecclesall), an auger manufacturer, lived on Ecclesall Road, somewhere near the Pomona Hotel, which is short way south west of Sheffield city centre, on what is now the A625 (I have actually been along that road).  The parish church of Heeley was not far away and I can see that Josiah and family might have been regulars there.  Judging by the occupations of most of his neighbours this was a well-to-do area.  Perhaps he had some influence and could vouch for Josiah and Edith to help them get a license.

Being born within a mile or so of each other I wondered if the two Josiahs were related, but as far as I can work out they didn’t share a grandfather.  Still, it seems something of a coincidence that of all the places the young couple could elope to they ended up in Sheffield.  I wonder if they went by Midland Railway from the old Brownhills Station.

To resolve the situation I looked for the Ecclesall marriage (1899 Jul-Sep Ecclesall Bierlow 9c 534) and found the image on Findmypast.  The wedding took place at the parish church of Heeley, now a part of Sheffield, on 17 August.  All of the details fit: both were resident at Brownhills, Josiah at Watling Street and Edith at New Road.  He was 52, widower, farmer; she 19, spinster.  His father was Stephen, deceased, clerk; hers George, labourer.  They were married by license, presumably because Edith was not yet 21 (“of full age”).

heeley parish church geograph terry robinson
Heeley Parish Church. Geograph, copyright Terry Robinson, Creative Commons.

The witnesses were George Henry Davies and Mary Ethel Davies.  They seem not to have been local to either Sheffield or Brownhills.

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