Picture of George Head

George Head

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I ATTENDED the Old Church at Manchester one Monday morning, in order to behold the solemnization of several marriages I had reason to suppose were then and there to take place. I had heard on the preceding Sunday the bans proclaimed as follows: For the first time of asking, sixty-five. For the second time, seventy-two. For the third time, sixty. Total, one hundred and ninety-seven.

Having been informed that it would be expedient to be on the spot at eight in the morning, I repaired thither at that hour. Operations, however, did not commence before ten. The latter is the usual time of proceeding to business, although in cases of persons married by license, eight o'clock is the hour.

A full quarter of an hour before the striking of the clock, two beadles in their parish liveries had taken ground opposite the church door, and a sufficient number of persons (chiefly young women) had assembled, whose curious and anxious looks testified that something extraordinary was about to take place. By this time also, suspicious-looking persons in pairs had begun to arrive on foot, whose countenances were scrutinized without mercy by the loiterers. As the church door was not open, everybody waited to be let in. The couples were all poor people, and as to the brides and bridegrooms, as few were dressed in special costume, and all were very generally attended by friends and relatives, it was not easy to say which was which. One party arrived at the church door belonging evidently (as everything in this world goes by comparison) to the higher classes, and though dragged by one solitary horse, they made an effort to outshine. The carriage was a narrow vis-a-vis fly, intended for two persons, though it now contained four, besides a fat man with bushy whiskers (probably the bride's brother) on the box with the coachman. Within, packed as close as they could possibly sit, on one side were the two bride-maids. Opposite sat the bride and bridegroom; the latter a spruce, sandy-haired young man, looking flushed and eager. One of his arms was round the waist of the young lady, on whom he bestowed glances of the very tenderest description. In fact, attitude and all considered, I hardly knew whether to compare him, in my mind, to the statue of Cupid regarding his Psyche,. or a Scotch terrier watching at a rathole. The coachman and his companion wore white favours; the former, meditating effect, inflicted some smart strokes of the whip on the horse, intending to bring him on his haunches with a jerk, but the poor jaded animal, evidently over driven, had sense enough to anticipate the object proposed, and stopped dead short a few paces before, by which both men on the box were very nearly pitched over his head. The people sat in the fly till the church door was opened, and then the ladies got out and tripped across the pavement into the church. They wore short petticoats and white satin bonnets, scooped out in the hind part, with sugar-loaf crowns, and their back hair underneath combed upward.

When all was ready and the church doors were opened, the clergyman and clerk betook themselves to the vestry, and the people who were about to be married and their friends seated themselves in the body of the church opposite the communion table, on benches which were placed there for the purpose. Not less than fifty people were assembled, among whom I took my seat quietly without being noticed. The party who had arrived upon wheels most exclusively paraded, in the mean time, up and down, (as if unwilling to identify themselves with the humbler candidates for matrimony,) in another part of the church. The people at first took their seats in solemn silence, each one inquisitively surveying his neighbour, but as the clergyman and clerk were some time in preparation, the men first began to whisper one to another, and the women to titter,, till by degrees they all threw off their reserve, and made audible remarks on the new comers. There was little mauvaise honte among the women, but of the men, poor fellows! some were seriously abashed; while among the hymeneal throng there seemed to prevail a sentiment that obtains pretty generally among their betters, namely, the inclination to put shy people out of conceit with themselves. Thus at the advance of a sheepish-looking bridegroom, he was immediately assailed on all sides with, Come in, man; what art afraid of? Nobody'll hurt thee: and then a general laugh went round in a repressed tone, but quite sufficient to confound and subdue the new comer.

Presently a sudden buzz broke out—" The clergyman's coming .'" and all was perfectly silent. About twelve couples were then to be married, the rest were friends and attendants. The former were called upon to arrange themselves all together round the altar. The clerk was an adept in his business, and performed the duties of his office in a mode admirably calculated to set the people at their ease, and direct the proceedings. In appointing them to their proper places, he addressed each in an intonation of voice particularly soft and soothing, and which carried with it the more of encouragement as he made use of no appellative but the Christian name of the person spoken to. Thus he proceeded: "Daniel and Phebe; this way, Daniel; take off your gloves, Daniel. William and Anne; no, Anne; here, Anne; father side, William. John and Mary; here, John; oh, John; gently, John." And then addressing them all together—"Now all of you give your hats to some one to hold." Although the marriage service appeared to me to be generally addressed to the whole party, the clergyman was scrupulously exact in obtaining the accurate responses from each individual. No difference was shown towards the exclusive party, other than by being placed on the extreme left.

After seeing the above interesting ceremonial, I went to the warehouse of a large establishment in the town, to see the operation of a powerful hydraulic press, employed in compressing bales of cotton yarn, previous to exportation to Russia. However well known and general in its use this wonderful machine may be, by which, with the assistance of a few gallons of water, so stupendous a power is obtained, there are few objects better worthy of the trouble of inspection.

When I entered the warehouse there were two presses in an apartment on the ground floor, the larger of which was about to be put in operation. The iron plate on which the bales were raised and pressed against the upper part of the machine, was about five feet six inches long by three feet six broad. As the workmen had just returned from dinner, no other preparations were at the time visible, except the two presses, fixtures in the apartment, but as soon as they were ready to begin, a signal having been made to those in an apartment above, a shower of brown paper parcels, each weighing exactly ten pounds, suddenly rolled thumping and thundering down, along a funnel nearly perpendicular, with a tremendous clatter, upon the floor. These parcels contained each thirty skeins of yarn, and as each bale consists of a hundred, it consequently weighs one thousand pounds.

The first operation, that of placing the parcels in order, so as to form the figure of the bale, was performed with wonderful adroitness, and, at the same time, apparently in the most careless manner; the parcels being tossed about from one man to the other in forming each layer, as if their position were a matter of chance altogether; yet they were handled so quickly, that the whole hundred were piled in a very few seconds in a cubic form, a thin shaking of straw and a few loose sticks being introduced between each layer. The performance seemed the more void of regular design, as the layers contained unequal numbers of parcels, some of sixteen, and others seventeen, though the interstices were arranged so as to give every layer a similar periphery. This inequality in the layers was what one would not have expected to see as a practical example in the theory of packing, exercised by professed artists. To the force of the hydraulic press it was committed, by squeezing all together, to reconcile such minor differences.