Mid June is a popular time for weddings. The prospect of fine weather always helps of course although in Great Britain and the UK one can never count on a good day, even in summer. But I guess there's more chance of sunshine in June than at other times and these days, of course, the photographs of the day will be the lasting memories for many couples so a bit of sun goes a long way to making a happy Wedding Day!
In the past year, a few of my friends have had to postpone or scale down their wedding day plans because of the coronavirus pandemic restrictions, and I know for some that has been rather traumatic.
But I also know for many couples who've had to change their plans it has meant they have focussed more on the day and the commitment they are making rather than the 'party'. And that has to be a good thing, doesn't it?
Why am I thinking about weddings? Well ... it's because it was on this day - June 16th - in 1855 that a couple called William Booth and Catherine Mumford were married in a very scaled down simple ceremony in London.
Stand by for a blatant plug for the first book I wrote!
William and Catherine Booth were the founders of The Salvation Army, which is now a global Christian church and charity movement working in more than 130 countries, but on their wedding day they were still 'seeking' their future. William was a struggling Christian evangelist and his travels across England had kept him and his fiancée apart for many months.
There are no photos of the day itself, although the couple did get photographs taken across the years so we know what they looked like when they were young.
Their marriage would be the start not just of a busy family life (eventually they produced eight children) but also of their shared Christian service which would take them around the country, working first in the Methodist Church and finally in their own evangelistic ministry which would lead them back to London a decade later. It was in 1865 that they would create The East London Christian Mission which in 1878 became The Salvation Army.
Since their first meeting in 1852 William Booth and Catherine Mumford had regularly written letters and notes to each other and that correspondence continued throughout their marriage, as they were often separated by work and circumstances. And it was those letters, which are held in the British Library in London, which inspired me to write my first book.
'William and Catherine, the love story of the founders of The Salvation Army told through their letters' was published by Monarch (Lion Hudson) books in 2013 and it draws not just on that personal correspondence but also on my imagination.
Included in the book are extracts from the letters, with kind permission of the Booth Family and the British Library. As I read their notes and letters I learned, I think, a little about Catherine and William's characters and so, in addition to extracts from many of the couple's letters and the historical narrative, my story also includes some 'imaginative' excerpts - my 'storytelling', my ideas on how they would have reacted to certain circumstances and events in their lives, some insignificant but others which are important in the history of The Salvation Army.
Which brings me to June 16 1855 and that quiet wedding in London. This excerpt, this little 'story', is in Chapter 7 of my book and is my imagining, based on what I know happened on the day and my understanding of the couple involved, of what transpired on that rather chilly day in mid June.
The sun emerged from behind the early summer clouds as Catherine and William stepped over the threshold of the Stockwell Green Congregational Church.
Catherine clutched her new husband’s hand, feeling small yet secure. William looked down at Catherine’s sweet face and smiled. He could feel her shaking ever so slightly and a rush of protectiveness towards this woman overwhelmed him. He could hardly believe that, after all this time and so many obstacles, they were at last man and wife.
It had been a short and solemn service and blessing. Perfect. Catherine had been pale and had spoken quietly, her voice quivering as she repeated her vows of love and obedience. In contrast, William had found that his voice, which he was accustomed to using to rather larger congregations, had rung loudly around the church. As his “I do!” echoed around the building it had provoked a little giggle from his beloved. Then, in the cavernous chapel, William and Catherine had knelt at the altar and pledged themselves to God and to each other.
Behind Catherine, William noticed that his father-in-law, John Mumford, and his sister Emma, the only witnesses to the solemn ceremony, were now exiting the building and squinting in the watery sunshine. For a moment he regretted the absence of the rest of his family. Of course, it was unlikely that Ann would attend, but he had hoped that his mother and her namesake, his sister Mary, all those miles away in Nottingham, might have been able to make it, even at such short notice. However, he and Catherine had been thrilled when Emma had sent word that they would be able to afford for her, at any rate, to attend. He knew Catherine’s day was also slightly saddened by the fact that her own mother had been disinclined to attend the ceremony, but, as he held Catherine’s little gloved hand in his, he felt a rush of love and appreciation for her commitment to him.
Catherine pulled her shawl closer around her neck and shoulders. She shivered again. Even with layers of petticoats under her skirts she still felt the chill of the day. Maybe she should, after all, have worn her coat. The few days of milder weather in May hadn’t lasted and it was still chilly, even for mid-June.
Catherine turned to the Revd David Thomas, who had so kindly agreed to preside over this most sacred of ceremonies.
“Mr Thomas, thank you!” she announced, grasping his hand and shaking it wholeheartedly. No simpering little handshake for this gentleman. She remembered their previous debates and discussions about the place of women in church and society, and she knew he would expect this forwardness from her, even on this day.
Father Mumford was calling from the street. The Stockwell New Chapel was tucked away from the main thoroughfare and he had a cab waiting. William, Catherine, and Emma took their leave of the minister and made their way to the horse drawn vehicle. It was but a short drive back home to Russell Street in Brixton, where, regardless of her unwillingness to attend the actual service, William was sure that Mrs Mumford would be waiting with some light refreshments. Whatever her views on the marriage, and he still wasn’t quite sure of her, she loved her daughter unconditionally and would, he was sure, come around.
William reached out his hand to Catherine. She grasped it and he helped her into the carriage. Whatever the future held now, they were one. The Lord would determine their way, and, whatever happened, they would face it together.
If you fancy reading more, my book is still available all over the place, including from the usual online sites as well as the Lion Hudson website.
*image The Salvation Army Heritage Centre