English Wedding: An Extravagant One in 1853

Details from an English wedding in “high life” happened in the ancient parish of Prestwich-cum-Oldham in Lancashire in 1853 at the parish church, St Mary the Virgin. The extravagant wedding, which was “Old English” in style took place between 26-year-old Dudley Clarke Fitzgerald de Ros, 23rd Baron de Ros (equerry to the Prince Consort) and 21-year-old Lady Elizabeth Grey Egerton, daughter of Earl and Countess of Wilton, described as beautiful, accomplished, and amiable.

Parish church if St Mary the Virgin in Prestwich. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Because this old fashioned English wedding was such a social event and because it involved so many well-known people, details were publicized in the Manchester Guardian and then republished in other newspapers. Among the interesting details are the following provided almost verbatim:

“The English wedding morning was fine and bright, and, at an early hour, the roads leading to Heaton Park and to Prestwich were crowded with thousands of holiday markers from Manchester and the neighborhood, who were hastening to the wedding. The New Bury Road presented a very similar appearance to that which it used to wear on the days of Manchester races when the course was on Kersal Moor; and the Cheetham Hill Road bore an equally close resemblance to the days when races came off in Heaton Park. Some bent their steps to the venerable Parish Church of Prestwich, hoping to see the ceremony performed; many hastened to the park, (which was open to all,) and others posted themselves at various points along the route by which the gay cavalcade was to pass to Prestwich. – Perhaps the most striking scene of the earlier part of the day, was in the churchyard of Prestwich, where numbers were congregated, anxiously waiting for the opening of the doors of the church.

Having left Heaton at 25 minutes before eleven o’clock, the process passed through the park to the Rooden Lane Lodge. About 200 years from the house was placed the first ornamental arch, of rustic character, covered with evergreens and artificial flowers, flags, waving from its top. There were variegated lamps hung upon it for the evening’s illumination; over the centre of the arch was a transparency blazoning the arms of the Wilton family; and on either side of it, the crests of the families of Wilton and De Ros. A second arch was placed just within the Rooden Lane gate – which was similar to the one just mentioned. – Over every gate within the park through which the procession passed, an ornamental arch of evergreens was thrown. Leaving the park, and crossing the Bury Old Road (at which point many flags were flying an arch erected,) the procession passed down Whitaker Lane and by the Rectory (where flags were flying and the shrubs near the gate, with the gate itself, were ornamented with artificial flowers), over Clarke’s Hill and along Church Lane.

The numbers present in the vicinity of the Church and along the entire route from thence to Heaton Park have been various estimated at from 15,000 to 20,000 persons … – and almost every house bore some display of decoration and festivity [a similar thing that happened when the Princess de Lamballe married]. A very elegant arch was erected at the entrance of Church Lane; from this point to the church gates the crowd was very dense; stands were erected; bands of music were playing and flags were flying. Over the church gates was another arch of welcome. Here the bridal party, having alighted, were met by the church wardens, with their staves of office, who followed the party along the carpeted passage … round the south side of the church to the western door, where the English wedding party entered the church.

At the English wedding the bride leaning on the arm of the noble Earl, her father, passed first up to the altar. Here Lady Elizabeth was met by Captain the Hon. Dudley Charles De Ros, the bridegroom, who had previously arrived, accompanied by the Earl of Mount Charles, his ‘best man,’ and was waiting in the vestry. [There were ten bridesmaids and ten groomsmen]. … During the time that the English wedding party passed up the handsomely carpeted aisle, Haydn’s anthem, ‘The Marvelous Works,’ from the ‘Creation’ was given by Mr. Seed, who, on this occasion, presided at the organ.

English wedding - de Ros

Dudley Clarke Fitzgerald de Ros, 23rd Baron de Ros in 1870s or 1880s. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

The marriage service was performed by the Hon. and Rev. Gerald Wellesley, chaplain in ordinary to the Queen, and rector of Strathfeldsaye …The Earl of Wilton gave the bride away. The anthem, ‘Blessed are they that fear the Lord,’ set to music as a wedding anthem, by Dr. Clarke, was well sung by the choir. As the bridal party passed into the vestry to sign the register, a voluntary, adapted from the exquisite ‘Wedding March’ of Mendelssohn, was given on the organ. Passing out of the vestry, the party returned down the center aisle. At the altar, after the ceremony, the bride and bridegroom were met by six young ladies, dressed in white who … strewed flowers before them down the aisle and along the church yard. The party passed out at the western door, and preceded by the churchwardens and bride maidens, passed through the men of Sunday scholars to the gates, where they entered their carriages and the gentlemen mounted their horses, and returned by the same route to Heaton, as that by which they had come. … [S]onnets … were presented to the bride on her leaving the church; they were printed in letters of gold on blue satin, and were courteously accepted.

The bride was received with loud huzzas as she passed along, seated by the side of her noble bridegroom. Her ladyship wore a beautiful dress of white poult de soie with two deep flounces of rich Brussels lace, headed with ruche a lavie. The wreath and bouquet were of orange blossoms and Cape jessamine; the veil was of Brussels lace. Neither the bride nor bridegroom wore gloves. The bridesmaids were attired in dressed of white figured muslin, over white glace, with blue sashes, and blue glace mantels. Their bonnets were of crepe lisse, trimmed with blue flowers. The Countess of Wilton wore a dress of peach-colored Irish poplin with an embroidered white silk mantle, and a bonnet of blonde and paille de ris. Lady De Ross wore a fawn colored glace silk dress, with mantel en suite, and a bonnet of white glace and blonde. The Marchioness of Westminster wore a dress of dark blue brocaded silk, a white glace mantel trimmed with rich fringe, and a white bonnet, embroidered with straw stars. The Countess of Derby wore a dress of light blue and white brocaded silk. The gentlemen wore blue coats, primrose colored gloves, and colored cravats. Not long after her return to the hall, Lady Elizabeth De Ros, as we must now call her, having exchanged her bridal for her traveling dress, presented herself at one of the drawing room windows, and was loudly cheered by the crowd assembled there. At 2 o’clock, the company at the hall sat down to a must elegant dejeuner; the handsome wedding cake was beautifully ornamented with orange blossoms and was surmounted by a vase and bouquet of flowers; two flags ornamented the sides with the initials of the bride and bridegroom. Brief complimentary speeches were delivered at the dejeuner … in proposing the health of the newly-wedded pair ….

We have hitherto not mentioned more the trousseau than the bridal dress but must not omit a brief mention of the presents made to the bride by so many members of the highest aristocracy; they are about 120 in number. We may mention a case of gold teaspoons and sugar tongs, with a pair of gold candlesticks, presented by her Royal Highness the Duchess of Gloucester; a very handsome piece of jewelry, from her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge; her Royal Highness the Hereditary Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz presented a costly souvenir, ‘with many sincere and heartfelt congratulations;’ the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland sent a very handsome bracelet; there was a silver fish-slice and fork from the Duchess of Beaufort; a bracelet from the Princess Mary of Cambridge; a pair of gold candelabras from the Countess of Derby; a china tea and coffee service from Lord and Lady Roksby; a beautiful suite of diamonds from the Earl of Wilton; a most elegant dressing case and a silver cruet-stand from the Countess of Wilton; twenty-four silver knives and three silver vases from Lord Grey de Wilton; an elegant present from Lady Katherine Grey Egerton; a silver butter-boat from the Lady Alice Grey Egerton; a gold timepiece from Sir John and Lady Jane Wild; a silver teakettle from Lady Halesbury; a silver hash-dish from Lord Forester; a silver salver from Lady Newport; a silver toast rack from Lady De Ros; a diamond hoop-ring from Lord Westminster; a most elegant perfume box from Lady Margaret and the Lady Matilda Butler; and numerous others … We must not forget to mention a pair of glass eggcups, which occupied a conspicuous position on the table of presents, and which were contributed by Martha Ogden, an old woman to whom the young ladies of the hall have shown much kindness. There was also a bone which was presented by ‘Capt. Zooloo;’ a German dog, who was a great favorite at Heaton.

English wedding - Princess Mary of Cambridge.

Princess Mary of Cambridge in 1848. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

On Wednesday evening, there was a ball at Heaton, to which were invited the principal gentry and clergy of the neighborhood. About 9:30 o’clock, the guests who had been invited to the ball, but who were not present at the dinner party, began to assemble. As each party arrived, they were ushered into the saloon, whence they passed through the billiard room into the music saloon, which has, during the week, been used as the drawing room. Dancing commenced about ten o’clock, in the library; the ball was opened by the Lady Katharine Grey Egerton and the Earl of Mount Charles. The polished oak floor lent additional facility to the movements of the noble party, who appeared to enter into the dance with great spirit. The ball room was well lighted which showed to advantage the gay hue of the officers’ uniforms; this depth of color being relieved by the white dresses of the ladies of the bridal party, and by the variety of tints introduced in costumes of the evening visitors. Refreshments were served in the ante-room, and a light supper was set out in the dining room, to which the party adjourned between twelve and one o’clock. The company began to separate soon after two o’clock.

Many persons were assembled round the entrance doors of the house in order to view each party as they arrived, and also to gain occasional glimpses of the proceedings within the hall at the various windows. The freest access to the windows was allowed to all who chose to gaze at the guests within; even when at dinner the blinds of the dining room were not closed, and we noticed a number of eager faces pressed against the window in order to gratify their eager curiosity.

The Park was open to the public during the whole of Wednesday and was very full of people. Among the sports were cricket-playing, jugglers and tumblers, itinerant musicians, with organs, bagpipes, &c.

As we passed through Heaton Park … about nine o’clock, the two arches which we have before described, were illuminated with variegated lamps, which had a most pleasing effect. The transparencies over each arch shone fore with a striking clearness and brilliancy, the center compartment contained the arms of the Wilton family, surmounted by the coronet of an Earl; the two transparencies one on either side of the principal one, represented the crests of the Wilton and of the De Ros families.

On Thursday, the festivities at Heaton closed; there was a dinner given to about 400 of the small tenantry and laborers by the Earl and Countess of Wilton, in the marquee of which we have before spoken. There was also a servants’ ball, in the evening, at the hall. … we must not forget that the inhabitants of Prestwich had contributed upwards of £100 to be devoted to festivity. After the wedding party had passed through Prestwich, on their return to the Park, buns were given the children of Mr. Philips’ school; soon afterward a dinner was given to 270 old men and women in the National School room. – The fare was roast beef and plum pudding, with ale; and mostly heartily did the old people (all of whom were, we believe upward of 60 years of age) enjoy it. At the conclusion they gave three hearty cheers for the bride and bridegroom, three more for the Earl and Countess of Wilton, three more of Lord Grey de Wilton, and others. … Lord Wilton made a speech to the children and feeling acknowledged the good wishes which all his neighbors, young and old had that day expressed in no unmistakable manner for the welfare and happiness of his family and of the newly married pair. On the departure of the party, loud cheers were given in succession for Lord and Lady Wilton … The English wedding ended with the newly married couple start about four o’clock for Scotland to spend the honeymoon. A splendid ball was given at Heaton House in the evening, at which all the neighboring gentry, besides the military offices now in garrison, were presented. On Thursday evening a concert also took place in the hall.”


    “An English Marriage in High Life,” in Hartford Courant, 29 October 1853, p. 12.

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