The Marriage that Never Happened
- and Then Did.
Alice Emmerson of Hollybush Farm and William Young of Hagg Farm, Skelton.

By Josie Bland, a descendant of the Emmersons.

Alice Emmerson was born in March 1800, the third of seven children of yeoman farmer, Stephen Emmerson, aged 64, and his wife Alice, 26.
The family lived on Hollybush Farm, Skelton in Cleveland.
Stephen lived to the age of 97 and was succeeded by his son, also Stephen, the Miners' Friend. See page 76.
The elder Stephen had been married previously but the union was childless. He had married Alice when he was 59 and they had 5 daughters and 2 sons.
We know little of Alice’s childhood, except that, like most dutiful daughters, she sewed, learned to read and write, and attended All Saints Church, next to Skelton Castle, where she was baptised on March 25th 1800, and where the family had its own pew.

Hollybush Farm.

Sampler created by Alice Emmerson's sister, Mary, who was born in 1796 and died at the early age of 32.

The first evidence we have of Alice’s relationship with farmer William Young is a marriage register from All Saints, dated March 1823.
Alice and William were witnesses to the wedding of George Bennison and Mary Cook, their signatures are written side by side on the marriage register.
Were Alice and William ‘courting’ at this point?
Alice was 23, William 24, so it was possible, but if so, it became a long, drawn-out affair.
Four years later Alice and William decided to marry and their banns were read on three consecutive Sundays at All Saints during November 1827.
The first time was Sunday 4th and then the 11th. Alice and William’s final banns were read on the 18th November.

The Banns.

But, for some unknown reason the wedding did not take place.
The Parish Records show that a baby boy, John Emmerson, was baptised on January 12th 1828, and that his parent was Alice Emmerson, Single Woman.

Baptism of the illegitimate John Emmerson.

John, like all the Emmersons, was baptised at All Saints where Alice should have married William Young.
So what happened?
What prevented the wedding?
William surely knew Alice was pregnant?
She was only a few weeks away from giving birth.
In those days to have a child out of wedlock brought shame on the woman and her family.
It was the age of the Poor Law, when the people of each Parish were responsible for any benefit payments.
Therefore, the father of the child was deemed responsible for its upkeep and single mothers, with few means, were taken to Court and compelled to name the man who had made them pregnant.
The father was, thereafter, forced by law to make maintenance payments and chased throughout the land for them.
See the list of Skelton claimants in 1822 here.
No doubt Alice, being the daughter of a relatively well-to-do farmer did not require such payments, but the social stigma of Bastardy was clearly something to be avoided.
So was William the father of the baby ?
Had someone known of “any just cause or impediment as to why these two persons may not be joined together in holy matrimony “ and declared it after the banns were read.
Or did someone whisper something in William’s ear?
Whatever the cause, the marriage didn’t take place and Alice remained on Hollybush Farm.
1828 was a traumatic year for the Emmersons.
The day after John was born, Mary, the eldest daughter, died.
She was thirty two and had been married for five years. She is buried in the churchyard of Skelton Old Church.
Next, Elizabeth died. Married just over nine months she was buried in Newcastle on 6th September 1828.
It is likely she died after giving birth. She was just 26.
Over 4 years later, on March 3rd 1832 Alice, finally married William Young.

Marriage of Alice and William in 1832.

She was 32, he was 33. They were married by Minister William Close, who, as a curate, had read their banns four years earlier, then baptised John soon after.
Did he know the story behind these events?
John was the Emmersons’ first grandchild, and remained their only grandchild for several years.
Two of Alice’s sisters were dead, the other two, and her brother, Stephen, remained unmarried.
Her other brother, William, who married in the same week as Alice, emigrated to America.
See here for more about him.
It seems that John’s illegitimacy didn’t matter as he was embraced by the family.
Evidence of this is to be found in Stephen Emmerson’s Will, written the year he died, 1833.
The farm went to his eldest son. £300 was left to his younger son who was about to emigrate.
Houses and land were given to his two unmarried daughters, £200 to his married daughter Alice Young, and £100 to her son, John Emmerson.
John would have the full amount when he reached 21, in the meantime the money gained interest of 4%, which could be taken annually.
The Will stated that Alice should administer this account, but in the event of her demise, William Young was to be the administrator.
John Emmerson, according to the census records of 1841, 1851 and 1861, lived on Hollybush Farm during his childhood and early adulthood, until he married at the age of 34.
It’s not known where, exactly, he lived after Alice married, i.e. between 1832 and 1841 but in 1841 he’s living on Hollybush Farm with his grandmother and his aunt and uncle, brother and sister Stephen and Hannah Emmerson.
Alice and William Young, now with three more children, are living nearby on Hagg Farm.
John may have simply missed his Hollybush relations, or they may have missed him.
He could have had a stormy relationship with his stepfather.
Or was William his father?
To finish this story there are two final pieces of evidence that further complicate matters.
John Emmerson married twice, firstly in March 1862, then again in January 1874.
On his first marriage certificate, the name of his father is left blank.
On the 1874 certificate, under ‘Father’s Name’ is written ‘William Young’.
We can only speculate as to why William Young and a heavily pregnant Alice Emmerson allowed their Banns to be read in November 1827 but did not marry until March 1832.
And why, aged 44, John Emmerson acknowledged William Young as his father.
Frustratingly, we will never know.

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