Pregnant actress was worried about morals

ST Mary's RC Church Gibbet St by JJ Mulroy
ST Mary's RC Church Gibbet St by JJ Mulroy

I was interested to read about the “Bogus Wedding” scam which was uncovered recently in Halifax (Courier, September 17). It reminded me of an “invalid wedding” in Halifax nearly a century ago, about which I read recently, and found fascinating.

In March 1915, an unmarried cohabiting couple were visiting Halifax with a performing theatre company.

Their names were Horace and Cicely, and she was heavily pregnant. A girl of Catholic faith, deeply concerned about her perceived embarrassing situation, Cicely went to see a priest at St Mary’s Church, Gibbet Street.

A newspaper report from 1923 tells the story “There was no time to obtain a special licence to keep her from the shipwreck of her morals and faith, and he thought the only thing he could do was to marry them.

A dispensation was obtained from the bishop as the groom was not a Catholic, and a ceremony took place, which was recorded in a church book.

The priest then told the couple that it was necessary for them to go before a Registrar as soon as possible, and to go through a civil ceremony, and they said that they would go.” However, they did not.

St Mary’s Church was certainly registered for marriages, but Father James Grogan - who performed the religious ceremony - was not an authorised or licensed person under English Law to perform a marriage.

In 1918, Horace and Cicely, then living at Bridlington, separated; and soon afterwards, the bride went back to live with her mother, taking her child with her.

For the sake of the child, Cicely did not want the marriage declared null, as would have been possible in the Catholic church.

She made persistent applications to her estranged husband requesting he would support his offspring, but he did not respond. In April 1923 Cicely wrote him a final letter, asking him to provide a home for her; but again no reply was received.

And so, at London’s Divorce Court on 19th October 1923, Cicely petitioned for a decree of restitution of conjugal rights against her husband Horace, before Judge Sir Henry Duke (later Lord Merrivale, 1855-1939).

At the last moment, her barrister discovered that he could not fully establish the legality of the 1915 marriage, as it appeared the Marriage Act had not been complied with. This he reported to the judge.

His Lordship then announced that had to dismiss the suit. Instead of granting what was asked, he had to issue a decree declaring that the Halifax marriage was invalid, a great shock to Cicely.

There is no suggestion Father Grogan behaved inappropriately according to law.

He gave the required advice, which was apparently ignored. I have deliberately suppressed the surnames in case the child is still living; but they were given in the Press at the time.

David C Glover