1.1 of The Marriage Certificate by Stephen Molyneux - sample
Published by Sites To Suit Limited 2013 - Copyright © Stephen Molyneux 2013
Peter spotted the marriage certificate. It was mounted in a clear plastic sleeve just above eye-level and was attached to a blue felt panel. The certificate was one of about fifty printed paper items displayed in similar fashion. These included an impressive gold embossed invitation to a luncheon for some long dissolved Victorian institution, a wartime ration book, a 1920s rates demand, a Post Office Telegram with news of someone having passed away, military service guides to various postings in the British Empire, and several interesting postcards. The display occupied the upper part of a wall within an alcove, the alcove itself being a small open unit in an antiques centre. A sign hung above: ‘Unit 14 – Ephemera’.
Unit 14 specialised in interesting paper items from the 1960s and before, although postcards seemed to be the main offering. There were hundreds of them stored in recycled shoeboxes and displayed for sale at table height. Simple handwritten cardboard dividers separated the postcards into categories, which included cities, counties, foreign countries, churches, cathedrals, monuments, and miscellaneous attractions.
Peter cast his eyes back to the marriage certificate … Essex, 1900, he noted, a bachelor and a spinster. It just seemed so sad that something like that should be displayed and offered for sale at five pounds. Placing a monetary value on it seemed inappropriate. Surely, there were family descendants out there, possibly even living children, but more probably grandchildren who ought to have it? How had something so personal come to be offered along with the bric-a-brac of life on a board in an antiques centre?
He was aware that marriage certificates, like birth and death certificates, were documents of public record and that anyone could obtain a photocopy from the General Register Office. However, this was not a photocopy but one completed and given to the couple by the minister who married them. It was the actual certificate produced from the entries in the Marriage Register; the Register signed by the newly-weds and their two witnesses, who were presumably close friends or relatives, signed at St Martin’s Church in the parish of Leyton, Essex, on the fifteenth day of January, 1900.
‘Marriage Solemnized at …’ the title stated in copperplate script. It didn’t seem particularly solemn, Peter thought, not in its present position; just a piece of paper, insignificant now perhaps, but once of huge importance to the two people, whose lives were legally combined into a single entity on that day. A piece of paper, slightly faded, but not worn, so presumably kept safe and secure until, along with other personal possessions, a house was cleared and the saleable items were traded and distributed to whatever niche or market might find them another home.
He detached the plastic sleeve from the board and carefully extracted the certificate from its protective cover. He looked at the names of the couple. It might be interesting to trace their family, he thought. He studied it more closely and for the first time considered purchasing it.
The blanks on the certificate had been completed in black ink and obviously written with a pen or quill. The handwriting had a scratchy, loopy, but quite learned late Victorian style, not at all like the handwriting taught in schools nowadays. It was by the hand of Thomas Walter, who had married the couple according to the ‘Rites and Ceremonies’ of the Established Church, in other words, the Church of England.
The certificate had a slight odour to it, probably due to age, possibly dampness and he detected something else … mothballs, he thought … yes, definitely mothballs, and he recalled the distinctive smell of naphthalene in the school chemistry lab. He remembered too the master, who on leaving for another school told the assembled pupils a farewell joke about an American, so amazed at seeing some mothballs, he remarked, ‘Gee, you sure have some mighty big moths in England!’
Back to the present, should he buy it? He deliberated … but why? What would he do with it? Was it some morbid curiosity, nosey interest, or was there a genuinely interesting story here just waiting to be discovered?
He glanced up and noticed the security camera mounted in the corner to his left. If somebody at the payment desk was monitoring him, they might think he was preparing to steal the certificate. Of course, he wasn’t, but he’d often experienced an irrational camera-induced guilt when he felt he was being watched remotely in a situation like this. He decided to put the certificate back and tried rather ineptly to reinsert it into the plastic sleeve. After several abortive attempts, the decision was made for him – he would buy it. He took the certificate to the payment desk.
‘I’d like to buy this certificate please. Sorry … I couldn’t seem to get it back into its sleeve.’
A very elderly lady assistant smiled at his apology. ‘Let’s have a look,’ she said. ‘It was probably folded.’ Peter noticed that she had a sort of ‘Women’s Institute’ air to her manner and appearance, typical of a breed of ladies who inhabit the country towns and villages of England. Yet despite having shaky hands, she somehow deftly slid it back into its protective cover. From his wallet, he gave her a crisp five-pound note and in return received a simple brown paper bag, into which the assistant had popped the slightly faded certificate, thoughtfully taping over the opening.
Out he went into the cold late afternoon in January 2011. The light was fading. He felt elated but was not quite sure why. Maybe it was because he had removed the certificate from public view. He was protecting its privacy, perhaps protecting the individuals whose lives were changed forever when they left the church on that Saturday in January 1900. They left with this certificate too, no doubt guarded safely, but surely not in a brown paper bag? What had happened afterwards? If the certificate could tell a story, what might that be?
As he walked to the car, he pondered the circumstances and events of more than 100 years ago. By the time he had turned on the ignition, Peter Sefton had decided to see if he could find out.
End of Part 1.1 - Sample
Where to Buy The Marriage Certificate