A Bigamist in the Family!
By Ruth Pringle
This article was originally published in the August 2005 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society
For some years I have been intrigued by the story, on the Sewell side of my family, about a bigamous marriage. My Grandmother's youngest brother Alfred Allibone Sewell was supposed to have married a woman in Birmingham and after a couple of months received a knock at the door. The police entered and escorted the "wife" off to the station on a charge of a bigamous marriage, leaving my Grand Uncle shocked and speechless!
I was only a child when I first heard this but was fascinated with the dramatic story. I had no idea what the word "bigamist" was but it sounded hard and dangerous and I was determined to find out the details one day.
I mentioned this at the AGM in 2004, in a question to Eve McLaughlin about the use of newspapers for research. Realising that it is nearly time for the 2005 AGM, and I had done nothing about this, I managed to persuade my husband to drive me to Birmingham.
Before going, I had looked on The Sole Society Sewell CD and found out the date of the bigamous marriage. I had sent for the certificate which told me that the marriage took place on June 26th 1915 at St Cuthbert's, Birmingham, between Alfred Allibone Sewell, bachelor, and Mary-Ann Griffiths, Spinster. I thought, therefore, that I would start searching a couple of months after that. The archivist directed me to the most salacious newspaper of the time - "The Birmingham Daily Mail" and we put the film on the reader. I say "we", because my husband is the real hero of this story, managing firstly, to find a parking space in Birmingham, and secondly, to manipulate a most awkward film reader machine!!!
I was dubious as to whether there would be anything in the newspaper as the First World War had just begun. Throughout the search it was heartbreaking to read of the casualties of war, both on active service, and at home, as evident from the notable number of suicides recorded at this time. I'd never really studied old newspapers before and was fascinated. I bet you didn't know that Dame Nelly Melba got bronchitis, and recovered in 1915 did you? Would there really be a comment about my family amongst this international news?
Yes, we found it quite quickly and my Gran's recollections had been quite accurate. (Well, I expect you wouldn't forget a "sister-in-law" like that in a hurry would you?)
The woman was Mary-Ann Griffiths - i.e. MRS William Griffiths. Her husband had gone off to war and she had decided that he probably wouldn't come back so she'd get another one!!! The article stated that a neighbour had informed on her, telling the police that her maiden name was Bates; that she had frequent arguments and separations from her real husband, and that she already had two children! It also stated that Alfred Sewell, and his cousin Herbert Hudson, (witness at the bigamous marriage) had no knowledge of these facts.
The prisoner, Mary-Ann, was allowed bail, and was committed for trial to the next assizes. Try as we might, we couldn't find an account of this. It probably wasn't recorded in the papers. I enquired about Court Records but was told that there was a 75yr closure on this data, but when I explained that no-one living would be compromised, and that I was a family member, I was allowed to fill in a form requesting further information about the case. I wait to see if anything will be forthcoming!
This research has been great fun, and it is not only Vic Reeves, the comedian, featured on the BBC family history programme, "Who do you think you are?" that has a bigamist to talk about! However, it raises still more questions for me:
How long did she get?
What did she do with the two children?
Did she ever explain her reasons to my Grand Uncle?
Was he a prime dope for not finding out more about her?
Was she a superb con-artist, mentally unstable or just desperate?
How was this marriage dissolved?
Why wasn't the marriage taken off the Register books? (I got the certificate easily.)
Post script - My Grand Uncle did not marry again for another six years. He lived happily with this "second" wife and eventually died in 1951. I'm having trouble finding this second marriage certificate. Gosh, I hope he didn't pull another short straw with that one!!!!!!!!
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