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Adultery and Divorce

I have often wondered what my ancestors would have thought if they had known that, years later, details of their personal life would be freely available for anyone to discover via record offices and the internet. This is particularly the case for anyone who was a participant in a divorce case.

Until the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act, it was extremely difficult for the ‘ordinary’ person to obtain a divorce. A costly occurrence, which could only be instigated by the husband, many preferred to stay in loveless marriages or merely separated from their spouses. In some cases, bigamy was the preferred choice when escaping an unwanted marriage.

Marriage certificate of John Howarth Ormerod and Marian Augusta Salusbury Conway

Marriage certificate of John Howarth Ormerod and Marian Augusta Salusbury Conway

The first divorce I have discovered in my family happened in 1879 between Marian Augusta Salusbury Conway and John Howorth Ormerod. John, a cotton spinner from Todmorden, married Marian (daughter of Reverend William Augustus Conway) on 12th September 1877 at Christ Church, Todmorden. After the wedding, they continued to reside at Todmorden, at Brocklyn House, Byrom Street, where they became friendly with a local man, Lionel Edwards. Edwards would visit the couple at their home, staying on a prolonged visit from February-March 1878, and rumours soon began to circulate that there was more than just a friendship between himself and the new Mrs Ormerod.

Although John Howorth Ormerod did not believe that there was anything improper occurring between his wife and his friend, he nevertheless asked Edwards to refrain from visiting the house. Believing that Edwards had adhered to his wishes, Ormerod allowed his wife to visit her aunt in Bath and from there she was to visit an old governess in Brighton.

Westminster Palace Hotel, London

Westminster Palace Hotel, London

What Mrs Ormerod failed to mention to her husband, however, was that she had not gone straight to Brighton from Bath. Instead, she had stayed in adjoining rooms at the Westminster Palace Hotel, London, with Lionel Edwards. They had signed the visitors’ book as ‘Mr. and Miss Edwards,’ purporting to be brother and sister.

Mr Ormerod was somewhat suspicious of his wife’s movements and instructed his solicitor, Mr Eastwood, to make enquiries. This prompted his wife into admitting that she had been to London but that she had stayed at Wood’s Hotel and had visited the aquarium; she had not seen anybody that she knew. A chambermaid at the Westminster Palace Hotel, Caroline Tucker, however, had already identified Mrs Ormerod and Lionel Edwards as the ‘brother and sister’ in the adjoining rooms.

John Howorth Ormerod decided immdeiately that he no longer wished to live with his wife and, despite her protestations, refused to take her back. Divorce proceedings were started on 11th January 1879 and the final decree was granted on 4th November of the same year, just over two years after the marriage began.

Marian went back home to live with her parents, using her maiden name of Conway and calling herself ‘unmarried.’ She would later remarry at All Saints Church, Hoole to Harry Stanley Parsons, and have five children. She died in 1896 in Brussels, Belgium.



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