The groom is “a sturdy youngster of eighty-six”. You may picture the scene: rehearse the familiar story. Chaucer’s January and May; the folk song chorus of “girls, when you’re young, never wed an old man”.
In this case, as it happens, the bride is 96 years old. But part of the story still holds true, for this is a story of disappointment – although not of the expected kind.
Francis Russell Vincent has a successful career at Bristol Gas Works behind him, not to mention two marriages. He has recently had a pension payout, and come to Ludgvan where his eight children are living. And it is there, one April evening, that romance strikes for the third time.
The Cornish Telegraph’s daily edition, Evening Tidings, takes up the story: “…he met an old woman, nearly six foot in height, walking briskly along the road. It was a case of love at first sight, and Mr Vincent lost no time in making her acquaintance. He found that she was Annie Harvey, a respected inhabitant of the village. She reciprocated his affections, and confessed that she was ninety-six years of age, and thought nothing of walking several miles”.
Annie is also a veteran as far as marriage goes; she too will shortly be on her third wedding. For the banns are called forthwith, a “nice little house” has been furnished, and the nuptials are set for today. But in the night there’s been some sort of disturbance. “Indignant” villagers have gathered with “tin pans and brooms”, and hissed Mr Vincent as though he were a pantomime villain. Is this an example of the "rough music" or "Skimmington Ride" tradition said to self-regulate marriages which offended against "the proper order"? In a scene worthy of (and possibly owing something to) Thomas Hardy, the bridegroom now “seems to have lost his nerve”. This morning at Penzance Registry office, quite a crowd has gathered – but they will wait in vain. Neither bride nor groom will put in an appearance.
One or two details of this story – which attracted national press coverage - may seem improbable. But it is certainly believed by a daughter of Mr Vincent, still living in Bristol, who will write to protest about her father’s treatment by the villagers – and likewise believed by the Evening Tidings editor, who will write in the same vein, predicting that difficulties will be ironed out and the wedding take place “soon”. And there is indeed a happy ending in the offing, at least for now – the couple will be married on May 7th.
The marriage will not be a harmonious one – but that’s another story.
Evening Tidings 5th May 1905, page 2. The story also appeared in the Cornishman on May 3rd. The letter and the editorial on page 2 of the Evening Tidings, Saturday May 6th. The Evening Tidings gives a full account of the wedding May 8th page 2
More on the custom of rough music accessed 21 4 2017
For a more detailed account of Rough Music in Cornwall see: Jenny Dearlove, Skimmington Rides or "Rough Music" in the Royal Institution of Cornwall Journal 2014 pp57-67. Jenny is a member of the Penwith Local History Group