Bride in a Bath Chair

Unusual Wedding at Henstead, Suffolk, in 1902

While searching for newspapers for articles relating to a particular family, this completely unrelated piece caught my eye. I imagined the bride being conveyed to her wedding in some kind of chair that she bathed in. Immediate thoughts – what happened to the couple? Was this a happy union or a turn in a sad story? Suddenly it is two hours later and I’m behind on my work. Such are the perils of my profession.

Early Lives

Whether it was misinformation or deliberate journalistic “license,” the bride was actually 39 and the groom about to turn 32, not such a scandalous match, even in 1902. Eliza had been born in Sotterley, Suffolk, in 1863, to William Sayer, a groom, and his wife Rachel. By the time the 1881 census was taken, Rachel was a widow, living with her sister and two adult children, one of whom was Eliza, who was recorded as an unemployed domestic servant. Eliza was still with her mother ten years later, no occupation was entered for her, and presumably she had already had the illness or accident which left her paralysed. The 1901 census shows she was then living in Henstead, with a companion, and “living on her own means.” Based on the information given in the newspaper article, those means would have been provided by either the Blything or Wangford Poor Law Union.

Charles Edward Laitt was born in 1871 in Long Hanborough, Oxfordshire, to Thomas Laitt, a carpenter, and his wife Eleanor, who died soon following Charles’ birth. His father remarried in 1873, but Charles’ first stepmother also died prematurely. Thomas married for a third time in 1877 and then promptly died himself. His widow, Sarah, raised a daughter and her five stepsons. In 1894, Charles joined the Oxfordshire Light Infantry. His service papers records that he was 5 foot 2.5 inches. Army life clearly did not suit him, as he bought his discharge early, in 1896. We don’t know what took him to Suffolk, but the 1901 census shows him living in Mutford (which neighbours Hulver where the couple were living at the time of their marriage) and working as an agricultural labourer.

Married Life

It was Eliza who filled in the 1911 census form. Charles was still working on the land and the couple had a servant and a boarder. At some point, between 1911 and 1917, the couple moved 25 miles south to Little Glenham. There, at the age of 54, Eliza died with Charles at her side, on 6 October 1917. Her cause of death was chronic cystitis and septic nephritis. Unfortunately, urinary tract infections were a common problem for paralyzed patients and, of course, we are looking at 11 years before the discovery of penicillin. This was in the midst of World War I and Charles was again serving in the army in the Sixth Cyclists, Suffolk Regiment, defending Suffolk’s coastline. In 1918, Charles married a widow called Minnie Proudfoot, and took on her young son. He and Minnie had their own daughter, Lilian, in 1919. Charles died, aged 77, in 1948 and is buried in Little Glenham churchyard with his wives.

Bath Chair Weddings

When I decided to write about Eliza and Charles, I went searching for the original newspaper article again and was surprised to see that this was not the only “Bride in a Bath Chair” reported on. I quickly found the following three articles:

NEWBURY. The late Singular Wedding.—Last week we gave an account of singular wedding in the parish church of St. Nicholas, Newbury, the bridegroom, James Farr, aged 62 years, being drawn by his bride in a Bath chair through the streets, to and from his house and the church his return to his home after the marriage ceremony, exclaimed that he could now die happy. Strange to say, be expired at his residence on Tuesday, having survived his marriage only a week – Bucks Herald 9 April 1870, p. 7, column 3

A BRIDE IN A BATH CHAIR. Tuesday young woman in humble circumstances residing Tamworth, who is a helpless and confirmed invalid, was married a young American the Roman Catholic Chapel. The bride, being unable to walk, was wheeled into the chapel in a Bath chair, in which she was married. The parties met some time ago in America, before the bride contracted rheumatic fever; but the bridegroom chivalrously fulfilled his promise by coming over England to claim her. He will take his bride back with him. – Gloucester Journal 23 March 1895, page 2, column 4

BRIDE IN A BATH-CHAIR, A bride had just previously met with an accident was taken to the altar in a bath-chair and married at St. Margaret’s Church, Barking, yesterday. The bridegroom wheeled his bride from the house to the church. – Daily Mirror, 21 January 1905, p. 4, column 3

One word leapt out at me, the Tamworth bride was “wheeled” in her bath chair. Have I completely misunderstood what a bath chair was? The answer was yes. Wikipedia informed me that a Bath chair was a chaise or carriage on three or four wheels with a folding hood, which was mainly used for the conveyance of disabled persons and it was so named after the city of its origin – Bath, in Somerset. Nothing to do with bathing at all!

Just one more thing still niggles me. What was “the demonstration of tin music” that the villagers put on when Charles and Eliza were married? Were they banging pots and pans? Tin drums? Were they signalling approval or disapproval? This time, the internet offers me no easy answers.


Bride In A Bath Chair