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Family Law

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24 AUG 2012

Identical addresses at marriage and pre-marital cohabitation: a reassessment of the evidence

Rebecca Probert, Liam D'Arcy-Brown and Joanna Harwood

University of Warwick:

It has been widely assumed that cohabitation before marriage was common in the Victorian East End (and elsewhere). This assumption, however, has been based primarily upon the observation that couples often gave the same address on the marriage certificate, and until the recent digitization of census data it had been impossible to assess the truth. Now, a comparison between Bethnal Green's census data and marriage registers for the three months after the 1851 census in fact reveals that the majority of couples who gave the same address were not living together. Nor were those couples found to be residing under the same roof necessarily in a 'cohabiting relationship' in the modern sense: half of those who were sharing a home with their spouse-to-be were also sharing it with his or her parents and siblings, and were there as a visitor or lodger. Pre-marital cohabitation in late-Victorian England, it turns out, was far rarer than has previously been thought.

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