Updated: Mar 11
Wife sales, I hear you cry, what devil of mischief and skulduggery was that. Actually it was what is says, the sale of one’s wife, usually by duel consent, many times not.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, many people did not want to through the expensive path of a divorce, so the answer to this problem was wife sales. Wife fairs that were often held in a public market were not unknown of here in Dorset and “Hardy” describes one in the “Mayor of Casterbridge” There is a tradition of wife selling in Wimborne at the “New Inn” renamed the “Albion” that was told to “Hardy” by a Wimborne barber in 1881.
E.P Thompson writes in his “Customs in common” that the selling was an early form of divorce at a time when legal divorce was difficult and frowned upon by the church and typically with the full consent of the women, furthermore he suggests that the use of a public place was not to humiliate the women but to give the transaction a kind of credibility.
“Pint of bitter and a new wife please” !