An occasional feature about the places in the John H Watson Canon

“What say you, Watson? Can you rise superior to the heat, and run down to Croydon with me on the off chance of a case for your annals?’ ‘I was longing for something to do.’ ‘You shall have it, then. Ring for our boots, and tell them to order a cab. I’ll be back in a moment, when I have changed my dressing-gown and filled my cigar-case.’ A shower of rain fell while we were in the train, and the heat was far less oppressive in Croydon than in town.

The Adventure of the Cardboard Box

“Nevertheless, up and down the country, since at least the mid sixteenth century, hundreds of real wife-sales have been reported, and there must have been many hundreds more which went unrecorded. Not every sale realised fifteen pounds, however, as can be seen in this article than appeared in the Hereford Journal on 17 March 1894:


One of the few remaining common lodging-houses in Middle-Row, Croydon was on Sunday night the scene of a curious transaction, a labouring-man selling his wife for a pot of fourpenny-ale. The purchased adopted the precaution of taking a receipt for his money, and when the newly-mated couple adjourned to a neighbouring public house, the document was the object of much curiosity. It is said the husband and wife parted on very friendly terms.

From the extensive number of cases, it is clear that many of those involved genuinely believed that such transactions were a legal form of divorce, as long as certain rules were adhered to. The local market was the commonest place for the auction, and in some cases the wife was led in wearing a halter to emphasis the connection with a livestock sale. The husband would be careful to pay the toll he would normally pay for selling an animal, and be equally careful to get a receipt. The wife might be dressed on in her shift, which symbolised the fact that the purchaser took her as she stood, and could make no further claim on the husband. If all this sounds dreadful in our post-feminist age, it must be noted that in at least some of the cases we know that the wife had agreed to the proceedings and had, in fact, already arranged who was going to bid for her.”

From London Lore: The Legends and Traditions of the World’s Most Vibrant City by Steve Roud, p. 103.