What do the terms irregular and clandestine represent?
- Irregular means not under the law of the church, so performed in Fleet Chapel and other chapels listed below.
- Clandestine, however, has more secretive undertones. It was still an irregular marriage, but furtive and covert for a variety of reasons. Clandestine marriages were available for a fee and performed forthwith promptly.
Because clandestine and irregular marriages were so common, there were a number of centres that were popular. Apart from Fleet prison chapel, clandestine marriages were performed at the Tower of London chapel for the early 1600's. To put this all in perspective, from around 1665 to when the Marriage Act occurred putting an end to it in 1754, over 200.000 marriages took place, as irregular or clandestine.
Sadly, the two other major centres apart from Fleet Chapel, including St. James Dukes Place and Holy Trinity Minories, many of their registers are missing. However, the East London Family History Centre does have an index for Holy Trinity from 1676 to 1754, and a published works by Phillimore has 1664 to 1837 for St James Dukes Place.
The Guildhall library in London plus the London Metropolitan Archives holds the surviving registers of the following chapels involved in these favoured and accepted marriages: St. James Dukes Place; St. Dunstan Stepney; St. Gregory by St. Paul; St. Benets Wharf; St. Pancras; St. Ktharine by the Tower; St. Botolph Aldgate; and St. Mary Magdalen.
The Mayfair Chapel has it registers--the surviving ones, in printed form by the Harleian Society. This chapel performed hundreds of marriages; and the reverend, though, found himself then an inmate of Fleet prison.
So if you have an ancestor who you just cant find via the use of the IGI and other sources, it may well be he or she had taken the easier route of irregular or clandestine. It will, however, be not much consolation to know that finding these pre-1754 marriage will not be that easy, purely by the fact by the fact that so many registers and notebooks just have not survived. But it is one more place to look.