Married aged 12 – My Ancestor John William Carter

Married Aged 12
John William Carter
1810 – 1850
Thames Lighterman

5th Great Grandfather


A very beautiful painting of the City of London taken from Bankside in the 1820’s, with Lighterman at work

Marriage and the age of consent has always been a topic of conversation amongst genealogists and very often we find research carried out using the 20 year rule. Usually because of the confusion about what age someone can legally marry and even consummate that marriage.
Even I use the 20 year rule whilst researching a marriage.

Before 1653 England was a very different place then it is now, and it was pretty much normal practice to marry at a young age there are historical Medieval recordings of marriages taking place as young as 2 and 3 years of age although generally The age for matrimonial consent was fixed at 7 years. However, as puberty was accepted as the age for consummation of the marriage, consummation was not expected to take place until a girl reached the age of 12 and 14 for boys. From 29 September 1653 during the English Civil War, the legal age for marriage was fixed at 16 for a man and 14 for a woman but the law was changed in 1660 and the ages of marriage reverted to 14 for the groom and 12 for the bride. The Marriage Act of 1753, made it illegal for those in England under the age of 21 to get married without the consent of their parents or guardians. However, the consent requirement was repealed and replaced in July 1822, therefore, from 1823 the age at which a couple could undergo a valid marriage, without parental consent, reverted to 14 for boys and 12 for girls. When the 1929 Age of Marriage Act was passed, all marriages were made void from 10 May 1929, if either partner was under the age of 16. In the Republic of Ireland however, the legal age for marriage remained at 14 for boys and 12 for girls until 1st January 1975, when it was raised to 16.

So how many of us researching our ancestors have discovered a marriage where the girl is 12 and the boy is 14, probably not many of us. Because generally it was very rare and even less so when they are younger.

The Story of John William Carter and his marriage at the age of 12.

John William CARTER (1810 – 1850)
is my 5th great grandfather

John William CARTER (1825 – 1896)
son of John William CARTER (and my 4th great grandfather)

Maria Elizabeth CARTER (1854 – 1914)
daughter of John William CARTER  (and my 3rd great grandmother)

Edmund Lionel PLASKETT (1881 – 1952)
son of Maria Elizabeth CARTER  (and my 2nd great grandfather)

Edmund Samuel PLASKETT (1906 – 1977)
son of Edmund Lionel PLASKETT  (and my great grandfather)

Joyce Margery PLASKETT (1934 – 2013)
daughter of Edmund Samuel PLASKETT  (and my  grandfather)

John William Carter was born on the 3rd April 1810 in Cinnamon Street, Wapping, London. He was the son of a Thames Lighterman John Carter (b. 16 May 1784)  a family occupation which had been passed down through the generations. Little is known about his mother Frances Carter, Nee: Wimbelton but it’s likely she was born about 1790 and at her time of marriage was living in the parish of Stepney, London.

lighterman is a worker who operates a lighter, a type of flat-bottomed barge, which may be powered or unpowered. In the latter case it is today usually moved by a powered tug. The term is particularly associated with the highly skilled men who operated the unpowered lighters moved by oar and water currents in the Port of London.

John William Carter had one sibling, James George Carter who was born on the 28 August 1813, Both John and his brother James were baptized in St John’s Church, Wapping, London. James died in April 1834 aged just 20 years and an inquest into his death was recorded on his burial record.

St Johns Wapping London in the snow

St John’s Church, Wapping, London

Wapping is a district in East London, in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets the area is steeped in history and has a strong maritime connection. One of it’s most famous buildings The Prospect of Whitby is the oldest riverside tavern and dates back to 1520  It was formerly known as the Devil’s Tavern, on account of its dubious reputation. Before that it was officially called The Pelican. All that remains from the building’s earliest period is the 400 year old stone floor. In former times it was a meeting place for sailors, smugglers, cut-throats and footpads.


The Prospect of Whitby from the Thames foreshore

John William Carter married at a very young age on the 20th February 1823 to Jane Ward (b. December 1807) they both married at Saint George in the East Church, Tower Hamlets.

In 1823 the law changed allowing boys as young as 14 to marry without parental consent, with parental consent they could get married younger usually due to inheritance reasons, but consummation of marriage was not expected to take place until they came of age. Jane was 5 years older then John and by the date recorded on the birth of their first child (my 4x great grandfather) John William Carter Junior on the 26th August 1825, I would guess that John and Jane did indeed wait until he turned 14, and the pregnancy happened very quickly too.

John Carter and Jane Ward - Marriage - 20 February 1823 - Saint George in the East, Tower Hamlets

Marriage entry for John William Carter and Jane Ward

John William Carter began his apprenticeship as a Thames Lighterman on the 11th November 1824 with his father recorded as his master, He was about to follow in the footsteps of his forefathers in an occupation that was well respected and skilled and sadly one without it’s dangers and perils.

So what would life have been like working on the River Thames during this period?

I imagine it was an extremely tough job especially when faced against all the elements that the weather can throw at you, in 1814 it was even recorded that the River Thames froze over and on the 1st February 1814 the very last frost fair was held. (John would have been 4 years old) The frost fair of 1814 began on 1 February, and lasted four days. An elephant was led across the river below Blackfriars Bridge. A printer named George Davis published a 124-page book, Frostiana; or a History of the River Thames in a Frozen State. The entire book was type-set and printed in Davis’s printing stall, which had been set up on the frozen Thames. This was the last frost fair. The climate was growing milder; old London Bridge was demolished in 1831 and replaced with a new bridge with wider arches, allowing the tide to flow more freely; and the river was embanked in stages during the 19th century, all of which made the river less likely to freeze.

Frost_Fair_of_1814_by_Luke_ClenellThe Frost Fair of 1814, by Luke Clenell

The Frost Fair was really just a moment of fun and took Londoners away from their hard mundane lives the truth of their lives was so much harder.

The River Thames was an open sewer and had been so since medieval times, the first sewers were not built until after the Great Stink of 1858 and the years leading upto this event became much worse due to the introduction of flush toilets, replacing the chamber-pots that most Londoners had used. These dramatically increased the volume of water and waste that was now poured into existing cesspits. These often overflowed into street drains designed originally to cope with rainwater, but now also used to carry outfalls from factories, slaughterhouses and other activities, contaminating the city before emptying into the River Thames.

Working on the Thames during these intervening years brought hazards of infection and disease, Cholera is reported to have first arrived in London in 1832 and both Typhoid and Typhus was an everyday concern.

Many Waterman and Lighterman are recorded to have died from waterborne diseases and many more are recorded to have drowned.

in 1827 John William and Jane Carter were recorded as having their second and last child, Jane Martha Carter who was born on 28 August 1827 in the parish of Tower Hamlets. Strangely she wasn’t baptised until 28 June 1837 when she was nine years old. For some reason John William’s wife Jane Carter disappears from the records during this period and until I find proof all I can imagine is that she died either during child birth or shortly afterwards.

In 1837 the family were recorded as living in Cable Street, St Bride, Tower Hamlets, London, they remained there for a few years before moving to 11 Bostock Street, St George in the East, London. This was the families last recorded address together because on the 13th May 1850 at the age of only 40 years, John William Carter died from Typhoid, Delerium and Tremors.

Typhoid is a common worldwide bacterial disease transmitted by the ingestion of food or water contaminated with the feces of an infected person. It’s very likely that the River Thames contributed to his death especially as he worked on it daily and raw sewage was a constant threat. Typhoid is probably one of the worst ways to die and death would have taken about three weeks to arrive.

The occupation of Lighterman continued in my family with his son my 4x great grandfather  John William Carter Junior.

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