From the seventeenth century broken engagements had been treated as a breach of contract and an injured party could seek financial compensation in the civil courts. By the 1800’s there was a change in the way these cases were dealt with. Compensation was also allowed for hurt feelings. The last case was heard in 1971.

In the nineteenth century, over 90% of court actions were taken by the woman who claimed to have been let down. Most women won their case and were typically awarded sums of around £300 (very roughly equivalent to £30,000 today).

Lawyers did very well out of these cases which often attracted detailed press coverage. In addition to the financial reward, it was sometimes seen as an opportunity for revenge in public.

Jackman v Hill 1819    Newspaper report


Betty Jackman was baptised in South Tawton in 1792. She was the older sister of John Jackman of Colebrooke who narrowly avoided being transported to Australia for 14 years in 1842. Her fiancé Samuel Hill, a farmer, was a few years older and born in Bow. Their illegitimate daughter was baptised Mary Ann Hill Jackman in Bow in 1815. It is not clear what became of Betty after the court case.

In March 1819 Samuel married Elizabeth, daughter of Sylvanus Wreford of Bow. They had three children before his death in 1869 “It was the largest attended funeral that had taken place in Bow for many years.”


Wreford v Hart 1837    Newspaper report

Mary Wreford was born in Bow in 1807, the eldest of Samuel and Mary Wreford’s four children. Her father had been a wealthy tanner who built Grattons, a large mansion just outside Bow. He went on to develop a successful and lucrative horse racing stud. His elder son Samuel had a gambling habit which ate up a lot of his father’s money, whilst the younger son, Robert, was a solicitor in Exeter, heavily involved with setting up railway companies in Devon.

In 1829, Mary, then aged 22, was introduced to Rev John Hart, 24, at the Haldon horse race meeting. He was the son of John Hart Senior, Esq. of Hill’s Court in Exeter who had been Mayor of Exeter in 1814 and 1826. The couple became engaged in 1832, and he broke it of in May 1837.

Although her reputation was restored, like all her siblings, Mary never married. Her father died a relatively poor man at Grattons in 1859. After his death, she lived with her mother and younger sister at the original “Fair Park” in Bow, where she died in 1879, aged 72.

In April 1838, less than a year after the court case, Mary’s ex-fiancé Rev John Hart (then 33) married 23 year old Maria, daughter of the late William Brown Hulme, formerly Assistant Quartermaster General in Jersey. Rev Hart did not take charge of a parish. He and his wife lived just outside Exeter in Alphington. They went on to have five children. He and Maria died in 1872 and 1891 respectively.



Bussell v Dennis 1851    Newspaper report


Adelaide Bussell was born at Honeylands mansion in Whipton in 1830. Her father was Exeter solicitor John Bussell. Her cousin Emma was later to marry surgeon William Warren the surgeon of Bow. In August 1852 she married Rev Henry Coke, in Barnstaple. He was then Rector of Ropsley in Lincolnshire. One of their six children, Charles Henry Coke became an admiral and was knighted.

Thomas John Dennis, also a solicitor, was born in Barnstaple in 1824. In November 1859, he married Agnes Crawshay in Gloucestershire but they moved back to Barnstaple where he lived until his death in 1897. They had two sons.


Tucker v Beveridge 1892    Newspaper report


Jane Tucker was born in Bow in 1865. Her parents were Joseph Rowden Tucker (b Zeal Monachorum 1836) and Mary Baker (born 1843 in Bow). Robert and Thomas Baker, the wrestlers of Bow, were uncles. She worked as a farm servant for her mother’s relatives.

In about 1886, she struck up a long-distance relationship with railway guard George William Betteridge (b Portsmouth 1865), and they became engaged.  Just three weeks after breaking off their engagement in February 1892, he married Susannah Beatrice Lancaster (b 1866) in Hounslow.

Afterwards Jane Tucker worked in the hotel trade; by 1911 she owned the “Bel and Dragon” in Cookham, Berkshire. She does not appear ever to have married.

George Betteridge and his wife Susanna had two sons. He was later promoted to railway inspector and died in Basingstoke in 1943.