Breach of Promise, 1901

Reading quite a lot of these type of cases in 1901. Court cases were women, no longer in relationships were suing men for breach of promise, often winning financial damage. Promises of marriage being rescinded upon. Very different to today, when one individual calls off or ends a relationship.

The Court of Session was the venue in this particular case in March 1901 where Margaret Drummond of Edinburgh was suing Blantyre man John Hamilton for such a ‘breach of promise of marriage.’ In this instance though, the couple also had a child, so the situation for them was altogether more complicated and serious than other cases.

John Hamilton lived in School Lane, High Blantyre and was cashier at the Wilsons & Clyde Coal Company. He found himself in court being sued for £500 for breach of promise and a further £500 for ‘seduction’. (I’ll explain that in a moment!). The sum being sued for was £1,000, which in today’s money, would have been £150,000 !! You can perhaps see why he would have been nervous in court.

The couple had met in 1892, when Margaret was visiting Blantyre. She had met John at a Blantyre Co-operative dance and on the following Sunday they went for a walk. It was heard in court that on that first day of courtship, John had allegedly said he had fallen in love and wanted to marry her. Margaret shocked at the speed of this request had refused but they remained sweethearts.

In October 1893, he again offered marriage and this time Margaret accepted, delighted, the couple having nurtured their relationship further by then. However, the engagement was long and 6 years later they still hadn’t married and were still living apart.

In September 1899 at the trade holidays, John visited Margaret’s home and a child was born in June 1900. Margaret told the court that John continued to say he wanted to marry her right up to February 1900, by which time he had changed his mind. Margaret was 5 months pregnant at the time and distraught at the engagement being called off with a child on the way.

In court, standing in his best suit, John had to explain that “improper pre-marriage relations” had taken place between him and Margaret on 2 nights. He denied the promise of marriage, but admitted “the seduction”, given there was a baby in the failed relationship.

The action was concluded with John giving Margaret £50 (about £7,500 todays money) and covering the costs of the legal action.

Photo illustration: Courtesy Blantyre Project AI Generated.

Leave a Reply