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A guest post by LH Member Claudia Elliott. 

REVIEW: Marriages Are Made In Bond Street – True Stories From a 1940s Marriage Bureau by Penrose Halson.

marriagesbondstreetLooking for a husband or wife is no easy task and, in spring 1939, two enterprising chums, Heather Jenner and Mary Oliver, decided to make it their business. They opened the first match-making agency, situated in a tiny office above a hairdressing salon in Bond Street.

Instead of waiting for Cupid’s arrow to strike at a society ball or in the Lyons Corner House, potential sweethearts could queue up the stairs to the Marriage Bureau, where a secretary would take down their particulars and vet their suitability as partners.

During the inter-war years, social class was still much to the fore, and status was the number one concern. Candidates were graded as ‘Gentish’, ‘Near Lady’ or ‘Much Better Than Some’.

Most were looking for solid, steady partners who could provide a home and security. No requests for ‘partners in crime’ or ‘soulmates who enjoy drinking red wine by a roaring fire’ here.

As it was unusual for young women to be running a business, let alone one of this nature, the two 24-year-old proprietors run up against spluttering moral indignation from various quarters.

War breaks out and with it the pressure to find a bride or groom increased. One memorable passage concerns a disfigured soldier who takes his partially sighted date to The Players Theatre in Albemarle Street for a magical evening of Victorian song and mushroom pie.

Over time, the business of match-making became more socially acceptable and Heather Jenner became a minor celebrity featured in newspapers.

Author and London Historians member Penrose Halson rattles through the tale in an entertainingly droll fashion. She was the owner of Katharine Allen Marriage Bureau, which merged with Heather Jenner’s business in 1986. Heather Jenner’s archive provided the stories for this book.

Quirky gems are to be found in the notes on candidates’ requirements –

“Sensible but not stodgy. Not living in or near Southport.”
“Interested in ballet or opera or both but not the Bloomsbury type that haunts both.”

Men tended to be preoccupied with appearance, often stating a preference for virginal bombshells who were willing to keep house and travel with their husband’s job.

The interviewer’s comments about candidates could be merciless – “Scarecrow, spectre, long thin face and body, glasses. But pleasant.”

The jaunty toodle-pipness and sentimentality is a little overdone in places but in all this book is great fun, as well as a valuable document of social life in the 1940s. And the Marriage Bureau worked – thousands of its clients were wed after their introductions in Bond Street.

The speediest success story comes from the couple who sent the following telegram: “Met at lunch STOP Engaged at dinner STOP Thank you.”

Marriages Are Made In Bond Street – True Stories From a 1940s Marriage Bureau (357pp) by Penrose Halson is published by Macmillan available in both hardback and paperback.


Claudia Elliott
https://claudiaelliott.contently.com/
Twitter: @Claudia_Elliott

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