St Mary’s, Clitheroe: Marriage and Kidnapping

St Mary’s in Clitheroe is a pleasant parish church in a pleasant market town. It was here in 1891 that a woman was kidnapped as she left the morning service, bundled into a carriage and kept prisoner at a house in Blackburn. This was from the beginning a protracted legal dispute, the effects of which are still felt in English common law. The difficulty was that the woman was abducted by her own husband, one Jackson. He had returned from New Zealand and wished to consummate the marriage, which, after his absence, she did not wish to do.

The scene of the crime

An 1898 Cumberland and Westmoreland newspaper report puts it thus:

In July, 1889, he obtained a decree for the restitution of conjugal rights,

but that decree MRS. JACKSON refused to obey.  On March 8, 1891, as she was

leaving church, she was seized and forcibly carried away by her husband to

Blackburn, and detained there in a house occupied by his sister.

MRS. JACKSON was kept in captivity, the house being garrisoned by men.  On

this becoming known, her friends applied to the Queen's Bench for a writ of

habeas corpus.  Mr. Justice CAVE and Mr. Justice JEUNE declined to grant a

rule, holding that the detention was not illegal.

Subsequently the case came before the Court of Appeal, where it was argued

on MR. JACKSON's behalf that he had a common law right to gain possession of

his wife, and to keep her by force if necessary.

The Judges of the Court of Appeal subsequently had an interview with MRS.

JACKSON in their private room, and then gave judgment directing that she

should be set at liberty.

The Lord Chancellor (LORD HALSBURY) laid it down, two other Appeal Judges

assenting, that where a wife refuses to live with her husband, he is not

entitled to keep her in confinement.

Thus English law determined that a husband does not own his wife; she is not his chattel to imprison and control.

When the Court of Appeal decided in Mrs Jackson’s favour, an angry mob in Clitheroe, in defence of husbands’ rights, pelted her carriage with stones and attacked the horses as she returned home from London. The police were ready and ensured she arrived safely at her Clitheroe home on Church Street. A contemporary newspaper report from as far away as Marlborough can be seen here:

Marriage is not just about transferring property rights or prestige. Neither is it concerned exclusively with romantic attraction. It’s about love and fellowship:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.

Ephesians 5:25-28