Traditional weddings in Gower were known as ‘Bidding weddings’ and remained popular until the beginning of the 20th century. They were celebrations full of ceremony and customs, with lots of feasting and merriment.
Bidding weddings were also known as ‘Beading’ or ‘Bridewain’ because a ‘Bidder’ or ‘Beader’ would be selected to invite guests to the wedding. Following the reading of the banns at the parish church (announcing the upcoming wedding), the ‘Bidder’ or ‘Beader’, sometimes riding a white horse, would carry a decorated staff and visit the homes of each of the invited guests where he would sing a formal invitation known as the ‘Bidding Rhyme’.
According to Phil Tanner, a traditional singer born in 1862 and the last of the ‘Bidders’, the Bidding Rhyme went something like this:
‘I’m a messenger to you and to the whole house in general,
To invite you to the wedding of
The wedding will be next Thursday fortnight,
The Wedding House will be the ‘New Inn’, Oystermouth,
Where the Brides will take breakfast on plenty of good bread, butter and cheese,
Walk to All Saints’ Church to get married, back and take dinner,
And then I’ll see if I can get you some good tin meat and some good attendance.
And whatever you wish to give at the dinner table the brides will be thankful for.
There will be a fiddle in attendance, for there’ll be plenty of music there,
And dancing if you’ll come and dance.
There’ll be fiddlers, fifers, drummers and the devil don’t know beside,
I don’t know what. There’ll be plenty of drinkables there, so they tell me, but that I haven’t tasted.
And if you’ll come to the wedding,
I’ll do all that lie in my power that evening if required,
To get you a sweetheart apiece, if I don’t get drunk:
But the brides is wishful you should come or send.’
Both the bride and bridegroom were called ‘Brides’ and celebrations would begin on the eve of the wedding. Friends would sometimes fire a salute with guns over the ‘wedding house’ to drive away evil spirits and relatives would visit with gifts of currant loaves. The loaves would later be cut into slices and sold to unmarried male guests who would give their slices to single females. The females would display their gifts of cake and the one with the most slices would be declared ‘Belle of the Ball’.
The wedding day would often be on a Thursday, when the brides would leave the wedding house together. The wedding house was not necessarily the brides’ home, but was often a convenient location. The brides, accompanied by their guests, would walk to the church led by someone playing a fiddle decorated with white ribbons.
After the wedding ceremony, the brides and their guests would walk to the nearest pub. After staying there for a while the party would proceed to the wedding house or reception venue. During their journey the brides would be stopped several times by ropes stretched across the road. This was known as ‘chaining of the brides’, which involved children blocking the approach to the reception until a toll was paid, usually a few coins or chocolates. This tradition continued in many rural churches until recent years.
A meal of ‘tin-meat’ awaited the brides and their guests. This was a traditional dish of mutton placed in a large tin and covered with a layer of pastry, which guests would buy at the table. The distribution of the currant loaves would then take place.
Following the meal it would be time for the guests to present gifts. The ‘Bidder’ would go to the guests with two plates for their contributions. They would receive the gift on one plate, record the name of the guest and the amount and then transfer the gift to the other plate. Family and friends would also give household goods.
The wedding would end with dancing, often late into the night. The music would traditionally be played on a fiddle and include a famous local dance, called the ‘Gower Reel’.