Sophie looked at Joseph, the lines on his face had deepened, and life in London was certainly getting worse. There had been the constant anxiety of the French invasion last year. This was so much harder for him as he was an émigré and people were suspicious of him. Although he hid it, he could not change his French soul and she worried about him. They had made their place in London Society and she was an exemplary hostess to the small circle of her father’s business associates, but they were a pretty snobbish lot and she felt for Joseph as he struggled to fit in.
Her father, Richard Noble, was working harder than ever, he had to expand his carpentry business as there was a boom in the ship building industry. Britain had increased her output of ’ships of the line’ and more wood and carpenters were needed to supply the shipyards. It was necessary to have an enormous fleet of ships to outdo the French in the Mediterranean, Atlantic, Baltic and the English Channel as the threat of war was on all sides. It was not only for the war, but ships were needed to transport slaves and to send convicts to Australia, as well as prison hulks for captives. People were employed making all the necessary items for war mongering, smelting, blacksmiths, rope makers, carpenters, weavers, tailors and all their associated trades. The mechanisation of a lot of these tasks was also causing unrest at home and women and children were exploited as cheap labour in the new sweat factories. The army had to be fed and clothed; they required arms and the ships had to be fast and well equipped to spend months at sea.
Richard had had to borrow money from Hoare’s Bank to expand his business, but now the banks were in trouble as there was huge government debt to pay for the war and the lines of credit were being cut. Richard was concerned that the bank would go under and all his debt be called in.
Sophia had had her own sorrows to bear; she had lost two more children not long after they were born. She was pregnant again and so badly wanted to keep this child, so she rested a lot. Marianne took over quite a bit of the household responsibilities to help Sophie through these difficult times. Marianne was growing up into a fine young lady; she helped to entertain her parent’s guests and lent a hand in the kitchen when necessary, although they employed the services of a cook and housekeeper.
Sophie played her part too in alleviating the distress of the poor. She would send Marianne and the cook out to deliver food parcels to those elderly folk she knew that lived in her neighbourhood who were ill and could not feed themselves. The daily grind was a struggle for most people and London was no longer a safe place to live as people turned to crime to survive. The law was pretty harsh, the prisons were overcrowded and a person could be transported to Botany Bay for just stealing a loaf of bread. Sophia counted her blessings and was thankful for such a loving husband as Joseph, although she felt she was the one having to hold things together most of the time as he did not have the confidence to voice his opinions and make his own way in London Society.
Funds were running low and even Sophie’s father Richard was battling financially as he had to borrow a lot of money to supply wood to the shipbuilders. Amongst those he owed money to was a ship builder James Smith, who worked on both building and repairing the ships of the line.
James was a tall and sinewy young man of 28 years old and a hard worker. His mother was of Norwegian descent and his father was a post office clerk. He was born in 1782 just before the American War of Independence. He had gone to a Boy’s Commercial School in London where he had learnt bookkeeping, navigation and shipbuilding skills before serving his apprenticeship on board the ‘’Minataur,” he knew his trade well and was more often than not at sea repairing ships. The war was also taking its toll on him. After months at sea when the cold salty spray drenched him and he was tired and hungry, he would look at his rough chapped hands and long for the warmth of a home, a good meal and the tender hands of a woman to care for him. Most men of his age were already married, but this infernal war had kept him far away from any eligible young ladies as he had little time on shore to find himself a wife.
When his ship the ‘Argonaut’ docked at Portsmouth he was determined to make the most of his shore leave. Richard Noble owed him money and he was headed to Woodbridge to go and collect his dues. He was negotiating with Richard about what money he was owed when he said half-jokingly,
“I am looking for a wife”.
Richard ever the businessman thought for a bit and said,
“Aah, I have a granddaughter; maybe if you find her acceptable, we can come to some arrangement with the payment!”
James stood and knocked on the door of the house in Kensington, the housekeeper opened the door.
“I am looking for Mr and Mrs Cherer”, he said “I have a letter for them from Mr Noble.”
“Come in I will take you to the parlour”, the housekeeper ushered him in.
After greeting Joseph and Sophia and introducing himself, James felt a bit awkward handing Joseph the letter from Richard requesting they consider this proposal. He looked coyly around the room to see if the daughter was there. He looked at his feet and fidgeted.
“Please sit down and we will send for a cup of tea for you while we discuss this letter” said Joseph.
Joseph and Sophia discussed the letter in private, both thought Marianne was too young, but sometimes desperate times required desperate measures and Marianne was an extra mouth to feed and clothe, they would have to marry her off sooner or later they reasoned. Joseph wanted her to marry well to a good provider as he had little to offer as a dowry. They were dependent on Richard’s good will to keep them in London, so it was decided to entertain James and introduce him to Marianne who was now 14 years old.
Her bright blue eyes sparkled and she held her head well. James watched Marianne as she helped her mother and the cook; he saw she was a competent young lady. After dinner as was the custom she played the piano. To his hungry eyes she was delightful as her dark hair shone in the soft candlelight and the smooth skin of her face glowed softly. He looked at her lips pursed in concentration as she played her piece on the piano; the notes became soundless as he desired her more than anything right now, she was young, so very young and vulnerable. When she had finished playing James sat next to her on the sofa. Sophia busied herself in the corner of the Drawing Room with some embroidery giving the young people some time to get to know each other.
James visited the Cherer’s every day and courted Marianne; she was flattered by his attention and found him to be courteous and a gentleman. Her parents had told her it was her duty to be married as they still had the burden of providing for her three brothers that needed to be educated, money was very tight right now and James would be a good provider for her. At the end of the week James spoke to Joseph and asked for Marianne’s’ hand in marriage. Joseph was heartbroken as he loved his daughter, she was his French soul, his Marianne, his voice of ‘liberty and reason’, but he knew that Sophia’s father held the upper hand – he owed everything he owned in this country to Richard – now he was being asked to offer up his only daughter as a sacrifice on the altar of obligation. He assented to the marriage with heavy heart.
The eighteenth of July 1810 dawned bright and sunny. Sophia dressed Marianne in her best silk dress and packed all her other clothes into a leather case, she tried her best to explain to Marianne what to expect. Marianne felt anxious and excited at the same time; butterflies in her stomach made her feel light headed as she entered the church. Sophia and Joseph escorted Marianne into the old Anglo-Saxon church of St Giles in Camberwell, Southwark, with its stone walls and crammed box pews. They took their place in the Lady Chapel in the south transept. James was waiting there with the License he had purchased and as they took their vows he promised he would take good care of his child bride. The marriage was witnessed by Sophia, giving her consent as Marianne was under age. Joseph could not sign, his heart was broken.
After the wedding tea at her parents’ house, James and Marianne set off for Portsmouth as James was due to sail on the ‘Argonaut’, and so Marianne was thrust roughly into adulthood as she waved her parents goodbye. Joseph turned away with tears in his eyes as they disappeared from view. ‘Poor child, tonight she will be a woman’, he sobbed to himself. Sophia held him close. They comforted one another, she too felt for the child’s pain, life was harsh these days.