Seventy-four-year-old Shropshire rector's wedding which caused a sensation

Here she comes! The cry from outside the church meant the end of some anxious moments for Shropshire rector the Rev Joseph Miller, 74, as he awaited his bride, Miss Dilys Roberts, aged 20.

No pictures please! The bride and groom at their wedding.
No pictures please! The bride and groom at their wedding.

To say she cut things fine is an understatement. No marriage could be solemnised after 3pm – and she didn't turn up at the church until 2.58pm.

As the groom waited he battled with his emotions in the chancel as tension rose and the clock ran down. The scene in church was "exceedingly painful" as the congregation felt sympathy for the obvious torment of the aged rector, the Shrewsbury Chronicle reported.

"More than once he looked as if he would burst into tears, and as he stood with shoulders bent he presented a pathetic figure. He looked all his 74 years," it added, rather unkindly.

The Rev Joseph Miller enters the church.

As the bridal party arrived the officiating clergyman, the Rev Llewellyn Lloyd Davies, hurried them down the aisle and had to quieten the hubbub in the congregation as he explained he would have to change the order of things and cut corners to make the deadline, and that they would have to sign the register first and have the service afterwards.

They dashed into the vestry where the register was signed in the nick of time, just as a church clock struck 3.

That wedding, which was held in Whitchurch, near Cardiff, on September 22, 1913, made international headlines for the same reasons that it probably would even today.

The couple, who seem to have known each other only a matter of weeks, had tried to keep the wedding secret, but word leaked out and the press was there in force.

The bride is said to have been pale, but was "none the less pretty on that account".

For our wedding pictures, we have to turn to the fuzzy images carried on the pages of contemporary newspapers of over 100 years ago, so apologies for their quality.

Outside a huge crowd of curious villagers gathered and there was more drama when the chauffeur of the wedding car drove off at high speed with a photographer clinging to the vehicle. Rather than risk serious injury jumping off, the photographer climbed through the car window and sat facing the newlyweds.

The chauffeur of the second wedding car thought everybody entitled was on board and drove off without the bride's father and her sister, who had to wait among the crowd until he realised his mistake and returned.

"When the bridal pair arrived at the house there was a little jeering by some women, and one or two hoots," the Chronicle reported. The pair soon afterwards caught a train to begin married life in Shropshire.

Mr Miller was the rector of Bolas Magna (that is, Great Bolas) and a widower. He was described as a distinguished theologian and eminent scholar, being the author of a four-volume work on the historical and speculative exposition of the Thirty Nine Articles.

Great Bolas Church.

Miss Roberts, who hailed from Llandaff in Wales, had gone to the village of Great Bolas only two months earlier to teach in the local school. She also played the organ in the village church.

On the couple's return from honeymoon the church congregation, usually very small, was much larger.

An odd notice, signed by the rector, was posted in the porch: "In protection of the true worshipper it has been thought desirable that if speaking in church and other disorders are reported as prevailing a public example be made of the evildoers."

Miller had been rector of Bolas Magna since 1886 and his first wife Elizabeth died in December 1899, aged 58.

His young second wife Dilys was soon to be a widow as he died on September 13, 1916. She was chief mourner at the funeral.

The obituary in the Wellington Journal recognised his profound piety, his unquestioned love for the parishioners, and zeal for the moral welfare of his flock, but added: "There were some to whom perhaps it would seem that he was too much enamoured of his study and of abstruse researches to enter with much enthusiasm into the ordinary pursuits of a rural community."

Some research by Shropshire genealogist John Paul Jeffels fleshes out some interesting further details. Dilys was one of at least eight siblings all of whom, but her, were born in Wales – she was born in the Shrewsbury registration district.

At the time of the 1921 census she was living as a young widow in Goring-by-Sea, Sussex, and she was destined to remarry, in March 1928, to Richard Flynn.

In 1939 John has traced the couple to Ivy House, Pulley, near Shrewsbury, her husband at that time being described as a master mariner on the SS Shakespeare, and she is listed as an elementary school teacher.

He seems to have died in 1951 while Dilys Wynn Flynn died at the age of 90 on October 25, 1983. The Shropshire Star death notice described her as "late of 3 Wrekin Buildings, Wrekin Course, Wellington (former County Art Teacher for Shropshire)."

Curiously the inscription of the rector's gravestone adds 10 years to his actual age.

The last resting place of her first husband, the Rev Joseph Miller, is in the churchyard of St John the Baptist Church, Great Bolas. Curiously, the inscription gives his age as 87, which must have been a mistake by the engraver adding 10 years to his actual age as John's research proves he was born in 1839 and baptised in 1840, and census records down the years confirm his age.

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