The laws regarding civil marriage have been in place in England and Wales since 1837. From that time onwards, big green marriage registers have been used to record marriages, with long certificates handwritten on the day. Not much changed between then and now – the words Bachelor and Spinster were replaced with the word ‘single’, the way that previous marriages were recorded was amended, and the big one - changing the definition of marriage so that same sex couples could also marry.

The Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Act 2019 was brought in to modernise how marriages are registered, through the introduction of a marriage schedule system and registration in an electronic register. The process would move away from marriage registers and would introduce a more secure system for keeping marriage records; one that is also more efficient and simpler to administer and amend, if necessary, in the future. The electronic register also allows for the names of parents of the couple (mother / father / parent) to be included in the marriage entry and on marriage certificates, instead of only their fathers’ names as was previously the case.

The change was supposed to be implemented in 2020, although no specific date was ever set (unlike the change in law to allow opposite sex couples to form a civil partnership, which had to be in place by 31st December 2019).

Due to the pandemic, the regulations to confirm the policy detail weren’t laid in Parliament until 22 February 2021 and were then set to come into force on 4 May 2021. At that time, we were in the middle of the third wave of the pandemic, so everyone in the team was really busy. Thankfully, lots of the preparation had already been done in 2019, so most of the work we had to do would be to make sure all the new protocols would be Covid safe.

Once all the protocols had been confirmed, training was delivered to all members of the team so that they knew about the changes, the ceremony scripts on our website were updated to remove reference to signing the marriage register and the presentation of marriage certificates, and our FAQs on our website were also updated regarding when couples would get their marriage certificates. We ordered new folders for the schedules to sit in – so that couples can still have their important photo opportunity while signing. We also prepared the first few days of paperwork in advance as we had weddings the morning of 4th May, just in case our electronic system wasn’t working yet!

I registered the final weddings using a marriage register and certificates, and I definitely felt a twinge of sadness – these books are great historical records – and before I left work for the day, my colleague Linda & I made sure that we posed for some pictures with the registers before they were put away. The next day was the beginning of a new era, and it was also my job to register the first marriage by schedule system. It was very exciting being part of such a significant change, and I was delighted to be able to ask for, and record, the mothers’ details of that first couple. They were equally delighted to be able to include their mothers’ details.

 

 

 

The look and feel of the ceremony remains as it did with the old registers – marriage is still a verbal contract, so it’s the words that are spoken, in front of the two registrars and the two witnesses that make a couple married. The couple still get a ceremony which they can personalise, they can still have music and still exchange rings etc. Once the ceremony has finished, the couple and the witnesses sign the schedule, rather than the register, but there is still chance for the couple to pose by the schedule with a fountain pen – at least some traditions have remained!

The biggest change that couples will experience is that because the record of a marriage will be in an electronic register completed after the ceremony, there won’t be any more hand-written certificates – which means no certificates will be issued on the day or presented at the end of the ceremony. Couples will receive their certificates the week after their ceremony has taken place – we will post them out by secure post. Here's a sneak peak of how the new marriage certificate will look, as modelled by Alison.

 

 

We have thousands of lovely memories of couples signing the register over the years, both at The Old Marylebone Town Hall and at various venues within Westminster, but here are just a few...

 

 

  

 

A big thank you to Victoria & Christopher for letting us capture this historic moment in Westminster's registration history - the moment the last marriage register was signed.

 

  

 

Another big thank you to Philip & James who made another moment in Westminster registration history by being the first couple to sign the marriage schedule!

 

 

 

We look forward to this new era in registration and we're sure you all appreciate the changes. Be sure to tag us @adaytorememberdotlondon on Instagram or email us at adaytoremember@westminster.gov.uk to share your happy memories with us.

 

Written by Rebecca Goodman
Edited by Lael Douglas