Hardwickes Marriage Act 1753, coming into force on March 25, 1754, was titled 'An Act for the better preventing of Clandestine Marriages'. Its purpose was to tighten the laws of marriages as they had previously been conducted by the clergy outside a parish church or chapel.
Many clandestine or irregular marriages were conducted in London's Fleet Prison during the 17th and early 18th centuries. During the 1740s, out of 47000 marriages taking place in England, 6000 took place in the Fleet area.
It was the responsibility of Philip Yorke, the 1st Earl of Hardwicke(1 December 1690 - 6 March 1764), and required a formal ceremony to be conducted in the Church of England Parish Church.
It was also a requirement that the union was registered by a parson which had not been the case in the past. It came into force on 25th March 1754 and was read out in churches and chapels on Sundays in 1753, 1754 and 1755 because a lot of people couldn’t read or write.
The Clandestine Marriages Act 1753 meant that all marriages should be conducted in a church or chapel and then recorded in a marriage register.
Nonconformists had to marry in a church or chapel so their entry should be there with all the others even though they did not always agree with the practices of the church.
Quakers and Jews were exempt from this ruling and could marry in their own places of worship. Members of the British Royal Family were exempt.
It also led to many couples marrying in Gretna Green. The law was different in Scotland where couples only had to declare their intent to marry in the presence of two witnesses.
If a member of the clergy was found to be breaking this new law, they were sentenced to transportation for 14 years.