The man who sold his wife for £1 at Honiton market

Old picture of an auction in Honiton

Henry Broom auctioned his wife Sarah at Honiton marketplace in 1828 - Credit: Honiton Museum

When museum visitors read about the man that sold his wife for one pound in Honiton market they are either amused or not at all impressed. Mia aged 9, wrote that she would be really angry if her husband sold her for a pound because she thought she was worth at least a million and she would expect to be given at least half of that.

Church courts dealt with marital disputes and a legal separation was the best outcome. Divorce was extremely expensive and a case could only be heard in London until the introduction of the civil Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes in 1858. Because the authorities usually turned a blind eye it was generally believed that if a couple agreed, a separation would be valid if the husband sold his wife in a public auction.

Henry Broom married Sarah Spark in Buckerell church in May 1824 and their son Henry was born in January the following year. On Saturday, 5th July 1828, the Honiton town crier gave public notice that Henry Broom of Buckerell intended to auction his wife in the Honiton marketplace.

One thousand spectators heard Henry Broom praise his wife’s assets and then he started the bidding. A painter was the first to bid and tendered two shillings and sixpence. Sarah thanked him. A stonemason offered five shillings and a carpenter seven shillings and sixpence. A barber offered eight shillings and declared it was the last farthing he would give for her. A tailor offered two shillings more plus a goose, mutton chops and ale. Thomas Tremlett, a widower of Awliscombe, bid one pound and Henry’s response was to let his hammer fall and declare “A lucky hit!”

The indignant onlookers hissed at Broom and he retaliated by throwing brickbats at them. He eventually stopped when a boy was severely hurt.

An account that was written 71 years after the event states that Henry was about to leave the county and was induced to sell Sarah because she had shown too great a liking for Tremlett who was described as the ugliest fellow in the market.

We can’t establish what happened to Henry Broom and there was no happy ending for the new couple who could never legally marry. Thomas and Sarah baptised their daughter Sarah on 26th July 1830. The entry in the church register gives her father as Thomas Tremlett, Awliscombe, labourer, but this is crossed through and the entry is amended to daughter of Sarah Broom, single woman. In the margin of the page is written “A wrong description was given of this infant. The register has in consequence been altered.” On 30th September, both Sarah and baby Sarah were buried in Awliscombe churchyard. Thomas Tremlett married a widow nine months later.