I love the novels of Thomas Hardy, even the films made of his stories are pretty good. Made in 1978, The Mayor of Casterbridge starred Alan Bates*** as a man who preferred the old custom of selling his wife as an alternative to getting a divorce.
image by John Willie
“In a sale by auction the husband would lead the wife to a market on market day by a halter round her neck or waist. The sale would proceed only with the wife’s consent and she could also veto it if the purchaser was not to her liking. In one report from Manchester (1824) it was said that after several biddings the wife was knocked down for 5 shillings; but not liking the purchaser, she was put up again for 3 shillings and a pint of ale.”
image found here
According to the periodical “All the Year Round” (1832), Joseph Thompson, a farmer, agreed to separate from his wife of three years. He put her up for auction with this sales pitch…
She is a born serpent and my tormentor. but she can also read novels and milk cows, make butter and scold the maid, and while she can’t make rum, gin or whiskey, she is a good judge of the quality from long experience of tasting them. She is offered at 50 shillings.”
However, Thompson seemed to have oversold her faults. After an hour, she was knocked down to Henry Mears for 20 shillings and a New Foundland dog, with the parties then going their separate ways, apparently mutually pleased with the bargain.
***Alan Bates had a lengthy affair with Peter Wyngarde, better known as 60s television sleuth, Jason King. You can read about Alan and his many paramours here
image of Peter Wyngarde found here