Selling your wife at town’s market in Hailsham

Hailsham cattle market
Hailsham cattle market

Dressed in her Sunday best, she is led by her husband out of the family home.

She follows him to Hailsham Market where she stands surrounded by tradesmen.

The year is 1814 and this young woman is being sold by her husband to the ‘highest bidder’.

The bidding begins and she is bought for seven shillings by another man.

It was this story which was heavily featured in the first episode of a fascinating new series on BBC2.

Suffogettes Forever! The Story of Women and Power is exploring the oppression of British women through the ages.

In the first episode, aired last week, presenter and historian Amanda Vickery described how the law meant a wife was the property of her husband.

He could beat, rape or even sell her to another man.

To demonstrate this point Amanda Vickery visited modern day Hailsham Market.

The modern day market sells pigs, cattle and sheep.

But in the early 19th century, before women’s rights, men could sell their wives.

The presenter stands in the sale ring to show where women would have stood to be sold.

In fact, she says in October 1814, the local paper for Hailsham reported that a man led his wife to Hailsham market and ‘offered her to the highest bidder’.

Ms Vickery said there were at least 300 wife sales in Britain with the last being recorded in 1928 in Wales.

The three part programme details how the legislation for women’s rights is relatively recent - with women unable to vote until 1928.

It was Henry III who granted Hailsham a Market Charter in 1252.

The market was originally held in the High Street and in Market Square.

Today there are weekly livestock markets and a monthly farmers’ market.

The next farmers’ market is due to take place on March 14 from 9.30am until 12.30pm.

There will be a wide variety of stalls and local produce including meat, game, fruit and vegetables, plants, pasta, bread, cakes, cheese, wine, eggs and honey.

Hailsham Street Market will take place in Vicarage Field in Hailsham on Thursday (March 12).

It wil run from 9.30am until 3pm.

There will be fresh fruit and veg, homemade pies, smoked fish, crafts and jewellery, garden plants, pet items, and stylish accessories.

There is free parking in the town centre.