Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Matter of Lives and Deaths; There's a Wedding Almost Every 30 Minutes at Chelsea Register Office. but as the Champagne Flows, Pamela Townsend Finds Tea and Sympathy Is Also on Offer

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Matter of Lives and Deaths; There's a Wedding Almost Every 30 Minutes at Chelsea Register Office. but as the Champagne Flows, Pamela Townsend Finds Tea and Sympathy Is Also on Offer

Article excerpt

Byline: PAMELA TOWNSEND

IT'S the busiest register office in London and perhaps the most popular in the country. Situated in Chelsea's Old Town Hall on King's Road, its name carries a certain cachet. Tony Blair registered Leo's birth there and its 2,000 marriages a year include many celebrities. But it isn't always a flurry of confetti and flashbulbs - there can be pain, too, as visitors also call in to report deaths.

In charge is superintendent Andrew Kenyon, 42, who commutes from the Isle of Wight. A onetime interior designer, he joined Chelsea as a registrar of marriages in 1984, had a spell at an IoW register office in the early 1990s and returned to Chelsea in 1995. He heads a staff of 13, plus eight part-timers, and works 8.30am to 4.40pm with an extension to 7pm on Thursdays, plus one Saturday in four.

"I'm custodian of our thousands of registers, dating from 1837, which are stored in the vaults," he says. "I run twice-yearly training sessions for new local clergy, who are responsible for the registration of the weddings they conduct. I also deal with staff problems.'' Andrew officiates at 400 weddings a year - recent names on the register include football legend George Best and composer Bernard Haitink - and an important aspect of his work is conducting the legally-required meeting couples must attend before their big day.

"I check that all documents are in order, that they are free to marry and are of sound mind. I explain the law to them, and the fact that false information can result in a fine or imprisonment.

"Bigamy and arranged marriages aren't common, but they happen. I'm not an aspirin looking for a headache, but if concerned I can refer the matter to the Registrar General and the Home Office."

Italian Beba Allsop, 45, was promoted from deputy to registrar in 1999. "I do a lot of death registrations - I don't know why, but I'm good at them," she says. "I empathise with people, I understand their grief and what they're going through."

Formerly in the travel industry, she gave up work in 1982 to raise her two children in Fulham and returned to work four years ago when she joined the Chelsea office.

"The interview takes about 20 minutes, and it can be harrowing for loved ones. I have questions I must ask, but I know they cause pain. I must check the spelling of names, the date of birth, address, occupation and so on. I show them a draft of the certificate before I write it by hand in the register.

"The worst moment is often when a spouse sees 'widow' or 'widower' by their name for the first time, it can be a great shock. If they look pale, I offer them a cup of tea. It's then that tears can flow."

Loughton-based bachelor Roger Barker, 65, conducts weddings away from the register office. Formerly a full-time registrar with the Royal Borough of Kensington, he now officiates part-time. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.