In a Leap Year, which happens only every 4 years, it is still traditional for women to propose to men on the 29th February. Historically, it was the only day of the year in which it was acceptable for a woman to do this. If the man refused the marriage proposal, he was expected to buy the woman a pair of gloves (or in some places, 12 pairs!). It is possible that this tradition arose so that the woman could wear the gloves to hide her shame at not having gained an engagement ring.

At Flintshire Record Office, we have an example of a marriage proposal from a woman in the form of a poem, which was found hidden in a book of recipes and home hints. This book was deposited at the Record Office as part of the records of Overton Voluntary Primary School, which is thought to have belonged to Caroline Hughes of Stottesdon, Shropshire (died 1901).

Blog Leap Year 2020

The poem was sent by Edith Armstrong to R.R. Bowen, builder, who lived at The Springs, Henley, Cressage, Shrewsbury, proposing marriage and outlining why she would make him a good wife, on 29th September 1879 (ref: E/X/46/3). Unfortunately we do not know whether he accepted, however a search of the parish registers online on Find My Past does not show a marriage of an Edith Armstrong and a Mr Bowen around that date. Interestingly, 1879 was not a Leap Year so perhaps Mr Bowen felt she was being too ‘forward’ and rejected her advances – without buying her any gloves!

The original letter can be viewed at Flintshire Record Office, Hawarden – booking is required, e-mail: archives@flintshire.gov.uk; tel. 01244 532364.

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