Alan Crosby’s blog: Mr Liston’s Lonely Hearts Club scam?

By Jon Bauckham, 25 February 2016 - 6:31pm

While trawling through some old newspapers, Alan Crosby found an intriguing advert for a “Matrimonial Alliance Office” – the Victorian equivalent of a modern dating agency

Dr Alan Crosby is the editor of the Local Historian and a columnist for WDYTYA? MagazineThursday 25 February 2016
Alan Crosby
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Mr Liston Matrimonial Alliance Agency

Did our ancestors find true love through Mr Liston’s dating agency, or was it just an elaborate ruse?

“Attractive widow, blonde, 48, fun-loving, likes cinema and sunshine, seeks...”  

We’ve all seen the small ads in the lonely hearts columns. They did it differently 150 years ago, although the underlying motivation was exactly the same.

This week I came across a newspaper advertisement from the mid-1850s, for the splendidly-named “Matrimonial Alliance Office” (or dating agency in modern parlance). The purpose of this oh-so-discreet bureau was “introducing Ladies and Gentlemen, at present unknown to each other, who are desirous of entering into Matrimony”. The advertisement claimed that over 7,000 people, “comprising all classes of Society”, had been “married and made happy” (which is not a guaranteed combination!) in only five years.

The eternal problem was laid bare – there were, in the 1850s as in the 2010s, “Ladies and gentlemen who are anxious to marry but who cannot find suitable partners among their own circle of acquaintance”. Apply now, they were urged, and do not fall into the “too often fallacious hope of being more successful next year”.

It was SO easy – all you had to do was send six penny stamps to Mr Liston of 48 Chalton Street, Euston Square, and in return your Matrimonial Guide would be sent. It would, Mr Liston claimed, “convince everybody”.

In case you doubted his credentials, he proclaimed that he was no charlatan, for he had testimonials from his bankers, solicitors and “others of respectability”. How quaint that sounds – a time when a banker was thought to be respectable! And now you know the answer to that familiar question. We think of our forebears from the mid-Victorian period and ask “However did they meet each other”?

Maybe there’s an honourable place for Mr Liston in our family stories… or perhaps it was a big scam. Just think of all those penny stamps!
 

Alan Crosby lives in Lancashire and is editor of The Local Historian. He is an honorary research fellow at Lancashire and Liverpool universities.

 

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