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11 Jun 2021

Bride, banns & braces – when two folklorists wed

Written by Fiona J Mackenzie, Canna House Archivist
A black and white photo of a bride and groom in the 1930s, with an older couple standing either side of them. They are standing by some railings of a large house.
The wedding of John Lorne Campbell and Margaret Fay Shaw, 15 June 1935
Folklorists John Lorne Campbell and Margaret Fay Shaw married in June 1935. To mark the anniversary, here is Margaret’s personal account of her wedding day in a letter to her sister Martha.

When folklorist John Lorne Campbell married American musician and photographer Margaret Fay Shaw on 15 June 1935, little were they to know where their lives would take them and how they would end up on the Isle of Canna in the Inner Hebrides. Here, for the first time in print, is Margaret’s own account of their wedding day in Glasgow, complemented by her own photographs and other items from the Canna House Archives and Collection.

Part of a page of an old handwritten letter, using black ink. The pages below are faintly showing through.
Margaret’s letter to her sister, describing her wedding to John

June 30th 1935


Dearest Martha & Ignatz

We were so pleased to get your wire that Saturday – only two weeks ago!

It is mighty nice of you two & Bid & Boone to remember us and we much appreciated it and it gave a much needed warmth – thank you loads.

The time in Oxford was well spent and I enjoyed being with Dolly. John was there most of the 3 weeks and we were able to use Dolly’s car and drive out in the country nearly every day. I had some days in London where John bought me a swell new hat – blue with a little veil and I bought a 5 shilling organdie blouse to be married in – for we found we had to take a train to Newcastle at once, so the light blue dress would be spoiled by the journey.

John went to Glasgow to arrange to have the banns called and saw his friend the Minister Rev. Malcolm Macleod. I, being an alien, had to remain outside of Scotland until John could establish a residency and the banns called in a church in the district of that residency 3 times. We managed to have it done 3 times on one day! And so were able to be married in 10 days instead of 3 weeks.

John came south again & we spent the last weekend at Dolly’s & travelled south together.

Uncle Fred Moir was delighted to have us at Kensington Gate which is a huge house – for he was all alone except for 2 maids.

I was able to repack my bags, see some friends, the Bones for instance and the head of my old school, St Bride’s, Miss Renton. I let them in on the secret & they were much excited & completely overcome, for though we may not realise it at home, in Scotland John is regarded as a marvellous catch! Especially for a wanton American!

We had tea at the Minister’s, the Rev Malcolm Macleod and decided to have the service in Gaelic. It was to be short and no responses – we were only to say tha (ha) when asked if we would take each other.

I was worried for fear I should miss my lead but I didn’t. Friday night I had dinner alone with Uncle Fred and afterward packed until 2am. The two little Highland maids helped me all they could – they were much thrilled …

A black and white photo of three people standing in the doorway of a large, stone house. A young woman stands between her parents, who are dressed quite formally.
The Bones family, friends of Margaret from her Helensburgh schooldays

Next morning was bright and sunny, unusual in Glasgow and I was ready or nearly so! Margaret Moir Kay came after breakfast and helped me put the last things away (there were 14 pieces, John’s and mine, of baggage to go to the storage house). I hardly realised what was happening I was so busy getting films tied up and my shoes shined.

Then I put on my best breeks and shirt – white without lace – my skirt newly pressed and organdie blouse and the special hat. Uncle Fred gave me two huge orchids and put them on a white leather pocket book & bag – I had new white gloves. The day before I had had a shampoo & facial, manicure & so I looked very nice for the journey.

John had had a new shirt made in Edinburgh and it arrived at the Minister’s house where he was spending the night, just a half hour before the wedding. He was in a fever for fear he wouldn’t have it. The ministers [sic] wife was terribly nice and brought him (John) a carnation, very pink.

An old and slightly blurry black and white photo of a young couple on their wedding day in the 1930s. The man on the right wears a suit with a flower in the buttonhole. The woman on the left wears a small hat with a short veil from the brim.
The pink carnation and ‘little’ veil, mentioned in Margaret’s letter

Margaret Moir Kay & the maids got everything ready and Uncle Fred hired a special limousine to drive us to the MacLeods who lived far on the other side of Glasgow. He, Uncle F. was much pleased & we two got in with much waving & wishing from Kensington Gate.

We had the limousine wait and walked up the 3 flights of stairs to the Minister’s flat. Uncle Fred & I walked arm in arm to the study with the Minister’s wife. She & Uncle F stood at the side while J & I faced the padre across his table desk. The service was very nice – a very special one as the padre was so pleased with John and our work to come. After the ring he read the 13 Chapter of 1st Corinthians which is particularly fine in Gaelic.

After it we all embraced and went down to the car – where the padre took our photographs & we then drove to the “Grosvenor” where John & I gave our witnesses & minister lunch. We also went to the American consul & got my new name put on my passport so that it would look a little better – they gave us greetings there.

After a lunch of fruit cup – ginger ale – duck & ice cream, they put us on the train to Newcastle – 1st Class carriage and they were all so kind and pleased. The parson full of fun and good stories – and Uncle Fred was a perfect darling. He could not have been better to his own daughter.

It was a perfect little company and though I am sorry that the others were not there, it would have meant leaving so many out, yourselves too and some how a wedding service is a strange affair. I think one reason I was so calm was because I had no one but John & Uncle Fred to see and help me. Now when all the relatives come we will be free and able to be with them, without the fright of a wedding.

I must write a letter to Bid & Boone & Caroline. There have only been two letters from home since I sailed May 10th, both from Kay! I was sorry at the time but your wire made all the difference.

Read more about Margaret’s family history

A black and white portrait photograph of a young woman in the 1930s, showing her head and shoulders. She wears a floral satin dress and her short hair is waved.
Caroline Shaw, Margaret’s sister

John joins me in much love, he says to tell you he beat me with his braces this morning. We are having a marvelous [sic] time – are bursting with good health and enjoying life & real happiness.

Heaps of love – I’ll write soon again when I have news from home.

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