Wedding Bells Are Ringing at the Noble House

The Alexander Noble House museum is celebrating love with the return of its rotating Victorian Weddings exhibit. Last year’s exhibit theme was A House in Mourning, so this year, visitors can see the Noble House dressed up for a more joyful occasion. 

Alexander Noble built the house in 1875, and it remains the oldest wood-frame residence in Fish Creek, sitting at the bottom of the hill at 4167 Main St. Although there are no formal records of weddings taking place in the Noble House, according to Laurie Buske, director of the Gibraltar Historical Association, weddings from the 1860s until the 1900s often did take place in the living room of a bride’s or groom’s family home. 

Many of the artifacts and most of the furniture is original to the house, but Buske said quite a few of the wedding-specific items on display were donated, including some wedding dresses from the 19th and 20th centuries. 

Laurie Buske said the gowns in the Noble House’s collection are extremely fragile, including these three 19th- and 20th-century wedding dresses. Photo by Emma Chamley.

“A lot of people know we do the weddings and the funerals, and they’ll just bring us stuff,” she said.  

Victorian wedding superstitions and customs have inspired many modern wedding traditions, and these are something the exhibit seeks to highlight, Buske said. Such traditions include the bride wearing a veil and the father of the bride walking his daughter down the aisle.

“Originally, the veil was because you really weren’t supposed to see the bride,” Buske said. “There was a thing about evil spirits, and you weren’t supposed to see her until after. Then there was a period of time where they had [veils] so thick, that’s why they said the dad had to walk the bride down the aisle, because the bride literally couldn’t see.” 

Buske said the tradition of a bride throwing her bouquet to her bridesmaids grew out of a 19th-century custom in which brides would give their bridesmaids a small gift hidden within a piece of the wedding cake, predicting the bridesmaids’ future. 

“If you were a bridesmaid, they had favors in the cake,” Buske said. “It would depend on what you got in the favor, like if it was a ring, you would get married next. Eventually they did away with it because they didn’t like having their gloves soiled digging through the cake.”

Just as the tradition of giving a hidden bridesmaid’s gift transformed into throwing a bouquet, other customs have evolved as well. For instance, Buske explained how calling cards – small cards with printed messages exchanged in place of formal visits – morphed into modern-day business cards. 

Courting candles, a fan and a rattling spinning wheel were all used in Victorian times. Photo by Emma Chamley.

Also on display are artifacts highlighting the courting customs of the time, including “courting candles,” which kept track of the allotted time an unmarried couple could spend together; and a rattling spinning wheel, which would make noise when spinning, ensuring that the spinner didn’t get distracted by a suiter. Another custom Buske explained was “bundling”: when an unmarried couple was allowed to sleep in the same bed with a barrier between them, “bundled” in separate blankets.

Three wedding cakes were the custom in Victorian times: one for the bride, one for the groom and one the guests. Photo by Emma Chamley.

Other traditions such as the father of the bride taking the bride’s shoe off and giving it to her husband – signifying the exchange of power over the bride – have gone out of fashion. 

“We’ve come a long way,” Buske said. “People need to know how far we’ve come because we don’t always feel like we’ve come really far.”