Industrial Revolution–era England had a lot of unhappy marriages, but divorce was a long and expensive process which wasn’t available to the lower classes. Therefore, they instituted a new tradition: wife selling.
The concept appeared around the mid-1700s and became popular during the 19th century. This wasn’t an official procedure and never legally dissolved the marriage. However, most local magistrates were willing to look the other way, since both husband and wife had to agree on the sale.
One of the most well-known and detailed instances of wife selling occurred on April 7, 1832, when a farmer named Joseph Thomson sold his wife in Carlisle. The event was presented in that year’s edition of The Annual Register and later published in Robert Chambers’s Book of Days, a popular compendium of curiosities, oddities, and anecdotes from British life.