Britain’s first matchmaking agencies started in the 1600s when vicars played a key role in matching their parishioners with a partner from the same social class. Back then, being single past the age of 21 carried a great stigma, so although it wasn’t publicly discussed, this form of matchmaking was something that people often turned to.
The first non-religious agency appeared in London in 1825. It still matched based on class and was largely used by men who were looking for a good wife. Discretion was key as this wasn’t something that would have been bragged about.
British literature of the time tells us a lot about public attitudes to matchmaking.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife” - Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
Matchmaking became a pastime for women who were already married, and often their only occupation. To quote Jane Austen again, Mrs Bennet enjoyed a little meddling here, sending her eldest daughter out to her suitor's home on horseback, "because it seems likely to rain; and then you must stay all night". This prompted Mr Bennet to retort "your skills in the art of matchmaking are positively occult."
Matchmaking agencies became popular post World War II, when people would join ‘Dating Clubs’ to be introduced to suitable partners.
In the 1980s, Cilla Black made matchmaking a popular source of entertainment with the TV hit Blind Date. Three single people were introduced to the audience but hidden from their potential match, who then had to judge them on their personalities alone before picking his date. The format was a winner. Today viewers tune into a variety of dating shows from Millionaire Matchmaker, Take Me Out,First Dates and The Undateables. It seems we still can't resist the urge to play matchmaker, even if it's from our sofa!
It has been predicted that by 2030, half of all married couples will have met through an introduction agency and with 60% of the world’s marriages still arranged by a third party, it would seem that despite changing trends, there’s still a place for traditional matchmakers.