is an old Scottish village on the border between Scotland and England. In the old pre-car days the town was the first changing post across the Scottish border for the stagecoaches on the London to Edinburgh route. Stagecoaches were big horse-drawn carriages for delivering post. Being a tiring and slow mode of transport, stagecoaches had to make regular stops to allow the driver to have some rest and to change the horses. So, how did a small village become the most famous marriage place
in history? It is well known that the Scots are warm, hospitable and loving people who have always had an open and progressive attitude towards marriage. Traditionally, in Scotland, a man and a woman over the age of sixteen could get married by declaring themselves husband and wife in front of witnesses and did not require parental consent. In England, such marriages were banned by Act of Parliament in 1745. The Act stated that if either party to a marriage was under 21, then they could not marry without parental consent. However, the Act was only law in England and did not affect Scottish Law. So what was a young English couple to do if they were in love, under 21 and knew that they would not be able to obtain parental consent? Why, flee to Scotland, of course! Because of Gretna Green\’s location, the village soon became heaven for eloping couples and a synonym for runaway weddings. Up until 1940, wedding ceremonies could be conducted by any responsible adult and since Gretna\’s blacksmith was the most important person in the village, wedding ceremonies over the anvil became very common.
This is how Gretna\’s blacksmith became known as the anvil priest. In popular folklore, the village blacksmith and the blacksmith\’s anvil have become the enduring symbols of Gretna Green weddings. Now the Blacksmith\’s shop is a museum. Over time, Gretna Green weddings became so popular that the blacksmith could no longer satisfy the demand on his own and the village had to get more anvil priests. One of the last anvil priests, Richard Rennison, married 5,147 couples in the Blacksmith\’s Shop before he retired in 1962. In 1857 Parliament issued another Act requiring the couples to live in the area for 21 days before they could marry, in an attempt to restrict the increasing flow of eloping lovers. In 1940 Parliament finally outlawed the Blacksmith\’s Priests and their anvil marriages. Since then, marriages could only be conducted by a Minister of Religion or an authorised Registrar. But the romances live on. With no residential requirements and no need for parental consent for couples over sixteen, couples continue to run away to Gretna Green to share its wonderful history. So many thousands of lovers have married at Gretna Green, that its name and traditions have gained international recognition. Couples have been delivered to the anvil by all modes of transport: lorry, fire engine, horseback – you name it! One couple had arranged their wedding to fit in with their journey to Aviemore, the most famous Scottish skiing resort, to take part in the International sledge-pulling competitions.
The 29 Huskies remained in their transporter outside the anvil while the marriage ceremony was being conducted. Wedding outfits also vary. Sometimes the wedding parties arrive on motor bikes dressed in black leather, so the only way to identify the bride is to find out which one has got the bouquet! And, of course, traditional kilts for Scottish bridegrooms are still as popular as ever. Perhaps the most famous couple wedded in Gretna Green is, the world\’s most honourable robber, and Maid Marion. The legend goes that they arrived at the anvil on horseback. Fortunately, the horse was tied to a tree outside the building while the ceremony was taking place. Couples are welcome from all over the world, so when you decide to get married, why not consider getting married in Gretna Green? Gretna Green indeed, is as superior in reality as it is in name. It looks as if it were the capital of the God of Love. Robert Smith Surtees, БThe Richest Commoner in EnglandБ, б New Monthly Magazine, б 1848. References to Gretna Green litterб high and popular culture Б it appearsб both in AustenБsб Pride and Prejudice б (where Lydia Bennett elopes with ghastly George Wickham), and inб Downton Abbey. б The history of Gretna Green highlights how a different law north of the border can be very attractive, at least where the laws of love are concerned. It often surprises people to learn that family law is not the same in England and Wales as it is inб Scotland. б Back in 1754 Lord HardwickeБs Marriage Act was passed.
It stipulated that, if a parent of a minor (a person under the age of 21) objected, they could legally veto the union. It did not take long for couples in England to realise that the law did not apply in Scotland, where it was possible for boys to wed at fourteen without consent and girls at a mere twelve. By the 1770s, with the construction of a toll road, Gretna Green became the first easily reachable village north of the Scottish border. Scottish weddings were even more attractive by virtue of Scottish law allowing for Бirregular marriagesБ, whereby almost anybody had the authority to conduct the marriage ceremony, provided there were two witnesses. The blacksmiths in Gretna Green earned the title of anvil priests Б and their place in Scottish history! Б as they would make the rings as well asб performing the marriage ceremony for couples fleeing their parentsБ veto. Despite pressure from the English government on the Scots to adopt Lord HardwickeБs marriage act, Scotland refused. It was not until 1856 that Lord Braugham passed a law necessitating residence in Scotland before the wedding. After this, if a couple wished to marry in Scotland, one of them had to spend twenty-one days living in the country beforehand. This was commonly referred to as the cooling-off act, but it did not deter all young lovers. Instead, Gretna Green became popular as a venue for young couples to reside. Locals even offered their hay barns as lodgings. In 1940, БAnvil WeddingsБ were outlawed.
Only the registrar could legally marry couples, and the local blacksmithБs role was restricted to creating objects only instead of both objects and marital unions. The cooling-off period remained. Gretna Green, however, continued to attract young couples who wished to defy the wishes of their parents by marrying without consent. In England, any couples under twenty-one were unable to marry without the consent of their parents, but in Scotland the age was just sixteen. In 1977, the cooling-off period was repealed, marking an end to the residence requirement. Although the age of consent for marriage was lowered to eighteen in England, it remained sixteen in Scotland, and Gretna Green thus retained popularity for young teens wishing to wed. In 1985, no doubt captivated by the romance of the blacksmithБs shop, a young bride succeeded in persuading a Church of Scotland minister to marry her over the anvil of theб. This wedding set precedence for others wishing to have a ceremony in the same venue. When an alteration to ScotlandБs Marriage Act allowed civil ceremonies to take place in licensed premises, the famous Blacksmiths Shop applied for a license and was granted the right to perform both religious and civil ceremonies. Now, thanks to further changes in the law, Gretna Green welcomes all couples for their special day. One in six Scottish weddings take place at Gretna Green and the famous Blacksmiths shop retains its place in both the history books and popular culture.