The Most Infamous Wedding Venue: Gretna Green

Lydia Kendall

Hello my wonderful lads and lasses,

A problem that has existed since the land before our time: young people wanting to marry their sweethearts, and the parents not agreeing to this marriage. Even now, even though young folks don’t need their parents’ permission to marry someone they love, they still need at least their blessing. 

But back then, if the parents did not approve, welp, things were really, really hard for young couples. That’s why so many of them left for Gretna Green! The most infamous wedding avenue at the time, this small Scottish village was the perfect spot for ‘illegal’ couples to get married as fast as possible. 

Let’s see why that is, shall we? 😀

Famous blacksmith shop coach. Image source.

Why flee to Gretna Green?

Well, actually, it’s a good combination of geography and a change in English laws!

Around the middle of the 18th century, English lords changed the laws pertaining to marriage, making it very hard for young couples to elope. Both of them had to be over 21 years old to marry without their parents consent, and the marriage had to take place at a church. Not a good combination for youngsters in love who wanted a wedding right then and there, right?

Well, Scotland law was very different. You could simply marry on the spot, with two witnesses and declarations from both people that ‘they were free to marry’. Who knows what this declaration could actually entail, huh? This was called the ‘marriage by declaration’ ceremony, or ‘hand-fasting’ ceremony. 

With that big of a difference in the laws of the country, and Gretna Green being the first village in Scotland that was conveniently reached from London, it was only a matter of time before young people started rushing there to get married as fast as possible. Especially since there would usually be an angry father of the bride in hot pursuit of the illegal couple, those youngsters in love could not waste any time!

Blacksmiths Shop sign at Gretna Green. Image source.

Why the Blacksmith shop?

As we said, they could not waste ANY time…and the Blacksmith shop was the first building in the village when couples reached Gretna Green. Since many young brides would flee there to ‘marry a scoundrel’ the poor little Blacksmith shop became synonymous with the words scandal and intrigue!

Depending on status and financial situation, those ‘Anvil Priests’ would perform the ceremony for a wee dram of whiskey or a few guineas. The hammering of the anvil soon became a notorious sound; romantically, it is said that like the metals he forged, the Blacksmith would join couples together in the heat of the moment but bind them for eternity. So romantic! …or not?

1856 – the ‘cooling off’ year

Gretna Green caused a lot of controversy and problems for English society, and many lords pushed for a reformation. Well, the Establishment actually pushed to outlaw them, but that was not as easy. That’s why, in 1856, Lord Brougham passed an act that really affected those runaway couples. This act stated that if a couple wished to marry in Scotland one of them had to spend 21 days living there before marriage. This is commonly referred to as the “cooling off” act. 

Well, that was only three weeks to either get over the hots for your significant other, or fall in love with them further!

We have to thank Gretna Green for providing young couples at the time with the opportunity to marry each other “tonight!”. 

Did you know Gretna Green is still in operation today? 

Would you do it? Would you leave to marry your lover in secret? 😀

Let me know in the comments!

Until next time…

Written by Lydia Kendall


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