November 10

48 comments

The Most Infamous Wedding Venue: Gretna Green


Hello my wonderful lads and lassies,

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?

Places to see in Scotland. Image source.

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


Tags

Articles, Scottish Romance


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  • I did Marryat a sort of Greta Green, in CA. It was for all practical purposes an elopement. We lasted 26 1/2 til death did us part. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

  • I enjoy these history lessons. It adds so much to understanding the historical romantic fiction that I love. In the case of Bath, England. My daughter and son-in-law were actually married at the Gild Hall in Bath and the two families spent the entire week-end after the wedding visiting the sites. Now every time I read about Bath in a story, the Abby, the Pump Room, the Crescent, or even the homes or typography all I need to do is close my eyes and the story comes alive. I even had a picture taken under the street sign, Cheap Street!

  • Would I d it? Yes! I did in fact marry my husband without my parents consent.In church because Canada is a long way from Gretna Green! I was under the legal age so parents could have stopped things. They didn’t, obviously. My younger brother gave me away ( I suspect he enjoyed that part! ) Had I lived way back when, I most assuredly would have eloped. I love him and he loved me and parents don’t always know what is best/

  • Thx for the interesting explanations about Gretna Green, seamstresses and Victorian law enforcement. I have never been to Britain but always like to read about it.

  • my husband and i got married and did not tell anyone about it. we met around thanksgiving 1958 and was married in jan of 1959, we went together 6 weeks and have been married 62 years and still going strong.would do it all over again.

  • I would do it to escape a marriage to an old man or some one known to be violent etc.(then)
    (Now) Maybe for the novelty of it and it would be much cheaper. Thanks for sharing would you do it?

  • I have read that in previous centuries, two people who wanted to marry but there were obstacles in their way, could commit themselves to each other (in Scotland) by stating their intentions out loud to each other and they would be considered married for the following year in a “hand fasting ceremony”. No license, age requirement, etc. If, at the end of that year they decided they did not want to be married anymore (it wasn’t working out like they thought), they could walk away from the situation (not sure how that worked-“bye, see ya!). Again, not sure what would happen if a child was involved in the year long union. But sometimes I think a “trial period” could be a good thing, even today!

  • Thank you so much for sharing Gretna Green. I really enjoyed reading the article and learnt things I never knew before. It’s quite facinating.

  • Good for her and glad it still there a wonderful piece of history. That I didn’t know about so glad you found it. Plus you are writing about a story of the history of it. So thank you.

  • Loved the article on Gretna Green! We visited there as well as many other places in Scotland in June, 2019. Much rich history in Scotland!

  • My husband and I went to Scotland for our 35 anniversary we renewed our vows in Gretna Green at the blacksmith’s. It was very much fun and romantic ! It happened to be on our actual anniversary !

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