Gretna Green

Gretna Green is a small but thriving town on the west coast in the south of Scotland. It is in Dumfries and Galloway, near the mouth of the River Esk, and has a railway station serving both Gretna Green and Gretna. The Quintinshill rail crash, with 227 deaths the worst rail crash in Britain, occurred near Gretna Green in 1915.

Gretna Green is distinct from the larger nearby town of Gretna. Both are alongside the A74(M) motorway and both are very near to the border of Scotland with England.

Gretna is the home of the football team Gretna F.C..


Its main claim to fame are the Blacksmith's Shops, where many runaway marriages were performed. These began in 1753 when an Act of Parliament, ''Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act'', was passed in England, which stated that if both parties to a marriage were not at least 21 years old, then consent to the marriage had to be given by the parents. This Act did not apply in Scotland where it was possible for boys to get married at 14 and girls at 12 years old with or without parental consent. Since 1929 both parties have had to be at least 16 years old but there is still no consent needed. In England and Wales the ages are now 16 with consent and 18 without. In addition, English law required the "asking of the banns" (periodic announcements of an impending marriage, with an invitation for anybody who knew of a reason the parties could not marry to state the reason) or, later, the advance issuance of a license for a marriage to be legal; this allowed people who opposed a marriage-even one that could be performed legally-to know that it was planned, and thus possibly to prevent it.

However, before these changes took place, the laws led to many elopers fleeing England and making for the first Scottish village they came to — Gretna Green. The Old blacksmith's shop, built around 1712, and Gretna Hall Blacksmiths Shop 1710 became, in popular folklore at least, the focal point for the marriage trade. The Old Blacksmiths opened to the public as a visitor attraction as early as 1887.

The local blacksmith and his anvil have become the lasting symbols of Gretna Green weddings. Scottish law allowed for 'irregular marriages', meaning that, so long as a declaration was made, in front of two witnesses, almost anybody had the authority to conduct the marriage ceremony. The local blacksmiths in Gretna became known as 'anvil priests'. As a "forger", the blacksmith marries hot metal to metal over the anvil, in the same way the anvil priests forged a union between couples who had eloped in love.

Gretna's two Blacksmiths shops and countless Inns and smallholding became the backdrops for hundreds of thousands of weddings. Today, Gretna Green remains one of the most popular wedding venues in the world, and thousands of couples still come from all over the world to be married 'over the anvil' at Gretna Green.

In law, Gretna Green marriage came to mean a marriage transacted in a jurisdiction that was not the residence of the parties being married, in order to avoid restrictions or procedures imposed by the parties' home jurisdiction. A famous Gretna marriage was the second marriage in 1826 of Edward Gibbon Wakefield to the young heiress Ellen Turner, the Shrigley Abduction.

In 1856 Scottish law was changed to require 21 days residence for marriage, and a further law change was made in 1940. Other Scottish Border villages previously used for these marriages were Coldstream Bridge, Lamberton, Mordington and Paxton Toll.

But today, possibly as many as one of every six Scottish weddings still take place at Gretna Green or in the town of Gretna.

See also


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