The story of Gretna Green - the World's number one marriage venue
Gretna Green 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 Robin Hood, 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?
© Mary Moor