Gretna Green Wedding

bagpipesThe Marriage Act of 1753 also known as Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act abolished common-law marriage in England and Wales. Prior to the act a couple were considered married if both parties were consenting, free to marry and they had both reached the legal age of 16. Such marriages were known as Clandestine. However with the introduction of the Marriage Act such marriages were outlawed.

All future marriages had to be conducted in a parish church where either both or one of the parties resided. Banns had to be read and a license obtains, couples under the age of 21 would need parental consent for the union to be legitimised.

Scotland Rejected New Law

Scotland refused to adopt the new law, and so many runaway lovers sort refuge north of the border in Scotland’s, Gretna Green. Why Gretna Green I hear you cry, quite simply because Gretna Green was the first town across the Scottish border.

Lovers who eloped were welcomed at the Blacksmiths Shop, and would declare their desire to be husband and wife in front of two witnesses and they would become legally married. If the lovers were unable to provide their own witnesses the good people of Gretna Green were only to happy to stand in.

On the couples return to England or Wales many would be ostracised by their families for when a couple eloped it brought shame to their families.

Anvil Priests

These mock ceremonies were conducted by tradesmen, called Anvil Priests, who were not qualified in anyway to perform a marriage, but were cashing in on Scotland’s loophole in the law. However in 1940 a law was brought in which effectively put an end to the Anvil Priests. All future marriages had to be conducted by authorised persons either a clergyman or a registrar.

Elopement became a thing of the past and Gretna Green became a sleepy town once more. Only to be awaken again in 1970 as a historical tourist attraction. With the towns recent investment and with over 4000 marriages registered in 2006 it would seem romance is still very much alive in Gretna Green.