Gretna Green

Last updated

Gretna Green
Approaching Gretna Green - - 2683217.jpg
Dumfries and Galloway UK location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Gretna Green
Location within Dumfries and Galloway
OS grid reference NY318680
Council area
Lieutenancy area
Country Scotland
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town GRETNA
Postcode district DG16
Dialling code 01461
Police Scotland
Fire Scottish
Ambulance Scottish
UK Parliament
Scottish Parliament
List of places
55°00′07″N3°03′58″W / 55.002°N 3.066°W / 55.002; -3.066

Gretna Green is a parish in the southern council area of Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, on the Scottish side of the border between Scotland and England, defined by the small river Sark, which flows into the nearby Solway Firth. It was historically the first village a traveller would come to in Scotland when following the old coaching route from London to Edinburgh.[ citation needed ] Gretna Green railway station serves both Gretna Green and Gretna. [1] The Quintinshill rail disaster, the worst rail crash in British history, in which over 220 died, occurred near Gretna Green in 1915.


Gretna Green sits alongside the main town of Gretna. [1] Both are accessed from the A74(M) motorway. [1]

Gretna Green is most famous for weddings. The Clandestine Marriages Act 1753 prevented couples under the age of 21 marrying in England or Wales without their parents' consent. As it was still legal in Scotland to marry without such consent, couples began crossing the border into Scotland to marry.


Historic view of Gretna Green Jacobite broadside - Gretna Green, Carlisle- Published by Charles Thurnam.jpg
Historic view of Gretna Green

Gretna's "runaway marriages" began in 1754 when Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act came into force in England. Under the Act, if a parent of a person under the age of 21 objected to the minor's marriage, the parent could legally veto the union. The Act tightened the requirements for marrying in England and Wales but did not apply in Scotland, where it was possible for boys to marry at 14 and girls at 12 with or without parental consent (see Marriage in Scotland). It was, however, only in the 1770s, with the construction of a toll road passing through the hitherto obscure village of Graitney, that Gretna Green became the first easily reachable village over the Scottish border. [2]

An 1844 depiction of a "Gretna wedding", complete with a blacksmith and some of his implements. Gretna Wedding, 1844.jpg
An 1844 depiction of a "Gretna wedding", complete with a blacksmith and some of his implements.
1930s photo of the village blacksmiths, "famous for its runaway marriages" Gevel van The Old Blacksmith's shop, voormalige smederij en trouwlocatie, Bestanddeelnr 252-0158.jpg
1930s photo of the village blacksmiths, "famous for its runaway marriages"

Scottish law allowed for "irregular marriages", meaning that if a declaration was made before two witnesses, almost anybody had the authority to conduct the marriage ceremony. The blacksmiths in Gretna became known as "anvil priests", culminating with Richard Rennison, who performed 5,147 ceremonies. The local blacksmith and his anvil became lasting symbols of Gretna Green weddings.

Victorian chronicler Robert Smith Surtees described Gretna Green at length in his 1848 New Monthly Magazine serial, The Richest Commoner in England:

Few of our readers—none we should think of our fair ones—but at some period or other of their lives, have figured to themselves the features of Gretna Green. Few we should think but have pictured to themselves the chaise stained "with the variations of each soil", the galloping bustle of the hurrying postboys, urging their foaming steeds for the last stage that bears them from Carlisle to the border. It is a place whose very name is typical of brightening prospects. The poet sings of the greenest spot on memory's waste, and surely Gretna Green was the particular spot he had under consideration. Gretna Green! The mind pictures a pretty straggling, half Scotch, half English village, with clean white rails, upon a spacious green, and happy rustics in muffin caps, and high cheek bones, looking out for happier couples to congratulate. Then the legend of the blacksmith who forged the links of love, added interest to the place, and invested the whole with fairy feature.

How much better, brighter, more promising, in short, a Gretna Green marriage sounds than a Coldstream or Lamberton toll-bar one! and yet they are equally efficacious. Gretna Green indeed, is as superior in reality as it is in name. It looks as if it were the capital of the God of Love, while the others exhibit the bustling, trading, money-making pursuits of matter-of-fact life. Though we dare say Gretna Green is as unlike what most people fancy, still we question that any have gone away disappointed. It is a pretty south country-looking village, much such as used to exist in the old days of posting and coaching. A hall house converted into an hotel, and the dependents located in the neighbouring cottages. Gretna Hall stands a little apart from the village on the rise of what an Englishman would call a gentle eminence, and a Scotchman a dead flat, and is approached by an avenue of stately trees, while others are plentifully dotted about, one on the east side, bearing a board with the name of the house, the host and high-priest, "Mr. Linton". There is an air of quiet retirement about it that eminently qualifies it for its holy and hospitable purpose.

Since 1929, both parties in Scotland have had to be at least 16 years old, but they still may marry without parental consent. Since April 2022 in England and Wales, the minimum age for marriage is now 18 irrespective of parental consent. [3] Of the three forms of irregular marriage that had existed under Scottish law, all except cohabitation by habit and repute were abolished by the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1939.

Gretna's two blacksmiths' shops and countless inns and smallholding became the backdrops for tens of thousands of weddings. Today there are several wedding venues in and around Gretna Green, from former churches to purpose-built chapels. The services at all the venues are always performed over an iconic blacksmith's anvil.


In common law, a "Gretna Green marriage" came to mean, in general, a marriage transacted in a jurisdiction that was not the residence of the parties being married, to avoid restrictions or procedures imposed by the parties' home jurisdiction. [4] A notable "Gretna" marriage was the second marriage in 1826 of Edward Gibbon Wakefield to the young heiress Ellen Turner, called the Shrigley abduction (his first marriage was also to an heiress, but the parents wanted to avoid a public scandal).[ citation needed ] Other towns in which quick, often surreptitious marriages could be obtained came to be known as "Gretna Greens". [5] In the United States, these have included Elkton, Maryland, [6] Reno and, later, Las Vegas.

In 1856 Scottish law was changed due to a measure passed in Parliament by Alexander Colquhoun-Stirling-Murray-Dunlop to require 21 days' residence for marriage, and a further law change was made in 1940. The residential requirement was lifted in 1977. [7] Other Scottish border villages used for such marriages were Coldstream Bridge, Lamberton, Mordington and Paxton Toll, and Portpatrick for people coming from Ireland. [8]

See also

Related Research Articles

The banns of marriage, commonly known simply as the "banns" or "bans", are the public announcement in a Christian parish church, or in the town council, of an impending marriage between two specified persons. It is commonly associated with the Catholic Church, the Church of Sweden (Lutheran), the Church of England (Anglican), and with other Christian denominations whose traditions are similar. In 1983, the Catholic Church removed the requirement for banns and left it to individual national bishops' conferences to decide whether to continue the practice, but in most Catholic countries the banns are still published.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Civil marriage</span> Marriage performed, recorded, and recognized by a government official

A civil marriage is a marriage performed, recorded, and recognized by a government official. Such a marriage may be performed by a religious body and recognized by the state, or it may be entirely secular.

<i>Poldark</i> Historical novel series by Winston Graham

Poldark is a series of historical novels by Winston Graham, published from 1945 to 1953 and continued from 1973 to 2002. The first novel, Ross Poldark, was named for the protagonist of the series. The novel series was adapted for television by the BBC in 1975 and again in 2015.

Marriageable age, marriage age, or the age of marriage is the general age, a legal age or the minimum age subject to parental, religious or other forms of social approval, at which a person is legitimately allowed for marriage. Age and other prerequisites to marriage vary between jurisdictions, but in the vast majority of jurisdictions, the marriage age as a right is set at the age of majority. Nevertheless, most jurisdictions allow marriage at a younger age with parental or judicial approval, especially if the female is pregnant. Among most indigenous cultures, people marry at fifteen, the age of sexual maturity for both the male and the female. In industrialized cultures, the age of marriage is most commonly 18 years old, but there are variations, and the marriageable age should not be confused with the age of majority or the age of consent, though they may be the same.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fleet marriage</span>

A Fleet marriage was a common example of an irregular or a clandestine marriage taking place in England before the Marriage Act 1753 came into force on March 25, 1754. Specifically, it was one which took place in London's Fleet Prison or its environs during the 17th and, especially, the early 18th century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Coldstream</span> Town and civil parish in Scotland

Coldstream is a town and civil parish in the Scottish Borders area of Scotland. A former burgh, Coldstream was where the Coldstream Guards, a regiment in the British Army, originated.

The Shrigley abduction was an 1827 British case of a forced marriage by Edward Gibbon Wakefield to the 15-year-old heiress Ellen Turner of Pott Shrigley. The couple were married in Gretna Green, Scotland, and travelled to Calais, France, before Turner's father was able to notify the authorities and intervene. The marriage was annulled by Parliament, and Turner was legally married two years later, at the age of 17, to a wealthy neighbour of her class. Both Edward Gibbon Wakefield and his brother William, who had aided him, were convicted at trial and sentenced to three years in prison.

Gretna is a town in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, originally part of the historic county of Dumfriesshire. It is located close to the A74(M) on the border of Scotland and England and near the mouth of the River Esk.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Elopement</span> Type of marriage ceremony

Elopement is a marriage which is conducted in a sudden and secretive fashion, sometimes involving a hurried flight away from one's place of residence together with one's beloved with the intention of getting married without parental approval. An elopement is contrasted with an abduction, in which either the bride or groom has not consented, or a shotgun wedding in which the parents of one coerce both into marriage.

Emancipation of minors is a legal mechanism by which a minor before attaining the age of majority is freed from control by their parents or guardians, and the parents or guardians are freed from responsibility for their child. Minors are normally considered legally incompetent to enter into contracts and to handle their own affairs. Emancipation overrides that presumption and allows emancipated children to legally make certain decisions on their own behalf.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Coldstream Bridge</span> Bridge in Scottish Borders, Scotland

Coldstream Bridge, linking Coldstream, Scottish Borders with Cornhill-on-Tweed, Northumberland, is an 18th-century Category A/Grade II* listed bridge between England and Scotland, across the River Tweed. The bridge carries the A697 road across the Tweed.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Marriage in England and Wales</span> United Kingdom legislation

Marriage is available in England and Wales to both opposite-sex and same-sex couples and is legally recognised in the forms of both civil and religious marriage. Marriage laws have historically evolved separately from marriage laws in other jurisdictions in the United Kingdom. There is a distinction between religious marriages, conducted by an authorised religious celebrant, and civil marriages, conducted by a state registrar. The legal minimum age to enter into a marriage in England and Wales is 18 since 27 February 2023. Previously the minimum age of marriage was 16, with parental permission. This also applies to civil partnerships.

Lamberton is a hilly, former landed estate in Berwickshire, Scotland, its eastern boundary being the North Sea. It is 4 miles (6.4 km) north of Berwick-upon-Tweed, on the Great North Road.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Anglo-Scottish border</span> 96-mile long border between England and Scotland

The Anglo-Scottish border is an internal border of the United Kingdom separating Scotland and England which runs for 96 miles (154 km) between Marshall Meadows Bay on the east coast and the Solway Firth in the west.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Marriage in Scotland</span> United Kingdom legislation

Marriage in Scotland is recognised in the form of both civil and religious unions between individuals. Historically, the law of marriage has developed differently in Scotland to other jurisdictions in the United Kingdom as a consequence of the differences in Scots law and role of the separate established Church of Scotland. These differences led to a tradition of couples from England and Wales eloping to Scotland, most famously to marry at border towns such as Gretna Green. The legal minimum age to enter into a marriage in Scotland is sixteen years and does not require parental consent at any age.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Marriage in Northern Ireland</span> Legal status of marriages and divorces in Northern Ireland

The marriageable age is 16 with parental consent but 18 otherwise. Marriage must be between two otherwise unmarried people. If one of the parties wishing to marry is subject to immigration control, notice of marriage can only be given at a register office, which both parties must attend together. The UK Government was obliged, under the Northern Ireland Act 2019, to extend same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland by secondary legislation that took effect on 13 January 2020. Until then, same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions were treated as civil partnerships. Civil partnerships became available to same-sex couples in December 2005 and grant rights and responsibilities identical to civil marriage.

<i>Poldark</i> (1975 TV series) 1970s TV series

Poldark is the original version of the BBC television series adaptation of the novels of the same title written by Winston Graham. The adaptation was first transmitted in the UK between 1975 and 1977. The production covered all seven novels that Graham had written up to this time.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Richard Rennison</span> Scottish anvil-priest

Richard Rennison was the last "anvil priest" at Gretna Green, Scotland. Between 1926 and 1940, he performed "irregular marriages" of couples over the anvil at the Old Blacksmith Shop, where the couple proclaimed that they were single and wanted to get married in front of witnesses. As "anvil priest", Rennison generally requested a fee of £1, but was known to earn up to £20 for a ceremony.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Clandestine Marriages Act 1753</span> United Kingdom legislation

The Clandestine Marriages Act 1753, also called the Marriage Act 1753, long title "An Act for the Better Preventing of Clandestine Marriage", popularly known as Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act, was the first statutory legislation in England and Wales to require a formal ceremony of marriage. It came into force on 25 March 1754. The Act contributed to a dispute about the validity of a Scottish marriage, although pressure to address the problem of irregular marriages had been growing for some time.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Civil ceremony</span> Non-religious legal marriage ceremony

A civil, or registrar, ceremony is a non-religious legal marriage ceremony performed by a government official or functionary. In the United Kingdom, this person is typically called a registrar. In the United States, civil ceremonies may be performed by town, city, or county clerks, judges or justices of the peace, or others possessing the legal authority to support the marriage as the wedding officiant.


  1. 1 2 3 1:50,000 OS map 85
  2. Probert, R. (2009) Marriage Law and Practice in the Long Eighteenth Century: A Reassessment (Cambridge: CUP) ch. 7
  3. "New law raises minimum marriage age to 18 in England and Wales". News. UK: The BBC. 26 April 2022. Retrieved 26 April 2022.
  4. Black, Law Dictionary.
  5. E.g., State v. Clay, 182 Md. 639, 642, 35 A.2d 821, 822–23 (1944).
  6. Greenwald v. State, 221 Md. 235, 238, 155 A.2d 894, 896 (1959).
  7. "Valentine's Day influx at Gretna". News. UK: The BBC. 14 February 2006. Retrieved 4 February 2010.
  8. "Runaway Marriages at the toll house, Coldstream Bridge", Original indexes, UK: Demon, archived from the original on 15 October 2006.
  9. Austen, Jane. "Pride and Prejudice". Project Gutenberg. Retrieved 2 February 2011.
  10. "Gretna Green or Bust". 8 December 1991 via IMDb.
  11. "Episode #6.20". 6 April 2011 via IMDb.
  12. "Episode #1.3". 20 March 2016 via IMDb.
  13. "Poldark episode 6 review: the series slowly sinks in the west - but do viewers really care?". MSN.
  14. "Poldark series five, episode six recap – there's jeopardy everywhere!". The Guardian. 18 August 2019.
  15. "S6E1 - 'Dust and Scrub, Scrub and Dust'".

Further reading