Gretna Green is a village in the south of
Scotland famous for runaway
weddings. It is in Dumfriesshire, near the mouth of the River Esk and
was historically the first village in Scotland, following the old
coaching route from
London to Edinburgh.
Gretna Green railway station
Gretna Green and Gretna. The Quintinshill rail crash,
the worst rail crash in British history (226 recorded deaths),
Gretna Green in 1915.
Gretna Green sits alongside the main town of Gretna. Both are
accessed from the
A74(M) motorway and are near the border of Scotland
2 In popular culture
3 See also
5 Further reading
The old blacksmith's shop at Gretna Green
Gretna Green is one of the world's most popular wedding
destinations, due to its romantic wedding traditions
dating back over centuries, which originated from cross-border
elopements stemming from differences between Scottish marriage laws
and those in neighbouring countries.
Historic view of Gretna Green
It has usually been assumed that Gretna's famous "runaway marriages"
began in 1754 when Lord Hardwicke's
Marriage Act came into force in
England. Under the Act, if a parent of a minor (i.e., 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
England and Wales
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.
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. Two in particular,
The Old Blacksmith's Shop, built around 1712, and Gretna Hall
Blacksmith's Shop (1710) became, in popular folklore at least, the
focal tourist points for the marriage trade. The Old Blacksmith's Shop
opened to the public as a visitor attraction as early as 1887.
One of the keenest chroniclers of the Victorian era, Robert Smith
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
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
Since 1929, both parties in
Scotland have had to be at least 16 years
old, but they still may marry without parental consent. In England and
Wales, the age for marriage is now 16 with parental consent and 18
without. Of the three forms of "irregular marriage" that had existed
under Scottish law, the last was abolished by the
Act 1939, which came in force from 1 July 1940. Prior to this act, any
citizen was able to witness a public promise.
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. Gretna Green
endures as one of the world's most popular wedding venues[citation
needed], and thousands of couples from around the world come to be
married 'over the anvil' in Gretna Green.
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. A notable "Gretna" marriage was
the second marriage in 1826 of
Edward Gibbon Wakefield
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). Other towns in which quick, often
surreptitious marriages could be obtained came to be known as "Gretna
Greens". In the United States, these have included Elkton,
Reno and, later, Las Vegas.
In 1856 Scottish law was changed to require 21 days' residence for
marriage, and a further law change was made in 1940. The residential
requirement was lifted in 1977. Other Scottish border villages used
for such marriages were
Coldstream Bridge, Lamberton,
In popular culture
An anvil was installed in Gretna, Manitoba, Canada, to symbolise the
blacksmith and the source of the town's name.
In an episode of the
BBC series You Rang, M'Lord?, two of the
characters elope to Gretna Green. This then prompts two other
characters to elope in a similar manner. However, they are stopped
before they reach their destination.
Love and Freindship (sic) by Jane Austen, the main characters
convince an impressionable girl to elope with an acquaintance to
Pride and Prejudice
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, When Lydia Bennet elopes with
George Wickham she leaves behind a note stating that their intended
destination is Gretna Green, though later they are found in
In The Richest Commoner in England by Robert Smith Surtees, Tom Rocket
proposes a "
Gretna Green match" to Maria "Moley" Dooey, to "escape the
persecution of the lawyers, and the parsons, and the toast-givers, and
the devil knows what." Surtees tells his readers that "Moley was
dumb-founded at the proposition, or perhaps she thought it pretty to
be so, for it was not the first, nor the second, nor the third time,
that she had had a similar offer. Habit familiarises ladies' ears to
the sound just as Lord Byron said men's ears became used to the cock
of the pistol."
In Nemesis by Agatha Christie, Miss Marple references
Gretna Green in
passing, noting: "There was no need for them to fly off to Gretna
Green, they were of sufficiently mature age to marry."
In the novel A Poisoned Season by Tasha Alexander, the main character
Lady Emily Ashton discusses with her suitor whether he loves her
enough to consider eloping to Gretna Green. At the end of the novel,
secondary characters Lord Pembroke and Isabelle Eliot elope there.
Some scenes of Les grandes vacances (1967) with
Louis de Funès
Louis de Funès were
BBC drama Waterloo Road, Francesca Montoya (a teacher) and
Jonah Kirby (a pupil) flee to
Gretna Green to be married.
BBC soap opera EastEnders, Sam Mitchell and
Ricky Butcher flee
to Gretna Green, as they are both teenagers, in 1991.
Two couples elope to
Gretna Green in Lisa Kleypas's Wallflower book
In Lynsay Sands' romance novel The Heiress the main characters' goal
is to marry at Gretna Green.
In the second series of Downton Abbey, Lady Sybil Crawley and the
chauffeur Tom Branson set off for
Gretna Green with plans to elope,
before being caught by her sisters.
In the soap opera
Coronation Street Sophie Webster and Sian Powers
nearly run off to
Gretna Green to elope. In 1998 Nick Tilsley married
Leanne Battersby at Gretna Green.
Season 3 Episode 7 of the
BBC series May to December, Zoe surprised
Alec with a trip to
Gretna Green to be married.
In the Japanese manga series Embalming -The Another Tale of
Frankenstein-, Azalea and Phillip are on their way to
Gretna Green to
In the book
The Meaning of Liff
The Meaning of Liff by Douglas Adams,
Gretna Green is
defined as "A shade of green which makes you wish you'd painted
whatever it was a different colour."
Gretna Green, a lost 1915 silent film about lovers headed to Gretna
Green starring Marguerite Clark, based on the then popular novel by
Grace Livingston Furniss.
In "Sylvester" or "The Wicked Uncle" by Georgette Heyer, in which
Phoebe Marlow is thought to have eloped with Tom Orde to Gretna Green.
In the 1949 Hitchcock movie Under Capricorn, Sam Flusky and Lady
Henrietta were a runaway couple married at Gretna Green.
The song Bonny Away of Skinny Lister's album Down on Deptford Broadway
is telling the story of two young English lovers who want to meet the
anvil priests to get married.
Gretna is the focus of Moonlighting, a 1975 song by Leo Sayer.
In the Amazon Series
Doctor Thorne The character Frank makes a joke
about him and Mary running off to marry in Gretna Green.
In Susan Enoch's "Rogue with a Brogue", a
Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet type story,
the principal characters flee to elope in Gretna Green.
In the comedy
Mind Your Language
Mind Your Language the Londoner Miss Courtney mentions
that as a young girl she and her then boyfriend tried to elope to
Gretna Green but only got as far as Golder's Green.
In the movie We're Not Married, Fred Allen marries Ginger Rogers in
In Season 2, Episode 7 of The Crown,
Gretna Green is mentioned after
Antony Armstrong-Jones proposes to Princess Margaret.
Las Vegas weddings
^ a b c 1:50,000 OS map 85
^ Probert, R. (2009)
Marriage Law and Practice in the Long Eighteenth
Century: A Reassessment (Cambridge: CUP) ch. 7
^ Black, Law Dictionary .
^ E.g., State v. Clay, 182 Md. 639, 642, 35 A.2d 821, 822–23 (1944).
^ Greenwald v. State, 221 Md. 235, 238, 155 A.2d 894, 896 (1959).
^ "Valentine's Day influx at Gretna". News. UK: The BBC. 2006-02-14.
^ "Runaway Marriages at the toll house,
Coldstream Bridge", Original
indexes, UK: Demon, archived from the original on 2006-10-15 .
^ Austen, Jane. "Pride and Prejudice". Project Gutenberg. Retrieved
Survey Landranger Map (85), UK: Ordnance,
ISBN 0-319-22685-9 — 1:50,000 scale (1.25 inches to
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Gretna Green.
Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Gretna.
Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article
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