Gretna Green, a Scottish village which for 200 years was a magnet for eloping couples from England


This evening, I am reporting on Gretna Green, a village which is located just inside Scotland, a few miles north of the England-Scotland border.

In Britain, Gretna has a long-established and romantic association with wedding ceremonies. This is because England and Scotland have discrete legal systems under which laws governing marriage are not fully synchronised. (England and Scotland joined to form the United Kingdom in 1707.)

In the 18th century, a law was introduced in England requiring all marriages to be conducted in a church coupled with a minimum age for the parties (without parental consent) at 21 years whilst in Scotland the law provided a minimum age of 16 years and a simple ceremony involving two witnesses.

The liberal marriage regime applying in Scotland triggered a huge number of young couples from England eloping across the border to Gretna (and other locations in Scotland) for purpose of marriage. Gretna became popular because the local blacksmith, Joseph Paisley, exploited an opportunity to establish himself as an ‘Anvil Priest’, a far more lucrative activity than simple blacksmithing.

Gretna’s role in exploiting the marriage rules disparity came to end in 1940 when marriage by declaration was outlawed in Scotland and replaced with regulated weddings in a church or a civil ceremony.However, Gretna’s romantic ‘brand name’ lives on as a function of which hundreds of couples of all ages elect to marry in Gretna each year under the revised rules.

In addition to marriages, Gretna has become a tourist destination with shops and eating places all centred on the historic blacksmith’s premises which itself combines role as wedding venue and museum.


Gretna Green Smithy


Cartoon of eloping couple from 1818



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