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Gretna Green is a village in the south of Scotlandmarker famous for runaway weddings.1:50,000 OS map 85 It is in Dumfries and Galloway, 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 has a railway stationmarker serving both Gretna Green and Gretna. The Quintinshill rail crashmarker, with 227 deaths the worst rail crash in Britain, occurred near Gretna Green in 1915.

Gretna Green is distinct from the larger nearby town of Gretnamarker. Both are alongside the A74 motorway and both are very near to the border of Scotland with Englandmarker.


The old blacksmith's shop at Gretna Green.
Gretna Green is one of the world's most popular wedding destinations, hosting over 5000 weddings each year. . Gretna's famous runaway marriages began in 1753 when an Act of Parliament, Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act, was passed in Englandmarker, which stated that if both parties to a marriage were not at least 21 years old, then consent to the marriage had to be given by the parents. This Act did not apply in Scotlandmarker, where it was possible for boys to get married at 14 and girls at 12 years old with or without parental consent. Since 1929 both parties have had to be at least 16 years old but there is still no consent needed. In England and Wales the ages are now 16 with consent and 18 without.

Before these changes occurred, many elope fled England, and the first Scottish village they encountered was Gretna Green. The Old Blacksmith's shop, built around 1712, and Gretna Hall Blacksmith's Shop (1710) became, in popular folklore at least, the focal point for the marriage trade. The Old Blacksmith's opened to the public as a visitor attraction as early as 1887.

The local blacksmith and his anvil have become the lasting symbols of Gretna Green weddings. 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'.

Gretna's two Blacksmiths' shops and countless inns and smallholding became the backdrops for hundreds of thousands of weddings. Today there are several wedding venues in and around Gretna Green, from former churches, to purpose built chapels, but the services at all the venues are always performed over an iconic Blacksmiths anvil. Gretna Green endures as one of the world's most popular wedding venues, and thousands of couples come from around the world to be married 'over the anvil' at Gretna Green.

In common law, 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. Other towns in which quick, often surreptitious marriages could be obtained came to be known as "Gretna Greens". These have included Elkton, Marylandmarker, Renomarker and, later, Las Vegas, Nevadamarker, all in the United Statesmarker. A notable Gretna marriage was the second marriage in 1826 of Edward Gibbon Wakefield to the young heiress Ellen Turner, the Shrigley abduction.

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 previously used for these marriages were Coldstream Bridgemarker, Lamberton, Mordingtonmarker and Paxton Toll.

Today, possibly as many as one of every six Scottish weddings take place at Gretna Green or in the town of Gretnamarker.

There is an anvil in Gretna, Manitobamarker, Canada to symbolize the blacksmith, and the source of its name.

See also


  2. See Black's Law Dictionary.
  3. E.g., State v. Clay, 182 Md. 639, 642, 35 A.2d 821, 822-23 (1944).
  4. Greenwald v. State, 221 Md. 235, 238, 155 A.2d 894, 896 (1959).

Further reading

  • Ordnance Survey Landranger Map (number 85) - 1:50,000 scale (1.25 inches to 1 mile). ISBN 0-319-22685-9.

External links

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