Address: Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland

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Gretna Green History

Centuries ago, couples could get married in England and Scotland at 16 years old. The upshot was that girls could fall in love quickly, wed in haste and, in cases, marry boys who could be described as ‘scoundrels’. Pressure was put on the government, particularly from the upper classes, as family fortunes could easily be lost this way.

So, in 1754, Lord Hardwick’s Marriage Act came into force and this stipulated that couples needed to be a minimum of 21 to marry without their parent’s consent, and the ceremony had to be in a church. Scotland were asked to adopt the same law, but refused. Their law simply required two witnesses together with assurances from the couple that they were both a minimum age of 16.

Couples immediately took advantage of the lower age requirement in Scotland and headed north. In using the main roadway into Scotland, Gretna Green was the first village that they came to.

Agriculture was important at the time and blacksmiths were at the hub of rural life, with the Blacksmith’s Shop being an important place in any village. The blacksmiths themselves recognised the new opportunity and were keen to conduct the ceremonies for an appropriate fee.

Scottish law changed slightly in 1856 when Lord Brougham brought in an Act that required one of the couple to be resident in Scotland for 21 days to be married there. Couples then simply stayed as lodgers or even slept in hay barns until they’d been there 21 days.

From around 1877, the famous Blacksmith Shops began to be tourist attractions and catered for people who simply wanted to see the famous wedding surroundings.

In 1940 the Scottish law changed again. If over 16 you could marry, but only by the local registrar.

In 1977, England reduced the age limit to 18, but it still remains at 16 in Scotland.

 

Gretna Green Visit

The place is part of British history and folklore with couples, over the centuries, fleeing over the border to marry, often against the wishes of their families.

So what do you find here? You half expect a village pretty much dedicated to weddings, but it seems that in days gone by, everything revolved around a single blacksmith’s shop, and that’s pretty much the only sign of the history of the place today. But they’ve done a good job. The blacksmith’s shop has retained all its splendour and is now a type of museum with all manner of items on show. You really do get a feel for what it was like in the early days as some of the rooms have been left as they were in the period. There’s also a horde of information as well as certificates and correspondence on show from all those years ago.

According to legend, many of the marriages over the years had been elopements – couples running away together, often forbidden to marry by parents so that within these walls there must have been so much emotion, and you certainly get the feel of it. The confined layout certainly adds to the atmosphere.

The Blacksmith’s Shop has presumably retained its marriage licence as regular ceremonies still take place. These must be wonderful events today as they’re underpinned by centuries of tradition and you could imagine minds wandering to the scenes of yesteryear. Today, you’d presumably be married by the anvil, the same one that was used in the 1700s and maybe even be married in period costume.

The coach house on display is particularly impressive and the Blacksmith’s Shop may even have facilities for horse drawn carriages. It’d be a shame if they didn’t, as I think they’d lose part of the effect if the bride pulled up in a modern car. The front gate from the main road only allows bridal carriages through, and these into a paved area by the entrance door.

The Blacksmith’s Shop is obviously the focal point of the village and the commercial opportunity has been maximised by the locals with a shopping centre being built alongside.

For visiting, it’s in an ideal location, this being a short distance from the main M6 motorway.