Gretna Green is a village in the south of Scotland famous for runaway weddings. 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 station serving both Gretna Green and Gretna. The Quintinshill rail crash, with 226 deaths the worst rail crash in British history, occurred near Gretna Green in 1915.
Gretna Green is one of the world's most popular wedding destinations, hosting over 5000 weddings each year in the Gretna/Gretna Green area, and one of every six Scottish weddings.
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, they could prevent the marriage going ahead. The Act tightened up 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 years old 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. 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 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", culminating with Richard Rennison, who performed 5,147 ceremonies.
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.
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, and thousands of couples come from around the world to be married 'over the anvil' at 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 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, Maryland, Reno and, later, Las Vegas, Nevada.
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, Mordington and Paxton Toll.
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.
- In Love and Friendship by Jane Austen, the main characters convince an impressionable girl to elope with an acquaintance to Gretna Green.
- In Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, the couple that elopes in Chapter 47 leaves behind a note stating that their intended destination is Gretna Green.
- 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 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 were set there.
- In the BBC drama Waterloo Road, Francesca Montoya (a teacher) and Jonah Kirby (a pupil) flee to Gretna Green to be married.
- In the 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 series.
- 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 elope.
- In the book 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.
- 1:50,000 OS map 85
- "Golden couples in Gretna ceremony". News. UK: The BBC. 2006-04-05. Retrieved 2010-02-04.
- 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. Retrieved 2010-02-04.
- "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 2011-02-02.
- Survey Landranger Map (85), UK: Ordnance, ISBN 0-319-22685-9 — 1:50,000 scale (1.25 inches to 1 mile).
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Gretna Green.|