Gretna Green

Gretna Green is a parish in the southern county of Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, and is situated on the Scottish side of the borders of Scotland and England, defined by the small river Sark, which flows into the estuary of the western contiguous Solway Firth. It was historically the first village in Scotland, following the old coaching route from London to Edinburgh. Gretna Green railway station serves both Gretna Green and Gretna.[1] The Quintinshill rail disaster, the worst rail crash in British history (226 recorded deaths), occurred near Gretna Green in 1915.

Gretna Green
Gretna Green
Location within Dumfries and Galloway
OS grid referenceNY318680
Council area
Lieutenancy area
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townGRETNA
Postcode districtDG16
Dialling code01461
EU ParliamentScotland
UK Parliament
Scottish Parliament

Gretna Green sits alongside the main town of Gretna.[1] Both are accessed from the A74(M) motorway and are near the border of Scotland with England.[1]

Gretna Green is most famous for weddings, following the 1754 Marriage Act which prevented couples under the age of 21 marrying in England or Wales without their parent's consent. As it was still legal in Scotland to marry, couples began crossing the border in to Scotland and their first stop was the Famous Blacksmiths Shop, 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 and English marriage laws.

Gretna's "runaway marriages" began in 1754 when Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act came into force in England. Under the Act, if a parent of 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 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 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.[2]

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 Famous Blacksmith's Shop, built in 1713, and Gretna Hall Historic Marriage House and Hotel (1710) became, in popular folklore at least, the focal tourist points for the marriage trade. The Famous Blacksmiths Shop opened to the public as a visitor attraction in 1885, under the ownership of Hugh Mackie. Gretna Green Ltd, now owned by the fourth-generation of the Mackie Family, Alasdair Houston MBE, with the support of his sister, Susan Clark, is now a Visit Scotland Five-Star, award-winning visitor attraction and remains one of the UK's most popular wedding venues.

Victorian chronicler Robert Smith Surtees described 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 fairy feature.
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 hospitable purpose.

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, all but the last were abolished by the Marriage (Scotland) 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, 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.[3] 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".[4] In the United States, these have included Elkton, Maryland,[5] 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.[6] Other Scottish border villages used for such marriages were Coldstream Bridge, Lamberton, Mordington and Paxton Toll.[7]

  • An anvil was installed in Gretna, Manitoba, Canada, to symbolise the blacksmith and the town's namesake in Scotland.
  • In 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 cohabitating in London, having not in fact traveled to Scotland.[8]
  • In Jane Austen's Love and Freindship (sic), the main characters convince an impressionable girl to elope with an acquaintance to Gretna Green.
  • In the 1949 Hitchcock film Under Capricorn, Sam Flusky and Lady Henrietta were a runaway couple married at Gretna Green.
  • In Season 3, Episode 5 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 Scotland.[9]
  • 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 were set in the town.
  • In the BBC drama Waterloo Road, Francesca Montoya (a teacher) and Jonah Kirby (a pupil) elope to Gretna Green.
  • During a 1991 episode of the BBC soap opera EastEnders, Sam Mitchell and Ricky Butcher elope to Gretna Green because they are both teenagers.
  • 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 sixth series, the town was mentioned again when Mary Crawley joked about going to Gretna Green upon becoming engaged to Henry Talbot.
  • 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.
  • In Season 3, Episode 7 of the BBC series May to December, Zoe surprised Alec with a trip to Gretna Green to marry.
  • 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, starred Marguerite Clark and was based on a 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.
  • 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 marry.
  • Gretna is the focus of Moonlighting, a 1975 song by Leo Sayer.
  • In Episode 3 of the Amazon Series Doctor Thorne the character Frank makes a joke about him and Mary running off to marry in Gretna Green.[10]
  • In Susan Enoch's "Rogue with a Brogue", a Romeo and Juliet-type story, the principal characters flee to elope in Gretna Green.
  • In the comedy 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 Gretna Green.
  • In Season 2, Episode 7 of The Crown, Gretna Green is mentioned after Antony Armstrong-Jones proposes to Princess Margaret.
  • In Season 5, Episode 6 of Poldark, Geoffrey Charles and Cecily Hanson try to flee to Gretna Green.[11][12]
  • In the 1967 musical Half A Sixpence, the song "Flash Bang Wallop" mentions Gretna Green in these lyrics:

All lined up in a wedding group 'Ere we are for a photograph We're all dressed up in a morning suit All trying hard not to laugh Since the early caveman in his fur Took a trip to Gretna Green There's always been a photographer To record the 'appy scene.....

See also


  1. 1:50,000 OS map 85
  2. Probert, R. (2009) Marriage Law and Practice in the Long Eighteenth Century: A Reassessment (Cambridge: CUP) ch. 7
  3. Black, Law Dictionary.
  4. E.g., State v. Clay, 182 Md. 639, 642, 35 A.2d 821, 822–23 (1944).
  5. Greenwald v. State, 221 Md. 235, 238, 155 A.2d 894, 896 (1959).
  6. "Valentine's Day influx at Gretna". News. UK: The BBC. 14 February 2006. Retrieved 4 February 2010.
  7. "Runaway Marriages at the toll house, Coldstream Bridge", Original indexes, UK: Demon, archived from the original on 15 October 2006.
  8. Austen, Jane. "Pride and Prejudice". Project Gutenberg. Retrieved 2 February 2011.
  9. "Gretna Green or Bust".
  10. "Doctor Thorne (2016) s01e03 Episode Script".
  11. "Poldark episode 6 review: the series slowly sinks in the west - but do viewers really care?".
  12. "Poldark series five, episode six recap – there's jeopardy everywhere!".

Further reading

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