Gretna Green is a village in Dumfries & Galloway in Scotland just over the border from England. Many years ago the town was the first village across the Scottish border for the stagecoaches on the London to Edinburgh route. At that time in Scotland, any man and woman over the age of sixteen could get married by declaring themselves husband and wife in front of two witnesses and, most importantly, it did not require parental consent. In England, such marriages were banned -there was a law stating that if either party was under 21, then they could not marry without parental consent. However, the Act was only law in England, so what was a young English couple to do if they were in love, under 21 and knew that they would not be able to obtain parental consent? They would flee to Scotland!!! Because of Gretna Green’s location, the village soon became heaven for eloping couples and a synonym for runaway weddings.
Up until 1940, wedding ceremonies could be conducted by any responsible adult and since Gretna’s blacksmith was the most important person in the village, wedding ceremonies over the anvil became very common. The meaning behind the anvil is quite a romantic one. As the blacksmith seals metal to metal on the anvil, it signifies that an anvil priest would join a couple in a similar way so that they were then ‘forged’ in love.
In 1857 Parliament issued another Act requiring the couples to live in the area for 21 days before they could marry, in an attempt to restrict the increasing flow of eloping lovers but it didn’t deter young lovers, and in 1940 Parliament finally outlawed the ‘Blacksmith’s Priests’ and their anvil marriages – since then, marriages could only be conducted by a Minister of Religion or an authorised Registrar. However the age of consent has never changed so any young lovers could always marry in Scotland without restriction.
‘Anvil Priest’ Richard Rennison who married 5147 couples before he retired in 1962.
Now, we would never advocate eloping or marrying at 16 but couples who want a simple and quick wedding day can continue to ‘run away’ to Gretna Green to share its wonderful history and create a unique and fun wedding.
What do you remember from weddings of the past that we don’t see so often now? Share one of your wedding memories with us and we’ll feature it in an upcoming blog at National Vintage Wedding Fair.
Are you going to be a vintage bride soon? Come visit one of our upcoming vintage wedding fairs in Cambridge on 14th September, Harrogate on 21st September, Stoke Newington, London on 12th October or Chiswick, London on 9th November and find everything you need for your big day. For more details check the website – www.vintageweddingfair.co.uk.
Written by Sarah Gorlov