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The Story Behind Runaway Marriages

The Story Behind Runaway Marriages

The historical significance of Gretna Green is mirrored by its popular role in modern culture as a marriage venue. The Gretna Green Story is a most compelling story: frantic dashes in the dead of night as young lovers are pursued by furious relatives on horseback.
Runaway Marriage
Law Lord responsible for changing the future of Gretna Green: It was during 1754 when Lord Hardwicke addressed the Houses of Parliament, proclaiming the necessity to make 'irregular' marriages illegal and to bring marriage under the regulation of the church. The result of this was the Marriage Act of 1754 - the wedding ceremony now had to take place in Church and couples had to be 21 years of age to marry without the consent of their parents; previously the age of consent was 16.

Romantic Scots did not adopt this law: In Scotland if you were 16 years of age you could marry without the consent of your parents. Even today English and Scots law differs: if you marry in England nowadays you will have to wait until you are 18 if you do not have your parents consent; in Scotland it is still 16.

Until 1940 the simple ceremony of "handfasting" 'was legal in Scotland. It was a contract, verbal or written between 2 consenting adults properly witnessed (two witnesses and an official representative). It was absolutely binding and accepted in civil law. Couples need only declare their intention to be husband and wife. The church considered this type of ceremony immoral and it was this type of ceremony that was outlawed in England and Wales by the 1754 Marriage Act. These ceremonies were known as 'irregular' and frowned upon by many in society.
Runaway Marriages Anvil Wedding

Why Flee to Gretna Green:

Located on the old coaching route between London and Edinburgh, Gretna Green was the first village reached once you entered Scotland. Lovers from south of the Border soon took advantage of the Scottish Law and it resulted in a thriving marriage trade being set up in Gretna Green.

Marriages became a lucrative business and a variety of men set themselves up as 'priests'. One of the first was Joseph Paisley who was a fisherman and smuggler. He set up in one of the original marriage venues; the World Famous Old Blacksmith's Shop. This was a working smithy and therefore a focal point of the village.
Romantically the Anvil became the enduring symbol of Gretna Green Weddings. This is because of the many 'Blacksmith Priests' of flamboyant character who conducted ceremonies within the Blacksmith's Shop.

They would declare "As hammer and anvil join metal together in the heat of the fire, I hereby join this couple together in the heat of the moment".

The World famous Old Blacksmith's Shop is now the centrepiece of one of Scotland's premier visitor attractions.
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Old Blacksmith's Shop Old Blacksmith's
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