The 1750s saw many changes in Great Britain under George II. In 1752 the calendar was reformed from the Julian to the Gregorian, and the 1st of January gained official status as the first day of the year, even though it had been commonly accepted for a long time. With the adjustments to the calendar, the tax year was set to begin each year on the 6th of April.
The following year, Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act passed in England. The Act prevented anyone from getting married under the age of 21 and marriage was only allowed with full parental consent. This law did not apply in Scotland, where boys could be 14 and girls 12 to get married – with or without their parent’s consent.
So, following the historic coaching route from London to Edinburgh, young elopers crossed the English / Scottish border, and the first village they came to, along the
River Esk was Gretna Green.
It was in the Old Blacksmith’s Shop, which was built around 1712, that the marriage trade apparently flourished for these ‘runaway marriages’ (other venues in the town included inns and smallholdings).
Under Scottish law, “irregular marriages” took place, which simply meant that the marriage declaration had to be made in front of two witnesses. Anyone therefore had the authority to conduct the ceremony. The blacksmith’s anvil was struck and the declaration of “Under the ancient rights and laws of Scotland you are now man and wife” was made publically. The Gretna Green blacksmiths became known as ‘anvil priests’ and the anvil became an important symbol of the wedding ceremonies at Gretna Green. Today, for good fortune in affairs of the heart, one only needs to touch the famous anvil.
In 1929 Scottish law was amended and both parties had to be at least 16 years old to marry, but still without parental consent. Today the law in England, Scotland and Wales states that you may marry at 16 with consent and 18 without.
Over 5,000 weddings (and 1 in 6 Scottish weddings) take place at Gretna Green each year, which gives it the title of ‘Number 1 wedding venue in the UK’ and one of the most famous in the world. All services are performed over an iconic blacksmith’s anvil and thus one can declared to have been married ‘over the anvil’ at Gretna Green.
Today in common law, a “Gretna Green marriage” means a marriage that takes place outside of the residence of either the bride or the groom, which allows them to avoid any restrictions on the circumstances of their marriage which may be applied in their places of residence.
A visit to Gretna Green can simply include some shopping, a visit to the museum, or a Gretna Green Anvil Blessing. For an additional overnight stay at the luxury hotel, a Scottish piper, champagne and flowers it will only cost you about £500 (a lot cheaper than the national average cost of a wedding, of between £15,000 and £25,000!)
So, ‘over the anvil’ until death do you part…