Love. Romance. A beautiful marriage ceremony. These may not sound like the typical words you would use to describe tourists on holiday, but if we're talking about Gretna Green then these are probably among the best words to use. Why? Because Gretna Green, a lovely village located in the south of Scotland, is famous for the tremendous number of marriages performed there each year.
The history of Gretna Green being a popular place to wed can be traced all the way back to 1753 when England's parliament passed Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act. This law required anyone under the age of twentyone to get their parent's permission to marry; however, in Scotland a boy could still get married at age fourteen and a girl could still get married at age twelve. The result? Young couples who were determined to get married would flee to Scotland, stopping at the first village they could find after crossing the border. And Gretna Green was that village.
These marriages, known as runaway marriages, were then usually performed at one of the two blacksmith shops in Gretna Green. The Old Blacksmith's Shop and Gretna Hall Blacksmith's Shop quickly became the very active centres of the growing marriage business for couples eloping from England. But why were the blacksmith shops so often the location chosen for a runaway marriage? It's because the laws of Scotland also allowed just about anyone to perform a marriage, so the blacksmiths themselves quickly seized on the opportunity to make some extra money this way. There even developed a special nickname for the blacksmiths who performed marriages; they became known as anvil priests.
Interestingly, because of the popularity of Gretna Green marriages and the sheer number of people who went there to get one each year, by the late 1800's there evolved a thriving tourist trade of people visiting Gretna Green just to watch marriages taking place. The Old Blacksmith Shop even set up a public viewing area, making it a leader in the town's efforts to make the most money possible from the marriage business. Local inns, smallholdings, and guest houses also sprung up to serve the large numbers of couples and general visitors who flocked to Gretna Green.
The village of Gretna Green is still a thriving destination for couples wanting to be married, although they are no longer going there to escape restrictive marriage laws elsewhere. Because the village has so successfully grown its wedding image and business, some experts estimate that as many as 15% to 20% of all marriage ceremonies in Scotland today are performed at Gretna Green or in the nearby town of Gretna.
Gretna Green's fame as a wedding ceremony destination grew so fast and spread so far that other towns around Scotland (and even in parts of the world colonised by the English) also set themselves up as destinations for eloping couples. However, these places were generally referred to as "Gretna Greens", showing just how firmly the original village of Gretna Green was associated with socalled runaway marriages. The term "Gretna Green marriage" even became commonly used to refer to marriages performed in a place other than where the bride and groom actually lived.
Today, the blacksmith and the anvil are a lasting symbol of the marriage ceremonies performed in Gretna Green. And the village itself, Gretna Green, is an international destination for couples getting married. There is even a slang term for it; couples wed "over the anvil" when they exchange vows in Gretna Green.
Getting to and from Gretna Green is easy and convenient for those coming from England because of its proximity to the border as well as its location near a major motorway, the A74. There is also easy rail access to Gretna Green from London, with a rail station located right inside the main centre of the village. Whether you are going to get married or simply want to experience the comfort and hospitality of the quaint village of Gretna Green, it is a destination well worth visiting.