Gretna Green is one of the world’s most popular wedding destinations, hosting over 5000 weddings each year, and one of every six Scottish weddings.
Gretna’s famous “runaway marriages” began in 1753 when Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act was passed in England. It stated that if both parties to a marriage were not at least 21 years old, then the bride and groom must have parental consent.
However, the Act did not apply in Scotland, where it was possible for boys to marry at 14 and girls at 12 years old with or without parental consent. So the elopers fled England, and the first Scottish village they encountered crossing the border was Gretna Green.
The Old Blacksmith’s Shop, built around 1712, and Gretna Hall Blacksmith’s Shop built in 1710 became a big attraction for tourists, and a popular wedding venue for those “Runaway Marriages.” The Old Blacksmith’s opened to the public as a visitor attraction in 1887 where the local blacksmith and his anvil have become the lasting symbols of Gretna Green weddings.
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.”
Since 1929 both parties in Scotland have had to be at least 16 years old, but they still may marry without parental consent.
Gretna’s two blacksmiths’ shops and countless inns have become 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 come from around the world to be married ‘over the anvil’ at Gretna Green.