A Village That Transcends Time

NOV / DEC 2017: BY MARIANNA KAPLUN

Far, far away in Britain there is a beautiful place called Gretna Green. This small village in the south of Scotland famous for its runaway weddings and romantic wedding traditions dating back over centuries, which originated from cross-border elopements stemming from differences between Scottish marriage laws and those in neighboring countries. So why does this unremarkable village have a wedding capital’s reputation? Let’s try to understand.

A long time ago in 1754, English Parliament passed a law banning young people under the age of twenty-one to get married without their parents’ permission. But rebellious Scotland did not recognize the English law. And in Scotland a man and a woman over the age of sixteen could get married by declaring themselves husband and wife in front of two witnesses.

So what was a young couple to do if they were in love and under 21? Well, let’s think… eureka! Run off to Scotland. And Gretna Green was the first village on the Scottish side of the border. How romantic! But the most romantic thing in the ceremony is the Blacksmith’s Shop. Yes, you did not misinterpret, Blacksmith’s Shop is a peculiar “church” in Gretna Green. Scotland’s marriage law allowed any responsible adult to conduct wedding ceremonies and Gretna’s blacksmith was the most important person in the village.

As for wedding ceremony, it was short and simple. The “anvil priest” first asked the couple their names and addresses, then told them to stand up, and asked if they were single and if they were both there of their own free will. On their “yes” answers, he filled out the certificate and proceeded to the heart of the ceremony including the groom placing a ring on his bride’s left hand, and an admonition, “What God joins together, let no man put asunder.” Then he hit the hammer over the anvil and declared the couple man and wife.

The laws that brought fame to Gretna Green no longer apply. But its reputation is secure. So many thousands of lovers have married at Gretna Green, its name and traditions live in all corners of the globe, but it did not achieve widespread recognition until British literature immortalized it.

Do you know Jane Austen loved Gretna Green very much and often described this place in her romantic stories? For instance, in Love and Friendship, the main characters convince an impressionable girl to elope with an acquaintance to Gretna Green. Or in Pride and Prejudice, when Lydia Bennet elopes with George Wickham she leaves behind a note stating that their intended destination is Gretna Green, though Darcy later finds them in London. Other authors also mentioned Gretna’s village in their works. In Nemesis by Agatha Christie, Miss Marple references Gretna Green in passing, noting: “There was no need for them to fly off to Gretna Green, they were of sufficiently mature age to marry.”

The cinema also doesn’t lag behind literature. Gretna Green, a lost 1915 silent film about lovers headed to Gretna Green starring Marguerite Clark, based on the then popular novel by Grace Livingston Furniss. BBC like to shoot a series in the Gretna’s location or just mention the place. Among them You Rang, M’Lord?, Waterloo Road, EastEnders, May to December, etc. In the most popular British costume series of recent years Downton Abbey in the second series of Lady Sybil Crawley and the chauffeur Tom Branson set off for Gretna Green with plans to elope before being caught by her sisters.

Gretna Green is a romantic wedding spot. How wonderful it is to have a small village in the world where dreams of thousand people came true in the past and will come true in the future. May you live happily ever after!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Marianna Kaplun was born in Moscow. She is candidate of philological sciences specializing in the first Russian drama and theatre of XVIIth century. She’s also a film and TV critic by calling. You can find her essays on her Facebook page, Twitter, and on Lumiere. She also blogs in English and Russian. 

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2 thoughts on “A Village That Transcends Time

  1. tidalscribe

    Gretna Green is also in a beautiful part of Scotland, the Solway Firth, Dumfries and Galloway, my husband comes from a town not much further on from Gretna. I was always fascinated how a few mile south of the border the Carlisle accent is completely different from the Scottish accent above it.

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