Thursday, 10 September 2009

A rush to tie the knot in Gretna Green

Yesterday was 9th September, a date that sparked a rush of weddings in Gretna Green. The special date (9/9/9) was predicted to be particularly popular with UK emergency service workers planning on getting married. (For those who may not know, 999 is the UK telephone number for fire, police and ambulance services)

47 marriages were due to take place yesterday in Gretna, a number well up on the usual number of mid week weddings in the famous border town. There’s no excuse for the 47 couples who tied the knot in Gretna yesterday to forget their anniversary *g*

A soup├žon of history: Gretna Green is one of the world's most popular wedding destinations, hosting over 5000 weddings each year. Gretna's famous runaway marriages began in 1753 when the Marriages Act was passed in England. The Act was also known as Lord Hardwicke’s Act, as a reference to the Lord Chancellor of the time. The act stated that if both parties to a marriage were not at least 21 years old, then consent to the marriage had to be given by the parents. The Act did not apply in Scotland, where it was possible for boys to get married at 14 and girls at 12 years old with or without parental consent.

The Marriage Act put an end to irregular and clandestine marriages (including the famous, or infamous, Fleet marriages) and couples had to travel to the village of Gretna Green in order to escape the jurisdiction of English Law.

The Old Blacksmith's shop in Gretna (see photo above*), built around 1712, and Gretna Hall Blacksmith's Shop (1710) became, in popular folklore at least, the focal point for the marriage trade. The Old Blacksmith's opened to the public as a visitor attraction as early as 1887.

Gretna Green was described by William Gilpin 1776, as ‘the great resort of such unfortunate nymphs, as happen to differ with their parents, and guardians on the subject of marriage. It is not a disagreeable scene. The village is concealed by a grove of trees; which occupy a gentle rise; at the end of which stands the church: and the picture is finished with two distances, one of which is very remote...

Of all the seminaries in Europe, this is the seat, where that species of literature, called novel-writing, may be the most successfully studied. A few months conversation with the literati of this place, will furnish the inquisitive student with such a fund of anecdotes, that with a moderate share of imagination in tacking them together, he may spin out as many volumes as he pleases. In his hands may shine the delicacy of that nymph, and an apology for her conduct, who unsupported by a father, unattended by a sister, boldly throws herself into the arms of some adventurer; flies in the face of every thing, that bears the name of decorum; endures the illiberal laugh, and jest of a whole country, through which she runs; mixes in the shocking scenes of this vile place, where every thing that is low, indelicate, and abominable presides; (no Loves and Graces to hold the nuptial torch, or lead the hymeneal dance; an inn the temple, and an innkeeper the priest;) and suffers her name to be inrolled (I had almost said) in the records of prostitution.

Wow. 'Vile Place, where every thing that is low, indelicate, and abominable presides.' I don't think Gilpin was too impressed with Gretna and its association with the romance and scandal themes that appeared in popular novels ;0) As my teenage niece would say: way harsh!

* Photo of Blacksmith's Shop, Gretna Green by Niki Odolphie, reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Licence.

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