Gretna Green is a village in the south of Scotland famous for runaway weddings. It is near the mouth of the River Esk and was historically the first village in Scotland, following the old coaching route from London to Edinburgh. Today Gretna Green is one of the world’s most popular wedding destinations, hosting over 5,000 weddings each year and one of every six Scottish weddings. Gretna’s famous “runaway marriages” began in 1754 when Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act came into force in England. Under the Act you had to be 21 to get married in England and Wales but did not apply in Scotland, where it was possible for boys to marry at 14 and girls at 12 with or without parental consent. It was, however, only in the 1770s, with the construction of a toll road passing through the village, that Gretna Green became the first easily reachable village over the Scottish border. The Old Blacksmith’s Shop, built around 1712, and Gretna Hall Blacksmith’s Shop became, in popular folklore at least, the focal tourist points for the marriage trade. 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.
Gretna’s two blacksmiths’ shops and countless inns and smallholding became 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 and thousands of couples from around the world come to be married ‘over the anvil’ in Gretna Green.