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Ian & Bev's wedding at Gretna Green.


How romantic to be married over the Anvil!

Getting married the week after Great Britain's worst floods in years, it was nice to have a bright start to the journey up north, even though the forecast was more rain but brighter in the afternoon. (Who says the English are preoccupied with the weather?) We had a nice run up to Gretna through heavy showers, all meeting around the same time, in the large car park at the original Old Blacksmith's Shop, in time for a cuppa & cake. Although Ian & Bev ran a little late with all the titivating and two kids to cope with, they were up to be married before Helen the registrar, in front of the anvil, by about ten minutes past one.

The small marriage room, off the museum, was full of pictures, letters &  history. There  was a dais at the back of the room for the guests, and the couple stood with the anvil between them and the registrar. It was a little disappointing to find out the anvil wasn't even struck! Ethan soon decided he wanted to get to Mum & Dad & Helen, the registrar, had to raise her voice a little, until Kath rescued the situation by distracting him outside. Andy was there videoing it all, so she will see her son married! It was all very moving & intimate, where all the guests seemed so close & very involved with the whole service.

The staff were very pleasant & helpful. They made sure it all ran smoothly, very dignified & there was lots of signing to do. It was obvious they had done this a thousand times before. You could look round their museum but as we all wanted more photographs taken, they guided us to an outside area where there was an excellent  place to take the photographs. There were signs abounding to say Gretna Green, sculptures & flowers & all roped off so the wedding party wouldn't be invaded by tourists! The rain held off apart from a few spots and this is where Ian, our best man, brought a wonderful Germany tradition. He produced a huge sheet with their names & wedding date written on. They were given a very small pair of nail scissors each to cut out the heart, so that Ian could carry Bev through the heart shaped hole! We suspect that there isn't too much rain in the German summers ... it was a large sheet and they got very small scissors!

What's different about Gretna? When did it start? Why an anvil?

The story begins in England in the early 1700s. The country was facing serious social problems caused by large numbers of irregular marriages taking place around the country. The solution was an Act of Parliament introduced in 1754 by Lord Hardwicke's marriage act, decreeing that those wishing to marry in England had to be at least 21 years old, or have parental consent, to get married.

At that time, Scottish law allowed boys as young as 14 & girls as young as 12 to marry without such consent: cue lots of runaway marriages! By 1929, the age had risen to 16 but consent was still unnecessary. Plus Scottish law didn't require banns to be read, nor did it demand an advance marriage licence so no one could object, or interfere, before the event.

The blacksmith now enters the picture. Scottish law's permitting "irregular marriages" meant that practically anyone could conduct a marriage ceremony. All that was needed was a solemn declaration before two witnesses. Gretna's blacksmiths were seen to be able to to marry metal to metal on the anvil; therefore they could forge a bond between the eloping couple. The two blacksmiths even got the title of "Anvil Priests"

An English Act of Parliament in 1857 meant that a marriage in Scotland would no longer be recognised in England unless one of the parties to it had been resident in Scotland for at least three weeks prior to the wedding. This slightly reduced the flow of such weddings, and killed off a similar "wedding industry" in Coldstream on the other side of the country. But Gretna Green remained a considerable draw until 1940, when irregular marriages performed by someone other than a clergyman or official registrar were outlawed in Scotland. During the 13 years until 1940 the last "anvil priest" who officiated at the Old Smithy, Richard Rennison, is said to have performed 5147 weddings. And for 37 years that was pretty much that. But in 1977 the three week residential requirement was removed; couples instead needing to give 14 days written notice of their wedding. And from 1994 anvil weddings outside church premises once more began to take place in Gretna and Gretna Green.

Gretna was not the only place, other border villages had anvil priests. However, before these changes took place, the laws led to many elopers fleeing England and making for the first Scottish village they came to Gretna Green. The Old blacksmith's shop, built around 1712, and Gretna Hall Blacksmiths Shop 1710 became, in popular folklore at least, the focal point for the marriage trade. The Old Blacksmiths opened to the public as a visitor attraction as early as 1887.

The original anvil remains at the centre of an exhibition that explains it all to the visitors. Gretna Green remains one of the most popular wedding venues in the world, and thousands of couples still come from all over the world to be married 'over the anvil' at Gretna Green.

There is a German tradition of having "Kaffee und Kuchen" (Coffee & cakes). So we all went off to a lovely old hunting lodge in the village of Crosby on Eden. I quote "Built in 1805, Crosby Lodge is in the heart of the countryside overlooking Parkland and the River Eden beyond. The lodge maintains an aura of peace and solitude richly furnished with fine period pieces.  Redolent of the fine qualities of the Georgian era, the Lodge offers you a chance to relax and be pampered" its true too!. It was the English version we went for ... afternoon tea! All the food was home made, including the crisps. It was a very classy place with really nice staff and provided a nice pause in the proceedings, to relax and enjoy the break and take more photographs before the trip home. Ian's wife Sabine wanted the recipe of the English scones and Frank disgraced himself by eating the last (delicious) chocolate brownie. The table groaned with food and any items left were boxed up for us to take for the evening.

Back at home, Mick, who had to go to work, was doing a sterling job sorting out the food & drink in preparation for all the evening guests for the BBQ. My life! Talk about feeding the 5000. There was so much food & drink, the new Mr. & Mrs Lowe maybe feeding the rest of the estate for the week.

It was so pleasant to have the house & garden jammed with family & friends under the gazebo and sail that Ian had erected. It was needed a couple of times for heavy showers, but nothing came between the food, drink & conversation. Bev brought half the NHS as guests, Ian had lots of school & work mates who were amazingly well behaved. Obviously, its now an age thing! The cake was cut, the BBQ didn't burn down the house, champagne flowed and everyone seemed to love it.

Gretna is a great option now you can marry anywhere. It is different and has a unique history. Bev & Ian will have great memories of it all.