Monday, February 20, 2012

Gretna Green

Graham Smith, our first guest blogger of 2012, is the author of two books of short stories, "11 The Hard Way" and the "Harry Charters Chronicles"... 

...both available as Kindle Books on Amazon.
Graham is also a reviewer and, because no budding author should ever give up his day job...

...continues to work as the manager of a busy wedding venue near Gretna Green, in Scotland, a place he thought you might enjoy hearing about.

Here's Graham:

Gretna Green first became popular for weddings in 1754, when couples learned of the different laws in Scotland which permitted people to marry at the age of 16 without parental consent. English couples then “ran away” to Scotland to be married.

With Gretna Green being the southernmost town in Scotland, it was the first port of call for the eloping couples. The ceremonies which took place were performed by the local blacksmiths who were held in high regard by the local community as they made most of the daily wares used in that era.

Often the ceremonies would take place in the blacksmiths' workshops over their anvils.

That way, their work wouldn't be interrupted for too long.

Many angry fathers gave chase to the couples, and tales abound of ceremonies delayed while the bride and groom hid until the father had left.

In some cases the young lovers would leap into the blacksmith’s bed in the room next door, prompting the apoplectic father to think he was too late and storm off. After a suitable wait the proceedings would recommence.

A change in the law came in 1857, when Lord Brougham’s bill stated that the bride and groom must take a three week “cooling off” period prior to the wedding. While this reduced the number of elopements, the more determined lovers came anyway and sought work on the local farms for the three weeks.

In 1977, the next change in the law was that the three week “cooling off” period was abolished. A new system was introduced whereby the couples must give a minimum of 14 days written notice to Gretna Registration Office of their intent to marry within the parish.

And that put a dampener on the whole business.

But Gretna Green weddings started to become popular again in 1994, when local ministers began to conduct ceremonies over the anvil for visiting couples.

In 2002, the law changed yet again, this time allowing registrars to come out of the registration office to perform civil ceremonies. The first civil ceremony to take place in Scotland outside a registration office took place at The Mill Forge.

Today there are a number of different wedding venues and wedding tourism has become the town’s main industry. Weddings are estimated to bring the local economy a whopping £21 million per annum, and each year, over three thousand couples come to Gretna Green to be married.

Gretna Green’s other claim to fame is sadly much less joyous.

In 1915, within half-a-mile of the town. a railroad signalman forgot to advise the engineer of a troop train, that a local train had stopped ahead of him on the same track.

The error had deadly results. The resulting collision caused the troop train to catch fire.

The troop train was packed with soldiers bound for Gallipoli, and the carriages were locked to prevent desertion. Then, to make things worse, a third train hauling empty coal carriages collided with the wreckage of the first two.

Anecdotal reports say the soldiers who escaped from the train turned their rifles on their trapped comrades in an effort to spare them from further suffering.

The event went down in history as the Quintinshill rail disaster.

In total 226 people lost their lives on that fateful morning. To date no other UK rail disaster has claimed more lives.

World War I had another impact on the area as well. The nearby township of Gretna grew up to house workers at a munitions factory  built to service the needs of the British troops.

It grew to be the largest in the world, and its rapid expansion, coupled with a need to house all of the workers, caused Gretna to become the first town in the UK to receive formal town planning.

Quite a lot of history, don't you think, for a little town along the border between England and Scotland?


  1. Nice to see the pics and anecdotes about Gretna's matrimonial past/future! I'd heard of the rail disaster but didn't know three trains were involved; such a sad piece.

    But, shock Grandmother worked in that munitions factory in WW1! Very dangerous work with many unfortunate casualties.

    Thanks, Graham, for the wee history lesson :-)

  2. Wotcha Graham - I think we've met, at Harrogate perhaps? Hope all's well.

    Lovely post - the Quintinshill disaster is little known - after all, amid all the carnage of WW1 is barely stood out. Even though it was the worse rail disaster in our history I bet most people would mention Moorgate, or Harrow and Wealdstone, or even Clapham Junction when asked. Was it covered up at the time, to protect morale? I know they did that with the Bethnal Green tube disaster in WWII.

    Fascinating reading mate. Look forward to downloading and reading your stuff.

  3. All towns have histories, but this one seems especially interesting. And Graham, your presentation was certainly well done.

  4. Fantastic -- I only knew about Gretna Green vaguely from Georgette Heyer novels. Great history!

  5. It takes a brave man to combine marriage and a train wreck in the same story. Fascinating at every level, Graham.

    I can't wait to forward it to my daughter. She's in the wedding planning business and I'm sure it will give her some ideas. To me, the anvil alone raises all sorts of intriguing decorative possibilities.

  6. Georgette Heyer was my introduction to Gretna Green, but I didn't realize that the town still had such a large wedding industry. It is very interesting. The train accident is an awful counterpoint to the wedding history, and the munitions factory is so different from the bucolic town I had imagined. Thank you for a very good history.

  7. Excellent story, Graham, and the pictures are amazing!

    If only Tina and I had known of Gretna Green's thriving marriage 'industry', we would have 'hopped the pond' and gotten married in Scotland, instead of Vermont, although...

    Vermont does have the world's best maple syrup... an absolute necessity to married couples on their wedding nigh...

    Oh! I've gone and said too much, haven't I? Oops!

  8. Thanks for the kind comments everyone. Gretna Green has some wonderful and terrible history for such a small town.

    Sue - It was a very dangerous place and after workers kept turning up drunk from the night before the government took control of all the pubs and closed them at a very early hour.

    Dan - You're right we did meet in Harrogate and I've read your excellent book The Blood Detective. I hope you enjoy mine as much as I enjoyed yours. As far as I know there wasn't a big cover up. I think that it was small news compared to the war. My great Grandfather was supposed to be on that train but got an extra weeks leave as his father died a couple of days before the crash.

    Jeffrey - I'm sure she'll think of something interesting.

    Veronica - You paint a very intersesting picture. Would whisky be an acceptable substitute?

    Again thanks to everyone for commenting.

  9. Fascinating, Graham.

    I have actually been there, and driving past it quite a few times.

    When I was studying and working in Glasgow years ago, the man I was living with proposed for us to get married there. Thank God that I didn't go through with it as I knew that I would live to regret it :)

    I had no idea about the train crash. We live and learn, every day! Many thanks for informative post.