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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Where to Elope in Regency England

In the Regency, common law marriages, which the Hardwicke Act outlawed in England and Wales, were still possible in Scotland. As such, the border towns of Scotland became famous for providing these marriages. No ceremony was required, and anyone could officiate, if so desired.

The most famous of the marriage border towns was Gretna Green. Weddings are still a thriving business in Gretna Green. The two pictures above are Gretna Green then (left) and now. Gretna Green also has its own website.

Gretna Green was not the only place for irregular marriages. Other towns, especially in the Eastern Borders of Scotland, also performed quick marriages. While Gretna Green was the destination of choice in the west, these next towns are in east Scotland.

Lamberton, Berwickshire was the most popular of the eastern destinations, since it’s the first Scottish town reached via the Great North Road, the main thoroughfare from London to Edinburgh. The toll-keepers provided the marriages at the Old Toll House. Here’s a picture of the Old Toll House in 1890.

The toll-keepers at Paxton and Mordington, other border towns near Lamberton, and also close to the Great North Road, also performed marriages.

Another town is Coldstream, Scottish Borders. The couple would cross the river Tweed using the Coldstream Bridge, which links Cornhill-on-Tweed, Northumberland to Coldstream. As in the other towns, the Toll House, here called the Marriage House, on the Scottish side of the bridge provided common law marriages.

Like Gretna Green, Coldstream still does a thriving business in marriages. Here’s their marriage website:

Who performed these marriages? Anyone who wanted to. Two people need only declare themselves married before two witnesses to be married. Thriving businesses provided a marriage ceremony of sorts, with witnesses and a clergyman, if desired, officiating. These ceremonies would also provide a certificate as proof of the marriage, for when the couple returned home.

Various laws in the early 1800’s changed and restricted these marriages, (, but many of these towns continued their clandestine wedding business almost up to the twentieth century. Nowadays, the most famous, like Gretna Green and Coldstream, still trade on their history as they provide legal marriages.

Thank you all,



Joyce Moore said...

Linda: Loved your blog about elopments. As always, I learn when reading your posts. Great job.

Nancy said...

Great information, Linda. Gretna Green is well nown but those other places aren't. I had never heard of marriages at the toll booth.
I did know that some time after the Regency the law was changed to require a period of residency in Scotland before one could marry there. Common law marriages continued valid, though, until the 20th century.
Such marriages used to be valid in many of the states, though only if one stayed in the state for sometime afterwards.

Linda Banche said...

Thanks, Joyce. I'm glad you're happy with my posts.

Nancy, I was a little surpised to find all those toll booths doing an active trade in marriages, too. Apparently, couples were happy to get married when they were two inches into Scotland. Or maybe they were trying to stay ahead of pursuit.

Lindsay Townsend said...

Really interesting blog, Linda. As with many, I knew about Gretna Green, but not the other border towns.

Chelle Cordero said...

Eye-opening. Thanks for an interesting and educational post.

Linda Banche said...

Hi Lindsay and Chelle. Glad I was able to provide you with some interesting information.

Emma Lai said...

Good post, Linda! I kept thinking you were going to mention "marrying over the anvil."

Mary Ricksen said...

How interesting. I'd probably have had to do that, my family didn't like my DH at first!

Linda Banche said...

Hi Emma, yes, Gretna Green marriages were generally called 'marrying over the anvil" because blacksmiths officiated many times. I found quite a bit of information about these irregular marriages, and I had to condense things to make a reasonable sized post.

Hi Mary, sometimes our families take a little longer than we would like to realize how wonderful our spouses are. Glad you were able to win them over.

Savanna Kougar said...

Linda, there's no stopping those who want to marry, is there?
Great info and fascinating!

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Linda,
Great blog, very informative. I have visited Gretna Green, when we were touring the UK, but I was already marrried.Never thought about renewing my vows there.

Linda Banche said...

Thanks, Savanna. As the saying goes, you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince. So when do find him, marry him as soon as you can!

Hi Margaret, thanks. Lucky you, actually seeing Gretna Green. Renewing your vows would have been nice, but you already have your prince, and that's the main thing.

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