Wednesday, March 2, 2011

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. Coldstream figures in my Regency Christmas story, Mistletoe Everywhere.

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,


Welcome to My World of Historical Hilarity!


Caroline Clemmons said...

Linda, I remember visiting Gretna Green, but haven't been to Coldstream. Thanks for sharing.

Cathie Dunn said...

Thanks for sharing, Linda. The Borders towns you name are in easy reach of my home. Not just handy for weddings, but also a beautiful backdrop in the stunning scenery.

Linda Banche said...

Wow, Caroline and Cathie, I envy you both, having actually seen these places. The great scenery in these Borders towns must surely be a bonus for anyone getting married there.

Allison Knight said...

Another wonderful tidbit to add to my growing store of Histoical information.

Thanks for a great blog.

StephB said...

How interesting. I agree - nice information for my historical notes. Thanks so much for sharing. I like the pictures you used in the post. They helped me to picture the backdrop.


Linda said...

Thank you both, Allison and StephB. Amazing the kind of information you can find.

Grace Elliot said...

Oh I just love historical trivia like this! A lovely blog post- so pleased I've found your blog.
Grace x

Julie Lynn Hayes said...

This is quite fascinating, thanks for sharing. So, the marriages that took place in Gretna Green were not legal? I'm not sure that I understand the distinction, or what you mean by irregular marriage. I'm filing this away for my own some day Regency novel.

Linda Banche said...

Thanks, Grace. I'm glad you like it.

Julie, Scottish marriages were legal marriages. The English used the term "irregular marriage" to mean the marriage did not conform to the English laws. But at this time, Scottish marriages didn't have to.

Julie Lynn Hayes said...

Thank you for the clarification, Linda, good to know. I guess mothers would have been more horrified if they were not legal, eh?

L M Gonzalez said...

Gretna Green is the place I usually read about in the Regencies I read. I'd never heard about the other places. Thanks for the info.

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