Thanks for all your interest in eloping to Scotland! Just as people run away to Vegas to marry in a hurry these days, Scotland was the place to go in the nineteenth century if you wanted to be married quickly, no questions asked.
In Scotland, you didn’t have to be a minister to perform a legal wedding ceremony; in fact, you could be married by anyone, as long as you had two witnesses. In some areas, merely tying hands together (handfasting) or jumping over a decorated broom (the besom) was enough to declare you husband and wife. When a toll booth was built on the border late in the nineteenth century, people just stopped there and asked the booth guard to marry them!
Most of them, however, ventured into one of the border towns. One of the first towns over the border on the main road from London was Gretna Green, and the closest and most prominent landmark was the blacksmith’s shop where five major coaching roads met. The blacksmith, along with a number of other fellows in town, were willing and able, for a fee, to perform a marriage, so they all became known as anvil priests.
None was more famous than Joseph Paisley. He was the original blacksmith who set up the marriage market in Gretna Green in the late 1700s. A large, coarse fellow, he conducted his ceremonies with the least amount of effort. Legend has it he once married two couples at the same time, but inadvertently paired the wrong bride and groom. When they protested, he waved his beefy hand and told them to “Sort it out among yourselves.”
His nephew David Lang also married couples, but he opted for a more official air and went around dressed somberly like a minister, though he had no claim to the title. His son Simon took over the trade when his father passed away in 1827 and continued practicing until 1872. The Lang family recorded over 10,000 marriages from 1795 to 1895.
Would you do it? Would you risk scandal, run away, and have a fat sooty fellow clang his hammer on the anvil and proclaim you married? Would a Gretna Green marriage or hopping the broom in Scotland be enough romance for your wedding day?