For more than 260 years, when someone in the UK mentioned taking a trip to Gretna Green, that meant they were getting married. How did a small town in Scotland get such a reputation? It wasn’t Gretna Green’s fault; that’s the first town a person encounters when crossing the Scottish border from England. And England made getting married a lot more time-consuming than Scotland. The Church of England had established rules for marriage ceremonies, including having to wait several weeks in case someone objected. No such rules existed in Scotland.
Though Scottish marriage laws allowed for pretty much anyone to legally marry a couple, bride- and grooms-to-be arriving from England often felt as if they needed some kind of formality to make their wedding seem more official. In seeking out responsible, upstanding local citizens in a town where the likely knew no one, couples often turned to toll keepers, innkeepers, and blacksmiths to perform the ceremony.
As the local lore goes, when earnest couples crossed the Scottish border and arrived at Gretna Green, they spotted the village’s blacksmiths at their forges and would ask if they’d be willing to join them in matrimony. So it became a local tradition for couples to seek out these anvil priests in the village’s two blacksmith shops and inns, and thus the anvil came to symbolize the commitment newlyweds were making to each other.
Laws are different now, but an anvil is still the icon used to signify a Gretna Green wedding. Read about the history of Gretna Green weddings at Mental Floss.