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Gretna Green

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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Gretna or Graitney, a Border village and parish of SE Dumfriesshire. The village, comprising Gretna Green and Springfield, the latter ½ mile E by N of the former, and near the right bank of the Sark, by road is 9½ miles NNW of Carlisle, under which it has a post office, with money order, savings' bank, and telegraph departments ; whilst, from neighbouring stations on the Caledonian, the Glasgow & South-Western, and a branch line of the North British, it is 65 miles SSE of Carstairs, 24½ ESE of Dumfries, and 3¼ W by S of Longtown. Once a burgh of barony, with market cross and cattle markets, this village long was famous for the celebration of runaway marriages, whose sole formality was the subscribing of a certificate by the officiating `priest' and witnesses. After the abolition of Fleet marriages by Lord Hardwicke's Act (1754), English persons wishing to marry secretly required to get out of England, to which alone that Act had reference. Thus the practice arose of posting to the Border and crossing into Scotland, where Gretna Green, as the nearest and most convenient spot, had so early as l771 become `the resort of all amorous couples whose union the prudence of parents or guardians prohibits' (Pennant). The `priest' or `blacksmith' might be any one-ferry-man, tollkeeper, landlord ; his fee ranged from half a guinea to £50, according to the parties' circumstances ; and the customary `church' was the toll-house or the King's Head inn till 1826 and afterwards Gretna Hall. At the toll-house alone 1300 couples were united within six years ; and the traffic continued till, by 19 and 20 Vict., c. 96, after 1 Dec. 1856 all irregular marriages entered into in Scotland were rendered invalid unless one of the parties had been residing in Scotland for twenty-one days before. At Gretna, Thomas, Lord Erskine (17501823), Lord High Chancellor of England, wedded, late in life, his second spouse, Miss Buck ; and here too in 1826 were married Edward Gibbon Wakefield and Ellen Turner-a marriage that next year brought the bridegroom and his brother three years' imprisonment for abduction, after a celebrated trial at Lancaster. Pop. of Springfield (1871) 303, (1881) 300.

The parish, since 1609 comprising the ancient parishes of Gretna and Renpatrick or Redkirk, contains also Rigg village, on the right bank of Kirtle Water, 2 miles WSW of Gretna Green and 6 E of Annan, under which it has a post office. Bounded N by Half-Morton, E and SE by Cumberland, S by the upper waters of the Solway Firth, W by Dornock, and NW by Kirkpatrick-Fleming, it has a varying length from E to W of 1¼ and 4 3/8 miles, a varying breadth from N to S of 1¾ and 4 miles, and an area of 9089½ acres, of which 1075½ are foreshore and 150¾ water. The Sark winds 4½ miles south-south-westward along all the Cumberland border, and Kirtle Water 27/8 miles across the interior, both to the Solway Firth, which here is from 7½ furlongs to 3¼ miles broad, but which at low water is all an expanse of sand, except for the Esk's and Eden's narrow channels. The shore-line, 4 miles in extent, is low, rising to only 25 and 35 feet at Redkirk and Torduff Points. Inland, the SW portion of the parish, to the right of Kirtle Water, is almost a dead level, its highest point 68 feet ; the NE portion ascends-but very gradually-to 105 feet at Floshend, 130 near Boghead, 156 near Goldieslea, and 200 near Cowgarth Flow. These upper grounds command a glorious view of the Firth and the mountains of Annandale, Eskdale, Liddesdale, and Cumberland. The predominant rock is Old Red sandstone ; and the soil on a strip of the seaboard is a fine rich loam, in some other parts is wet and clayey, but mostly is dry and sandy, mixed with stones, and fertile. About 300 acres are pastoral or waste ; some 60 are under wood ; and all the rest of the land is either regularly or occasionally in tillage. Remains of an ancient Caledonian stone circle stood, till the latter part of last century, on the farm of Gretna Mains ; of Stonehouse Tower and other old Border fortalices, with massive walls, the site can be barely identified. The entire parish, lying as it did on the frontier of Scotland, contiguous to the Debatable Lands between the Sark and the Esk, was long the scene of almost incessant forays ; and it continued, down to the latter part of last century, to be the retreat of numerous bands of desperate and incorrigible smugglers. Six proprietors hold each an annual value of £500 and upwards, 8 of from £20 to £50. Gretna is in the presbytery of Annan and synod of Dumfries ; the living is worth £371. The parish church, at Gretna Green, was built in 1790, and contains 1000 sittings. At Rigg there is also a U.P. church (1832; 357 sittings); and two public schools, Gretna and Mount Pleasant, with respective accommodation for 141 and 160 children, had (1881) an average attendance of 96 and 68, and grants of £78, 1s. and £55, 7s. Valuation (1843) £6068, 15s., (1883) £10,364, 16s. 3d. Pop. (1801) 1765, (1831) 1909, (1861) 1620, (1871) 1395, (1881) 1212.—Ord. Sur., shs. 6, 10, 1863-64. See P. O. Hutchinson's Chronicles of Gretna Green (2 vols., Lond., 1844).

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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