"Suppose you were in love with a girl and her father refused his consent to the union? What would you do?" John Fane, 10th Earl of Westmoreland, asked Robert Child, the director of Child’s Bank. Robert replied, "Why run away to Gretna Green of course!"
So in 1782, the Earl of Westmoreland took Mr. Child at his word, even though the object of his affections was Sarah Anne, Mr. Child's only daughter and sole heiress!
Gretna Green became the destination for eloping young lovers following the introduction of Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act of 1753. The law was changed so that anyone under the age of 21 had to have the consent of guardians or parents to marry. There was no lower age limit but the marriage had to be celebrated in church, entered in the parish register and signed by both parties.
The Gretna Green registers are not just simply a record of marriage but provide a view of forbidden love. Young couples who wanted to be together against all the odds.
Sample records: [+] Click to magnify
Why Gretna Green?
In Scotland, the minimum age limit had remained at 16, so many young couples from England headed north for their weddings. As Gretna Green was on the London to Edinburgh stagecoach route and was the first stopping point across the border, many couples decided to marry there — often only just getting through the ceremony before their pursuers arrived.
As the marriage trade was an easy way to make money, a variety of characters became Gretna Green "priests". David Lang probably had one of the most adventurous lives prior to becoming a Gretna Green "priest". Born in 1755, he served many years in the Royal Navy after being press-ganged in Lancashire. He and his ship were captured by the pirate John Paul Jones and he came home to Gretna Green after jumping ship. He soon recognised the lucrative marriage trade as being the source of a profitable future.