National Records of Scotland

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Irregular Border Marriage Registers

Irregular Border Marriage Registers

Marriage by declaration in front of two witnesses was legal in Scotland but in 1753 a law banned such irregular marriages in England. This led to couples crossing the Border to marry at places like Gretna Green, Coldstream, and Lamberton Toll. The marriages were carried out by “priests” who also provided witnesses. Lord Brougham’s Act (an Act for Amending the Law of Marriage in Scotland 1856, 19 & 20 Vict, c96) finally put paid to the practice.

This guide covers:

The current whereabouts of the Irregular Border Marriage Records

Some of the “priests” kept duplicate certificates or register volumes. These records are of great value for family, social and local history research and various attempts have been made to locate them over the years.

This pdf copy of the leaflet Irregular Border and Scottish Runaway Marriages (8th edition, 2014) compiled by Ronald Nicholson provides details of the extant registers and their current (or last known) location. It is made available on our website by kind permission of the author.

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Irregular Border Marriage Records Available in Our Search Rooms

Each entry below provides the covering dates, the name of the “priest”, a description of the records and how they can be accessed in the Historical Search Room and ScotlandsPeople Centre.

Queens Head Inn, Springfield, Gretna 1843-1862, John Douglas
Four volumes and a bundle of correspondence relating to the ownership of the records and search requests. For further details see the Miscellaneous Manuscript Records catalogue under reference MR 104.

Available as a photocopy to researchers in the ScotlandsPeople Centre (our reference MR104). Photocopies are also held by the Register Office at Gretna and the Ewart Library in Dumfries.

Haddington, 1762-1795, J Buchanan (minister)
Register of the Episcopalian Chapel of Holy Trinity Church, Haddington
[Regular but runaway marriages]
Available as digital images on Virtual Volumes in the Historical Search Room and ScotlandsPeople Centre (our reference CH12/2)

Lamberton Toll, 1834-1843 and 1844-1849, Henry Collins
Available on microfilm to researchers in the ScotlandsPeople Centre (our reference MR101) and as a photocopy to readers in the Historical Search Room (our reference RH2/8/84)

Lamberton Toll
Register of irregular border marriages for Berwickshire among miscellaneous papers from Lord Advocate’s Office contains 48 entries (our reference AD58/125)

Transcriptions held in the ScotlandsPeople Centre Reference Library

The ScotlandsPeople Centre's Reference Library holds the following publications:

  • E W J McConnel.  Marriages at Gretna Hall, 1829 to April 30 1855 (Scottish Record Society, 1949)
  • Register of the Episcopalian Chapel of Holy Trinity Church, Haddington (transcript in 'Northern notes and queries',  volume III (1889) and volume IV (1890)
  • Arthur Brack and George Bell.  ‘Marriages at Lamberton Toll 1833 - 1849’ (Northumberland and Durham Family History Society, 1995)
  • John McKenzie.  Portpatrick Stranraer Stonykirk Leswalt, 1754-1826
  • Arthur Brack.  The 'Gretna Green' for Ireland: irregular marriages at Portpatrick, Wigtownshire, 1759-1826 transcribed and with an introduction by Arthur Brack (Dumfries & Galloway Family History Society, 1997)
Further reading
  • Old Statistical Account of Scotland 1791-1799, volume 9, p531The entry for the parish of Graitney includes a note on clandestine marriages and the famous marriage business at Gretna over the previous forty years. It includes a transcript of one of the certificates.
  • New Statistical Account of Scotland 1834-1845, volume 4, pp272-3  The entry for the parish of Graitney in Dumfriesshire refers to the “far-famed marriages of Gretna Green” running at 300-400 annually.
  • “Claverhouse" (Meliora C Smith). Irregular Border marriages (Grant and Murray, 1934).  The appendix lists the irregular marriage registers of the priests Lang, Robert Elliot, John Linton, George McQueen, John Murray and John Douglas;  the Gretna registers; the Gretna Hall marriage records and Lamberton Toll marriage registers
  • G S Crighton. Irregular Border marriages: the whereabouts of the records of irregular marriages on the English Scottish border’ (Society of Genealogists’ leaflet 10, 1989)