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Report on Marriages at Gretna (Part 2)

Civil and religious marriages

Up to the early 1990s the overwhelming majority of marriages at Gretna were civil marriages conducted by the local registrars. Figure 3 shows the transformation that has taken place since then, with the total number of marriages continuing to increase steadily but the number of civil marriages falling back. The number of religious marriages increased from 28 to 2,966 between 1992 and 2000 during which year they outnumbered the 2,312 civil marriages. Table 2 shows the religious denominations of those conducting the ceremonies over this period.

Across Scotland as a whole, the proportion of marriages that were religious marriages has risen slightly in recent years from 53.5 percent in 1996 to 60.2 per cent in 2000. This change is partly, though not entirely, due to the large increase in religious marriages at Gretna.

Other than in exceptional circumstances, civil marriage ceremonies in Scotland must take place in registration offices. However marriages solemnised by a religious celebrant may take place at any location. It is believed that this is the main reason for the increase in religious marriages at Gretna where there is a desire to hold the ceremony at a 'traditional' location, such as the Old Blacksmith's Shop.

In 1995 the law in England and Wales was changed to allow civil marriages to be solemnised in approved premises outwith registration offices. A similar change is planned for Scotland. The Scottish Executive White Paper Civil Marriages Outwith Registration Offices (Adobe Acrobat Portable Document Format) (PDF 2.93 Mb) was published on 21 June 2001, this includes draft legislation to make this change. Subject to the outcome of consultation, this will be considered by the Scottish Parliament during 2001-02 session.

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Time of year

Figure 4 presents a monthly breakdown of marriages throughout Scotland compared with those at Gretna during 2000. As can be seen, both have a distinct summer peak. In 2000, the most popular marriage date in Gretna was St Valentine's day, 14th February; and 29th February was the fifth most popular. For Scotland as a whole, neither date was particularly popular.

Demographic characteristics of brides and grooms


Marriages at Gretna no longer conform to the 18th and 19th century pattern when at least one of the parties was usually aged under 21. In fact only 4.4 percent of Gretna marriages in 2000 involved someone aged under 21; and only 1.2 per cent involved someone aged under 18. The average ages of Gretna brides and grooms in 2000 were 33 and 36 respectively. Moreover, as can be seen from Figure 5, the Gretna averages have been higher than the Scottish figures for over twenty years.

Marital status

Table 3 compares the marital status of brides and grooms at Gretna and throughout Scotland over the period 1975 - 2000. For Scotland, in 2000, 27 per cent of brides and 28 per cent of grooms were divorced, almost double the levels recorded in 1980. In 2000 in Gretna, 38 per cent of both brides and grooms were divorced compared with 33 per cent and 35 per cent respectively in 1980. Moreover, at least one of the parties was divorced in over half of all marriages at Gretna during this period.

Country of residence

Whilst the age and marital status characteristics of those getting married at Gretna is rather different to its earlier heyday, the country of residence of the participants is still dominated by England. Table 4 gives further details for the 5,278 brides and grooms in 2000. Over 70 per cent of those getting married were resident in England and 14 per cent were resident in Scotland. Some 6 per cent of brides and 5 per cent of grooms were resident in countries outside the United Kingdom. Table 4 lists the top ten such countries, the Republic of Ireland being in first place followed by the United States, Netherlands, Australia and Germany.

Elsewhere in Scotland a total of 25,089 marriages were registered in 2000. Neither bride nor groom was resident in Scotland for 3,928 of these marriages. However, at least one party was Scots born in 1,610 cases, leaving 2,318 with no obvious connection with Scotland.

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