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Chronicles of Gretna Green
Chapter VI


Gretna Marriages—Wakefield and Miss Turner.

Now, reader, keep your temper, pray,
For here come chafing deeds:
Such deeds are not writ every day
For every one who reads.

Had not the facts—most extraordinary, most astounding—which we are now about to enter upon, been brought before the public in the newspapers at the time of their occurrence, we should have hesitated to mention them here. As the case is, we reveal no secrets; we only repeat what has been before told. The matter might have been allowed to die a natural death ; but how could we, as the professed historian of- Gretna Green, omit noticing one of the most remarkable transactions that have ever taken place within its confines, whether in ancient or in modern times? The historian who is true to his name, has no choice; he must take up each event chronologically as it happened, and must know no partiality towards any individual or any party.

Had we been writing an epic, which we take to be a fiction in its details, we might have connived at, or glossed over, or omitted, painful facts, and in their places have substituted the flights of an unfettered imagination, as it is, we are supposed to have no imagination ; but are in duty bound to plod onward in a direct line, whether our labours conduct us through savage wildernesses of vice, or through smiling gardens of virtue.

It was about an hour or so after high noon, on the 8th of March, in the year 1826, when a green carriage and four ran over the bridge that spans the Sark, through the turnpike-gate, after the manner of "a greased flash of lightning," too quick for Simon Beatie to stop,—and tearing up the hill " like mad," as Fanny Kemble says, made direct for the Hall. Here the postilions thrust their feet forward and threw their heads back, the consequence was, the curbs were pulled tight, and the horses stood still. Off they bounced, and ran to the carriage door. John Linton, landlord of the said hostelrie, came to the entrance to welcome the travellers to his house. They alighted and went in, but the room was small and cheerless.

"Frances, girl, go you up stairs and light a fire in the drawing-room directly," said John Linton.

But we are especially curious to know who came in the carriage—what are their names, and where—

Don't be in a hurry. The priest will be with them in a minute; in fact, he had been sent for as soon as they arrived. They waited about twenty minutes or half an hour, and then, sure enough, "the parson, or whatever you call him" — "The blacksmith you mean," as Mr. Sergeant Cross exclaimed in court during the subsequent trial—to wit, David Laing, came to wed them in propria persona. He looked as clerical as may be ; and the timid ones felt a sort of sinking within them, as nervous people do upon such particular occasions. There were two gentlemen and a young—a very young lady ; the bridegroom seemed old enough to be her father. But where is the prayer-book? Oh ! never mind that; we shall do just as well without it here. Now, when they were all collected together—not under a groined roof before the altar—but in the room of a country inn, with tavern-keepers, postboys, and pedlars, all together in company, David Laing, the so-called blacksmith, (who never was a blacksmith,) asked them if they were willing to become man and wife. And before the witnesses there in presence, they answered they were willing.

And then they took a ring for the lady's finger—a wedding-ring. Now, it was David who put it on, " the parson, or what you call him." But the ring is too large by a mile—it is too large for her finger ; what is to be done ? Oh! it will do till we get to Calais, we will buy a smaller one there. The fact is, there was no opportunity for taking a fit before hand, such were the circumstances of the case; it was quite a guess. It goes on very well, but the lady must take care and not lose it.

A piece of paper like a placard was then produced, at the head of which stood the royal arms of the united kingdom ; and underneath were certain words printed, the lines of which were broken and interrupted here and there by divers white spaces therein left unprinted. Now, in order to the thorough consummation of the ceremony, it was expedient that these spaces should be filled up with the several names of the parties joined together in (holy !) matrimony, and with the names of the witnesses.

"There is nothing more than to fill up these spaces," said Laing; "there—just so. Now sir, you will put your name in the right hand corner; and, ma'am, you will put yours under it—so. The witnesses will put theirs in the other corner. It is the custom to join hands and salute. "Now," cried David Laing, parson, merchant, day-labourer, pedlar, or what you will, "Now I declare you to be man and wife, 4 and so on,' before these witnesses." And the said David wished them well, and shook hands with them.

The signatures were Edward Gibbon Wakefield— Ellen Turner—Ellen Wakefield!

Then Mr. Wakefield asked of his priest what sort of wine John Linton might have in his cellar, and this presupposed by innuendo that he had before that time had a dip therein; moreover, this presupposition seemeth not to have been preposterous, because David answered that " there were three or four different sorts of wine, with the best of shumpine.'1' The. bridegroom inquired which he would take; "I said shumpine," answered David, "and we had a bottle of shumpine.''''

Dinner was then announced, so David Laing withdrew down stairs for half an hour or so, when he returned and finished the champagne, of which he was especially enamoured. Then came the day of reckoning—the moment of retribution. The following is a scattered extract from the published trial.

David Laing sworn. Examined by Mr. Parke.

Mr. Laing, I believe you reside at Springfield?—Yes, I do. Near Gretna Hall?—Yes.

Do you recollect being sent for to marry a couple on the 8th of March last?—I do. (The trial being in March the year after.)

Did you go to Mr. Linton's house, at Gretna Hall?—I did. Who did you find there ?—I found two gentlemen, as it may be, and a lady—one lady.

* * * * *

What did the gentleman want you to do?—He wanted me to do what I have done to many a one before.—Was that to marry him?—To join them together—to join hands, and so on.

 *  *  *  *

Did you give a certificate of the marriage?—I gave the lady a certificate.

Did you get it filled up?—Yes.

Is that your writing?—{handing the certificate to the witness.)— That is my handwriting, sir.

Is that the signature of the gentleman and lady at the bottom? —Yes.

* * * * *

Did you marry them in the usual form in Scotland?—In the Scotch form. Was there a ring produced?—There was, sir. Was it put on the lady's finger?—It was.

By whom—by the gentleman?—By myself.

* * * * *

Did you ask the lady for anything?—I told the lady that I generally had a present from them, as it may be, of such a thing as money, to buy a pair of gloves.

Well, did you get any from her?—I did, sir ; she gave it me with her own hand ; but where the lady got it from I cannot say for that, you know.

What was it you got ?—A 20s. Bank of England note.

* * * * *

Cross-examined by Mb. Brougham.

You got some money as well as champagne for this job, did you not?—I did.

How much?—Perhaps 20 or 30.

Perhaps 40?—May be; I cannot say to a few pounds.

* * * * *

David Laing again called, and examined by Mr. Parke.

Mr. Laing, you say the marriage was in the ordinary form— the marriage ceremony was performed in the ordinary form?— Yes, the old form of Scotland.

How was that done—was a prayer-book produced?—No, there was not.

Mr. Brougham. Don't tell him what he is to say.

It was done in the old ordinary form of the church of Scotland, was it?—Yes.

Cross-examined by Mr. Brougham.

What do you mean by the ordinary form of the church of Scotland, when it had nothing to do with the church?—That is the way it has been done for centimes.

It would occupy too many pages of this veritable history, if we were to make copious extracts, or to enter much into details; wherefore, somewhat against our disposition at this present, we are enforced, through the suggestions of this reflection, to desist from quoting any more just now.


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