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Chronicles of Gretna Green
Chapter III

Description of Gretna Hall, the principal Marriage-house.

Some matters touching Gretna Hall,
An inn of goodly fame;
The chiefest place where ladies call,
Who go to change their name.

We will proceed to describe the edifice wherein the most notable the Prince of Capua pledged fealty to his beauteous bride. Dr. Dibdin, when peregrinating through the mazes of his northern tour, tarried a space at Gretna, either to change horses or satisfy his curiosity, as many others have also done ; and he remarks, that the gossip and his gude wife of the hostry eagerly ushered him into the room wherein were united this noble Italian and the fairest fair one, Miss Smyth, as also Mr. Sheridan and the amiable Miss Grant. These were nuptials which have been noted by other writers as being remarkable for their positive and for their relative circumstances.

In the ease of one of these weddings, this single celebration at Gretna was not held sufficient; but it was afterwards most indefatigably repeated in other places, for the purpose of making surety doubly and trebly sure. Though a marriage here performed is legally held binding to all intents, and therefore, though the knot here tied cannot well slip afterwards, still we have many instances set forth in the archives, of a repetition of the ceremony under more regular proceedings. Such repetition may be rather designed to satisfy conscience, than to satisfy law. Law is not rendered sleepless at night by the procedure ; but conscience, especially where the deed has been done clandestinely or rebelliously by disobedient children, and feels sufficiently punctured by the sole act xof disobedience, cannot sleep unless the forms of a more legitimate and approvable and moral and religious mode of union be gone through. If, however, it be held necessary to marry again in this more approvable way, why marry at all in the first instance at Gretna ? The reason is, that the performance at Gretna secures the tie in a legal sense irrevocably; and then, when Pa and Ma find that the thing is done, and cannot be witdone, and when the sinners themselves come to a like sense of this truth, they all feel that a great stigma attaches to so disreputable a practice, and will certainly hang upon them for ever, unless they devise some mode of wiping it out. What is to be done ? How can it be wiped out ? Why, forsooth, they lay their heads together, and they arrive at the determination that all parties and all conscienccs will be satisfied by the act of going to church, and by repeating the business according to the rubric.

According to this view of the matter, one celebration belongs to law, and another belongs to conscience ; and this refers to those who are of the established tenets of the land. But it sometimes happens that two persons come together who either are of dissimilar creeds, or else are of .one creed, more especially abounding amongst the opinions of some distant clime, and not nurtured in Britain.

In such a case they satisfy the statutes of this realm in order to compass their own ends; and then they subsequently yield to the requirements of their own religious tenets, by repeating the ceremony of espousal agreeably thereto whensoever a fitting opportunity shall be procured.

Wherefore, however strange it may appear at the first glance, we see that a man may marry several times in his life without either perpetrating polygamy or without ever becoming a widower, only by wedding the same lady repeatedly over and over again.

Gretna Hall, or "the Hall," situated near the Green, is now the aristocratic and fashionable resort; that is to say, since the new road turned regicide, and cut off " the King's Head," together with the village of Springfield, as already explained. It was erected to its present purpose soon after the time , of the alteration, so as to lie more conveniently on the great thoroughfare; for the entrance to Springfield from England, where journeyers, peregrinators, and elopers used to pass, is circuitous, difficult, and inconvenient.

We were informed that the territory whereon stands this famous shrine, pertains to Colonel Maxwell of Galloway; and that the estates lying round about the village were the patrimony of- Sir John Maxwell of Springkale, Baronet in these her Majesty's realms; but that of late, the undoubted son of his body has succeeded thereunto, and goes by the name of Sir Patrick of that ilk.

The building itself is a comely looking establishment, especially when the grounds adjoining to it are taken into consideration; and albeit a hostelrie in genus and reputation, open as it were to all comers, still it wears the complexion of privacy and seclusion. Such as may be posting from Carlisle city into Scotland will get a fair relay of horses there, and peradventure good entertainment; but it appears to be a sort of understood thing, that few abide long except those who come for "a particular purpose," and it has most indubitably a greater degree of sacred retirement pervading it than the roisterous way-side inns that greet the traveller elsewhere. Let none approach it with profanity and irreverence, it being that an ecclesiastical spirit hangs over it.

The figure is well nigh four square ; the centre facade falls back or recedes about six feet, whilst two wings project beyond it that much, the one being on the right hand, and the other on the left. The door is entered by a flight of steps, placed in the middle of the said receding facade, garnished on each side with shrubs: there is a window on each side of the door, and there are several squarer and smaller windows for dormitories in the story above, -wherein the weary may take rest. With regard to the aforesaid projecting wings, they are externally set off with windows somewhat resembling the others, except that the upper ones are larger; and internally, they contain some rooms passably well furnished. The out-side of the house is


white—typical of the purity of its purpose; whilst gray bands, by way of adornment, are run round the margins of the windows, and down the corners, from the eaves to the earth. The roof, through which Asmodeus himself would have peered with astonishment, is well overlaid with pure slate ; and last of all, albeit not least of all, several stacks of chimneys rise exhilaratingly over the whole.

Art curious to know wherefore we make particular mention of the chimneys? Anticipating that thou mayest be so, we take upon us to tell thee.

Know then, and take for an unerring truth that wherever you see a house with a good many chimneys, the owner thereof has a benevolent heart. This may seem strange; but ten words will serve to explain that it is not so, and that it is nothing more than the natural consequence of the noble passion that produced them. For, where there are many chimneys, there will be many fires ; and where there are many fires, there will be much comfort; and where there is much comfort, there is much good humour; and where there is much good humour, accompanied by many blazing faggots, there will be much good cheer, much good fellowship, much good entertainment, and much generosity. Thus it is, that a man's right excellent qualities may with precision be always estimated by the number of chimneys that adorn the roof of his house. We were first made acquainted with this beautiful fact, by an ancient gentleman who was seated beside us on the top of a coach, journeying past the mansions of certain esquires.

"There!" cried he in an ecstasy, as we passed a mansion which certainly was crowned with a most inordinate number, "There now, I'll be sworn but a first-rate fellow lives there. Who does that place belong to, coachman?"

"Squire So-and-so, that keeps the harriers that made such a capital run last week.'"

"Then Squire So-and-so is the best-hearted man I have heard of for the last month. I would give the world to shake hands with him.'"

This old gentleman was right; and the chimneys on Gretna Hall are a source of delight to those who behold them.

In front of the building there is a grass lawn, green and pleasing to the eye, garnished in divers places with trees and evergreens of less size ; and a carriage drive of 200 yards in length, more or less, leads from the entrance gate near the Green directly up to the door. Moreover, an adjoining field has been taken in and added to the grounds, that nothing might be wanting; round about the which run some shady and labyrinthine walks, where lovers may saunter at will in the cool of the evening; and many stately trees growing thereby, spread their nervous limbs abroad over head, whereon any who have too hastily done a rash act, may go and hang themselves up at pleasure. In fine, the place is altogether tastefully laid out, with care both for joyous pastime and pleasant recreation.

John Linton, keeper and purveyor thereof and ' therein, is not a fool in his way, any more than Simon Beatie :even like our friend at the toll-gate, he is also "wide awake," as the moderns phrase it.

His prey consists mostly of the tritons, whilst Simon, his fellow fisher at the bridge, is content to throw his net generally over the minnows. Now, Simon the angler, by his position, has greatly the advantage over John the angler in the question of numbers ; but we opine that John at the Hall has the advantage over Simon at the gate, in the matter of profit—for one triton is ofttimes worth more

than a score of small fry. They do not catch Princes of Capua every day; but when, by a happy chance, they do get such a triton into their meshes, be sure that they make the most of him.

It should seem, also, that John Linton never sleeps ; and that too, for the reason above given, videlicet, he is always, " wide awake ;" he knows that his customers may suddenly come at any unexpected or unlooked-for hour like thieves in the night, and' catch him unprepared; wherefore, like a careful virgin as he is, he always keeps his lamps ready trimmed, replenished with oil, and lighted, in order that he may welcome the coming of the bridegroom whensoever it shall happen.

Nevertheless, John Linton has a son, and this son is indoctrinated to be, "wide awake," also, for vigilance at Gretna is the chiefest of the cardinal virtues ; and if the father has occasion to go to his farm, or to look after his merchandise, he charges his son with vehement words to light his lamp and abide within doors instead.

This is a right excellent arrangement; and the necessity of it will be fully confessed when it is recollected, that where several merchants living in the same vicinage, carrying on the same line of business, and consequently often clashing in rivalry, self-interest, and competition, nothing short of the greatest care on the parts of Linton and Co., can secure customers' to the Hall, albeit to the prejudice of every other congenerous and connatural establishment. But every one at Gretna looks to the making of his own fortune rather than to playing into the hands of his neighbours—an unamiable and almost selfish procedure, at the same time, a procedure not wholly unknown in other places besides this, when men, trading in the same line, happen to cross each others' paths.

Vigilance and activity are the body and soul of business. It is vigilance that looks for and discovers mines of treasure ; and it is activity, 'following upon this discovery so made, that brings the hitherto hidden treasure to light, and secures it to those who practise these two twin qualities.

John Linton and son are not destitute of these virtues. They are incessantly on the look out for mines of treasure in the shape of rich and soft bridegrooms ; and when they have found any of the sort posting through Carlisle,' their agents there located lose no time in conducting them where it shall seem best for securing an assiduous working of the said mines in the shapes of rich bridegrooms.

A man is never so generous in his life as at the time of his change of estate ; and where the feeling .of blacksmiths, or whomsoever it may be, is left to his generosity, he is indeed a mine of precious metals that renders up his riches but too easily to the labours of these pseudo-clerical searchers into the bowels of his earth. He feels so happy at his triumph and success, in having at last surmounted every obstacle that had hitherto denied his possession of that sweet one, dressed in white and adorned with orange blossoms, who now stands beside liim, that his heart is opened most freely, widely, unreservedly; and when a man's heart is open, you may do what you like with his purse. Of a truth that same is open also.

Some' centuries ago, our ancestors framed a statute, which was enacted to restrain and set bounds to the incontrollable generousness of new-made husbands. It actually lays down how much the delirious man shall give away on this overpowering occasion ; a precaution which the legislature had found necessary, because many noblemen and gentlemen of fair possessions, had, in the excess of their softness, absolutely bestowed away all of this world's goods that had pertained unto them, and by so doing had well nigh brought ruin on themselves and their kindred.

It has been generally supposed that a man's evil principles only require checking or regulating, and that his virtuous ones may be allowed to run freely to their extremest extent; but these facts teach us to know, that even his best qualities, must sometimes be curbed, lest they run past the bounds of discretion—supposing it were possible to be too discreet.

When one friend has overwhelmed another with civilities, we may hear the obliged one exclaim, in the excess of his gratitude,—"My dear fellow, you really are too good.' And if it be possible to be too good, why, surely it may be possible to be too discreet, or too generous ; and where a man is too generous, and was unsparingly giving away his whole fortune, the law stepped in to restrain him.

Pity it is that the law does not put a limit to the generosity of bridegrooms at Gretna — that is, when the bridegrooms are feeing the landsharks who combine to fleece them there.

We have said that John Linton, like a careful virgin, always kept his lamp ready trimmed; and that if any accident called him away to his farm or his merchandise, he never failed, at his departing, to charge his son with vehement words to light his lamp, and abide within doors at his post. By this it will be seen how little it matters the hour of the day, or the hour of the night; let the truant, or the runaway, the eloper or the fugitive, arrive at the Hall before sun-down or after, day, night, late, early, either John Linton in actual self is there ready to greet him, or else the flesh of his flesh,' the bone of his bone, the child of his body, is present to do the same.

Such is the arrangement and constitution of this place. Who shall say otherwise than that these facts, carefully collected on the spot in the spirit of philanthropy, for the instruction and edification of all mankind, but more especially for the young ladies to whom these pages are submissively offered, are supremely worthy of record in this important and veritable history? Yet, oh dread lady-patronesses ! we beseech ye to understand aright the true reading of these facts, and not to be readily enamoured with the narrative of deeds which are too inconsiderately done at Gretna—deeds which, to say the best of them, are assuredly wrong and very indiscreet. They are not exhibited to your view that you should be prepossessed in their favour; but that the contemplation of evil ways, and the sight of the hideous form of sin, may rather make ye eschew iniquity than follow it. We will not now foolishly set about to persuade you not to fall in love, or if you do, not to give way to it; because your fascinations, your winning virtues, and your charms, have too dearly taught us and convinced us, that love is a power which no determination on our part can banish from our natures, —. a power that will not be reasoned with, that will not be argued down, and will not be persuaded away. But coolly and honestly, we think that Gretna Green should be the last place thought of in a hopeless ease—that those who " marry in haste" too often "repent at leisure," according to our admirable motto on the title page,—that hanging by the neck, or walking over head into a pond, or looking into the muzzle of a loaded pistol with dire intent, may each be a fate no worse than what ye may bring upon yourselves by rushing unadvisedly into matrimony— and, in fine, that if it can in any possible way be so contrived, it is more comely, more decent, more sacred, and more respectable to be married before the altar beneath a groined roof with friends and neighbours around you, than in a country tavern by an innkeeper, or behind the hedge by a weaver or a toll-gate keeper. What think ye?

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