The Hardwicke Act

The Hardwicke Act of 1753 was the first statutory legislation in England and Wales to require a formal ceremony of marriage.  Its full title being "An Act for the Better Preventing of Clandestine Marriage" and came into force on 25 March 1754.

The Act tightened the existing ecclesiastical rules regarding marriage, providing that for a marriage to be valid it had to be performed in a church and after the publication of banns or the obtaining of a licence.  It exempted Quakers, Jews and the Royal Family but required everyone else to marry in a licensed parish church within the parish where at least one of the couple lived.  It also required printed registers to be used to record the marriage.

This system replaced an earlier Council of Trent edict that marriage had to be performed in front of a priest, two witnesses and was recorded.  The Act was in force until 1 July 1837 when Compulsory registration of Births, Marriages & Deaths in England & Wales was made law, creating Registration Districts and allowing other Churches and Civil places to be Licensed taking the monopoly out of the Church of England's hands.  It also introduced formal registration of a birth, or death - previously churches kept Christening and Burial Records for their own purposes.

However, some couples evaded the Act by travelling to Scotland.  Various Scottish “Border Villages” (Coldstream Bridge, Lamberton, Mordington and Paxton Toll) became known as places to marry.  In the 1770s the construction of a toll-road passing through the hitherto obscure village of Graitney led to Gretna Green becoming synonymous with romantic elopements.

1.  Wikipedia,