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
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.