Border Life               


Such was the unruly state of the Border regions that both countries, Scotland and England, compiled new laws in an attempt to bring order to the Borders.

One very strict law on the Marches was that those living on either side of the border may not  marry without the consent of both the English and Scottish Wardens. This was very difficult to obtain, and the penalty for breaking this law was death. So rigorously was this enforced that even so late as A.D. 1587, Archie Graeme was given up to the English Warden for having married Mary Fenwick, and they were hanged side by side in the market place of Haltwhistle, although she had a child of only two months. 

The death penalty was also imposed upon any priest who married persons from opposite sides of the border with≠out permission from both Wardens.



Trial marriages were very popular with young couples throughout the Border and they were sealed by the joining of hands.

Fairs were held once a year and were anticipated eagerly by everyone especially those who were seeking a partner to marry. It was the custom for a single person to live with a chosen partner until the next fair.

If, at the end of the year they were both happy with the arrangement, they would live together for the rest of their lives as a married couple.

However, if they did not agree, the couple would part and they would both begin looking for a new partner.

Children born as a result of this trial period were regarded as being legitimate and would be brought up by the one who had objected to the arrangement.

This custom was known as Hand-Fasting.

At the junction of the White and Black Esk a place is still called Handfasting Haugh 79 253908. 

The practice whereby women used their husbandís surnames was not widespread in the Borders until the 17th century.

Up to that time and beyond it was the practice of women to use a surname different from that of her husband, usually her fatherís. Many examples of this can be seen in Border cemeteries. The old churchyards near Newcastleton have many examples on the gravestones. Examples of this practice can be seen even into the 18th century.

Anyone marrying a resident across the Border could be sentenced to death. Nevertheless, the Borderers were never ones to let laws made in London or Edinburgh interfere with their existence, least of all with their love life and so cross Border marriages were quite common.

The Foster clan, living at Stonegarthside, dominated on the English side, the Armstrongs on the Scottish, were closely related, there being much illegal intermarriage. 

In more recent times English couples, anxious to get marry, walk across the Kershope burn for ceremonies on a hillside or in a shepherd's cottage under the easier Scottish rules.

About the time of the of the popularity of Gretna as a marriage venue, young English couples would cross the Kershope burn for ceremonies on the hillside or in a nearby cottage on Scottish soil where the Scottish marriage laws were more relaxed.

Just north of Berwick upon Tweed the A1 crosses the border into Scotland. Near there was Lamberton Toll-house long since demolished.

For many years Lamberton was the venue where runaway couples from England were united in irregular wedlock in circumstances similar to the better known Gretna Green on the eastern border.

Marriages were conducted there well into the 19th century there requirement being much easier than in England. . Witnesses were required, and a register of ceremonies was carefully compiled. The charge was 7/6d (37p).


It may be a surprise to learn that until 1923 a girl over twelve and a boy over fourteen could be legally married in Scotland.

No parental consent was required; all that was required was a declaration by each child.

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