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Marriage at Gretna Green: C.960-1928

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Marriage at Gretna Green


Production: Unidentified factory
John Walton (Possibly)




Earthenware figure group, moulded and modelled, lead glazed and painted with polychrome enamels.

Moulded and modelled earthenware figure group with three figures grouped around an anvil, with tree behind. On the left is the blacksmith, his hands raised together in prayer. The couple, in fashionable dress of the period, stand on the right; the painting of their jackets, his purple and hers blue, is feathered to suggest rich fabrics. Between them, a book is open on top of the anvil. The tree behind has three sprays of purple flowers and holds a yellow shield with banner above, inscribed: ‘IOHN MACDONALD AGED 79 / A SCOTCH / ESQUIRE RUN OF [sic] / WITH A[sic] ENGLISH / GIRL AGED 17 TO / GRATNAL[sic] GREEN TO / THE OLD BLACKSMITH / TO BE MARRIED’. The group stands on a green mound which is decorated with green ‘parsley’, above a rectangular white base with a double chocolate line around the sides. The back is flattened, but shaped and painted. The underside of the base is recessed and glazed, with a central vent hole.


History note: Bought at Sotheby’s on 19 February 1912, Lot 129, for £1.14s (one pound fourteen shillings) to Mr Button. Sold on 29 February 1912, for £2, to Dr J.W.L. Glaisher, Trinity College, Cambridge.

Legal notes

Dr J.W.L. Glaisher Bequest, 1928

Measurements and weight

Depth: 8 cm
Height: 20.3 cm
Width: 11.5 cm

Place(s) associated

  • Burslem ⪼ Staffordshire ⪼ England

Acquisition and important dates

Method of acquisition: Bequeathed (1928) by Glaisher, J. W. L., Dr


19th Century, Early#
Circa 1810 - Circa 1825


Bocage figure groups, which feature stylised leafy trees, are often associated with John Walton of Burslem, who is listed in local directories from c.1818-1835. Although Rackham, 1935, suggests this attribution, the base here is a-typical and we now know that several potters made figure groups in this style, often copying designs and other features.

Earthenware figure groups were popular from around 1810, although the earliest examples date from nearly a century before. They were produced by many small potteries and very few are marked. Classical or literary subjects might be copied from more expensive porcelain examples, but scenes from everyday life and topical events were also increasingly popular. These early figure groups are often complex, with modelled and moulded parts and applied decoration; the backs, though flat, are decorated. As demand increased, processes were streamlined to allow cheaper mass production and by the mid 1830s the earlier methods had largely given way to three-part press-moulding.

The Marriage Act of 1753 in England required banns to be read and that under 21 year-olds obtain parental consent. Marriage under Scottish law, however, was quicker and open to any couple over 16. Gretna Green, the first place over the border, therefore became a popular destination for eloping couples and an account in ‘The Gentleman’s Magazine’ of 1819 records ‘an elderly nobleman’ arriving to wed a much younger woman. Here John Macdonald, age 79, is marrying a 17 year-old English girl. The source seems to be a print, ‘Gretna Green, or the Red-Hot Marriage’, 1795, which is also found on Staffordshire plaques and plates. The iconography of the blacksmith and anvil may have evolved to symbolise forging a binding union rather than indicating that marriage was performed by a blacksmith.

People, subjects and objects depicted

Components of the work

Decoration composed of enamels lead-glaze

Materials used in production

White earthenware

Inscription or legends present

  • Type: No visible mark
  • Text: 3517. Staffordshire group of a marriage at Gretna Green with inscription / sold at Sotheby’s Feb 19 1912.
  • Location: Underside of base
  • Method of creation: Rectangular paper label handwritten in black ink
  • Type: Label

References and bibliographic entries

Identification numbers

Accession number: C.960-1928
Primary reference Number: 76455
Stable URI

Audit data

Created: Saturday 6 August 2011 Updated: Wednesday 15 July 2020 Last processed: Thursday 7 December 2023

Associated departments & institutions

Owner or interested party: The Fitzwilliam Museum
Associated department: Applied Arts

Citation for print

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The Fitzwilliam Museum (2024) "Marriage at Gretna Green" Web page available at: Accessed: 2024-04-18 19:21:24

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{{cite web|url= |title=Marriage at Gretna Green |author=The Fitzwilliam Museum|accessdate=2024-04-18 19:21:24|publisher=The University of Cambridge}}

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