Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Slip of the Anvil on Downton Abbey: Did you catch the reference?

Gretna Green Anvil

Here's some trivia for a February Sunday afternoon: how closely are you paying attention when you watch television?

Notice the horse being shod
in the background as the

wedding proceeds. 
If you're like me, you'll be glued to the television tonight for the final episode of the second year of the PBS/BBC mini-series Downton Abbey. 

And if you're also anything like me, you knew that, sooner or later, something related to hoofcare would show up in the second series. 

A horse lost a shoe in the first series, with no farrier to be found. Lady Mary was very annoyed that she had to walk the horse home.  I thought that surely the farrier would materialize and later turn out to be the rightful heir to the estate. 

 This year, I've been waiting patiently for writer Julian Fellowes to let another hoof reference fly. And he did. 

It happened last week: Second series, episode six, the one where the war is over, but the Spanish Flu has hit instead.

But did you catch the reference? 

It was a fleeting one. Lady Sybil has eloped with her Irish anarchist chauffeur lover; they've driven off into the night when Lady Mary discovers they're missing. 

Which way did they go? You might wonder. 

But Lady Mary knew instantly where they had gone. "Oh, we must hurry! They'll be halfway to Gretna Green by now!" she gushes as she and Lady Edith rush out the door. 

That's it. The alarm is sounded: "Gretna Green" means only one thing: Lady Sybil has run away to stand in front of an anvil in Scotland. And since Downton Abbey is supposed to be in Yorkshire, they didn't have that far to go.

The dowager countess will definitely not approve.

Mum & Dad
Kilts are probably optional and you probably have to pay the piper but weddings are still big business in Gretna Green, which rivals Las Vegas as a town with a wedding-as-industry mindset.
Apparently it was the way that elopements happened for centuries in England. By crossing the border from England to Scotland, couples were eligible to be wed--no questions asked. And the first place you came to when you crossed over from Cumbria was a smithy in the hamlet of Gretna Green.

And the smith had the legal power to perform marriages.

Dag 19 Gretna Green

You might wonder how I happen to know about an obscure Scottish village. Well, I've even been there. Twice. Not to get married, but to be a tourist. Gretna Green is in Dumfriesshire, just down the road from Closeburn, the ancestral home of Edward Martin, FWCF, MBE,  the great Scottish farrier and blacksmith. 

 You can bet that Gretna Green was on the tourist route for his incredible hospitality when Americans came his way. 

The history was interesting and it was sort of amusing to be tourists at the weddings of total strangers, but a gift shop full of anvil-theme items was simply a candy store for farrier visitors to take home as mementos of this unique village. It must be the anvil souvenir capital of the world.

Now that it's been mentioned on the world's favorite television drama, the wedding business must be booming in Gretna Green. But then again, it always has been.

Photos: Anvil emblem by Chris in Plymouth, smiddy interior by Andrys Stienstra, happy couple by Matt Thorpe. 

© Fran Jurga and Hoofcare Publishing; Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog is a between-issues news service for subscribers to Hoofcare and Lameness Journal. Please, no use without permission. You only need to ask. This blog may be read online at the blog page, checked via RSS feed, or received via a digest-type email (requires signup in box at top right of blog page). To subscribe to Hoofcare and Lameness (the journal), please visit the main site,, where many educational products and media related to equine lameness and hoof science can be found. Questions or problems with this blog? Send email to  
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St.Paddy said...

That was a lovely story. And i can tell you that my family line is from that area of the English and Scottish borders. Many of the Milburn line, that being my surname, are from Wetherall on the English side. It is to my great shame that there is evidence that in those ancient times the border reivers would raid in to Scotland and many a Milburn wife came from Dumfreisshire.

Anonymous said...

Just want to tell you how much I appreciate this blog and all the wonderful information. Now, I am additionally pleased that you enjoy "Downton Abbey" as much as I. Please keep up all the good detective work on the script! It's a very uplifting enhancement to the story.

Betty Jones, Arkansas Horse Council, Inc., Kingston, AR

Fran Jurga said...

Hi Betty, thanks so much for your lovely comment. That means so much to me. You have no idea!

I'm so glad you're a Downton Abbey fan, too! Of course you were watching last night and caught the Dowager Countess's mistaking a nutcracker for a hoofpick. And then they actually showed a farrier at work. Julian Fellowes is a man after my heart!

If you're on Twitter, be sure to follow @ladygrantham and @downtonlabby! (I'm not sure but there might be an e in that last one)

Please keep reading The Hoof Blog and feel free to comment anytime!


Fran Jurga said...

Hi Bill, thanks so much for your comment. It actually struck me as quite funny because I remember hearing so many stories in Scotland about raiding parties into the northern zones of England where only the finest young women were brought to Scotland to become brides. How funny that the English would tell the same story--but the other way around!

So glad you enjoyed it, and thanks for your comment!