The topic of "irregular marriage" in Scotland is fairly complex.
However, at the time you mention (1933), it would be fair (as you
suggest) to regard it as the equivalent of a "registry office"
marriage - though at that time "registry office" marriages didn't
officially (legally) exist in Scotland.
What I am about to say is a gross over-simplification but I hope that
it does the trick for a summary (and that it is clearly understood
that this is all it aspires to be. Perhaps I should also mention that
I am an Australian in Australia; my Scottish ancestor left there ca
1850 and the ancestor who most recently arrived in Australia came ca
1890 having left Yorkshire for NZ in 1876 ...).
The situation was that, until the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1939 came
into effect in July 1940, there was no such thing as civil marriage in
Scotland (Scottish Law is distinctive in quite a few areas).
Before this there were two sorts of marriages - both perfectly legal.
A couple could be married by a minister of religion (referred to as
"regular" marriage) or in several other ways (referred to as
"irregular" marriage - "irregular", in my view, being a very
"Irregular" marriages could take place:
* by declaration in front of witnesses (taking advantage of the
principle in Scots law that marriage was constituted by mutual
* by habit and repute (as described in the earlier response)
* by a promise of marriage followed by intercourse based on that
promise of marriage (as described in Latin in the earlier response).
How did the loaded word "irregular" (with its connotations to us of
something being not quite proper or legal) come to be applied to
perfectly legal marriages? It seems to me to have arisen from much
earlier days in the Established Church of Scotland - people who had
entered into the married state without the benefit of clergy were
often referred to very critically in the Old Parish Registers as
having been "irregularly" married (well, the ministers obviously
thought it was irregular!) and, having been suitably humbled, were
then "entered here married". So the word "irregular" entered into the
lexicon for marriages not performed by ministers of religion.
Unfortunately, that word "irregular" has misled a lot of genealogists
who have been concerned that there was something "shonky" about their
ancestors' marriages - when there wasn't at all.
When Statutory Registration was introduced in Scotland in 1855,
marriages by ministers of religion were automatically registered. But
"irregular" marriages were not - if people who had not been married by
ministers of religion wanted formal proof of their marriage and,
specifically, wanted it recorded in the Statutory Registers (and a
marriage certificate), they first had to have the fact that the
marriage had taken place verified by Warrant of Sheriff Substitute -
sounds very grand and formal but was often, I have the impression
(especially in more recent times), little more than a rubber stamp.
As you can imagine, as time went on this was a far from satisfactory
state of affairs for people who didn't want to go through a religious
form of marriage. But it took until July 1940 for the Law to catch up
Meantime, there developed what I see as a "work-around".
A couple would make a time to go to the office of the local Sheriff
(Sheriff-Substitute) and would take two witnesses with them. The form
of contract generally adopted was a simple written declaration of
acceptance of each other as husband and wife before two witnesses -
and that form was often drawn up by the Sheriff's office. The Sheriff
(or his representative) would then issue a "warrant" (certification of
the marriage) which the couple would present to the Registrar who
would officially record the marriage and issue a certificate. As in
the case you describe, this often all happened on the same day - both
offices may even have been in the same building (perhaps adjacent!!).
Of course, it didn't have to happen like this (a Warrant could be
sought later) but I suspect that, in the 1900s, that was how it mostly
happened i.e. it was effectively the equivalent of a "civil" or
"registry office" but the processes had to be such as to comply with
what was fairly obviously an out-of-date law.
Here is a rather nice quote from a book "Scottish Roots" by Alwyn
James, ISBN 0-88289-802-7
"Up until 1940, Scotland had a distinctive form of marriage, known
rather imprecisely as an irregular marriage. This, the so-called
Gretna Green marriage which lured panting English lovers north of the
Border pursued by greybeard kinsmen brandishing swords, was a
perfectly acceptable alternative to the conventional church wedding,
involving instead a declaration in front of witnesses or before a
sheriff. The epithet "irregular" should not lead you to believe that
it was illegal or second-rate (it wasn't), or that it was indulged in
by a small minority: Dr. Ian Grant pointed out to me that in checking
through the first 200 marriages in Glasgow Blythswood for 1904, he
counted 81, more than 40 per cent, which were marriages by