This afternoon we’re going rustic with a trip to Stowford Manor Barn. Originally, Tory and Jon had a different venue booked, but unfortunately the venue had to cancel their booking at the last minute – luckily they stumbled across Stowford and had the wedding they probably should have had all along!!
I love what Tory has done with the venue too – filling the barn with trestle tables covered in garlands of foliage and flowers and silver candelabras just looks so gorgeous. There’s a gorgeous mismatched array of vintage furniture too.
I’ll pass you over to Tory as she’s written a lovely report full of detail for you all and I’m sure lots of you will identify with her dress finding story…
We later identified that this was because they were missing the ‘swoosh’ factor, an apparently crucial element to my dress needs that even I was unaware of at this stage! I thought it was just because, perhaps, I had been expecting to have the ‘this is the dress’ moment, but never did. Back in Nottingham, I made an appointment at James Bride, a local boutique, to have another go at trying on different dresses – I had sort of come to terms with the fact that perhaps a Jenny Packham wasn’t right for me after all, but her new season collection was coming in (the last one I would have time to see before the wedding!) so I thought I would go and have a look at the pieces in the trunk show.
I tried on ‘Mary’ last of all – it had been selected as the wildcard, but as soon as I put it on, I felt not only fabulous, but like I could have fun wearing it.
We settled on Stowford Manor Farm after probably the biggest wedding planning crisis we encountered had happened. We had booked our original venue in August 2012, and we were not expecting the phone call we received at the end of August 2013 letting us know that, due to very sad personal circumstances, the venue was going to be put on the market the very next day. We were initially distraught, and immediately began trawling the net for nearby places that might be suitable, and not already booked up, without much confidence – organising a South West wedding from Nottingham never felt so challenging!
We ended up looking around six potential places over the course of a flying visit, but as soon as we got to Stowford Manor Farm we knew we’d found the perfect place. Cath and Phil, the owners, were happy to let us use the various environments exactly as we wanted (within reason!), and the characterful barn in particular caught our collective eyes – it was not so much a blank canvas as a multi-layered piece of history, the perfect backdrop for our dinner and dancing.
We went through several iterations of themes (Midsummer Night’s Dream, French country vintage, outdoors/indoors rough luxe etc.!), and ended up with a bit of an amalgamation of them all. We wanted something that felt very organic, natural and relaxed, but also a bit special. I had spent a long time identifying a vintage furniture supplier who could provide wooden tables with enough character that we could use them bare. The combination of aged wood, candles, mercuried candleholders, silver candelabras and green foliage garlands was one which we repeated throughout the barn and the drinks reception.
I bought a lot of white muslin which we used to drape areas of the barn and gazeboes to break up hard lines and give a more ethereal effect. I collected a lot of glassware (cloches and jars) and olivewood boards which we used for the antipasti at the cocktail reception. I love the look of the paper straws I had seen on blogs and Pinterest (during the two years or so during which we were planning the wedding I became an excessive and obsessive user of both!). I found pipii.co.uk which had a fantastic range of colours, and also stocked the little bamboo signs we used for the antipasti, and the palm leaf plates we used which were much more suitable for the natural feel we were going for than any paper ones I had seen.
To try to convey the indoors/outdoors element of the décor further, I became obsessed with having trees inside the barn, and spent a long time trying to identify a supplier who was nearby, reasonably priced, and from whom we would obtain birch trees (which I wanted partly because they are beautiful, and also because my granddad, who is no longer with us, had a huge old silver birch tree in his garden which my sister and I used to climb, so it has a particular significance for me). We managed to find a plant specialist willing to do this, and went out and picked our beautiful trees in the few days before the wedding. The trees stood on each side of the barn where people were dining (and later dancing), and were decorated with some simple white fairy lights which looked very pretty later on.
I worked closely with our florist, Becky, to develop the style of the flowers/foliage that would feature at the wedding. I am so grateful to Becky for looking at all of the reams of ideas and pictures I sent her – she took every idea really seriously, and worked extremely hard to turn my vision into reality. She did the most outstanding job, and I really don’t think that anyone else could have done pulled it off.
Our ceremony was very meaningful and emotional, and our vicar really personalised the service which was wonderful and meant that all of the guests felt involved too. We had practised the vows beforehand and I genuinely couldn’t get through them without crying! On the day though, everything just felt so right that I was ok – it just felt as if we were talking to each other. It was particularly lovely that our family were able to be part of the service. My Mum walked me down the aisle, Jon’s Aunt did a reading (Song of Solomon 2 v 10-13), and my Sister sang a beautiful traditional Irish song which made several of the congregation (including me) cry. We wanted the orders of service to be something that people could keep to remind them of the day. We designed them ourselves, and I hand-stitched turquoise binding onto the grey covers.
Lawrence, one of Jon’s best men, kindly volunteered to set up a photo booth with props and take picture of each of the guests, to be incorporated into the guestbook alongside their comments. He didn’t reveal until the day before the wedding that the props he’d sought out took the form of wigs matching mine and Jon’s hair (long blonde locks and ginger afros respectively) as well as replicas of my glasses, but these were thoroughly enjoyed by all the guests present!
After dinner, the dancing commenced: Jon’s Dad has many fantastically musical friends, and we were fortunate to be able to call upon several of his regular band-mates to perform at the cocktail reception and later, with Peter Barnes, to get everybody on their feet for a fantastic barn dance. It was a real treat to see Jon’s dad in action playing the guitar! After the barn dance, we commenced a tour de force of 80s classics (lovingly compiled and courtesy of Spotify!), which ensured that a consistently energetic series of moves were pulled on the dance floor all night!
The food was really important to both of us, and it took us a long while to find a caterer who would be able to do what we wanted – simply cooked and served delicious produce – that was also affordable on our budget. They did fantastic joints of roast beef (beautifully rare as to my specifications!) and tender chicken which were served up family style at the tables with bowls of delicious roast potato and fresh salad. We had left a card and apron (which we made from tea towels!) on each table, for the ‘nominated responsible adult’ who was in charge of carving. It was really fun and everyone got stuck in.
Before the main meal we had an outdoor cocktail reception in a pair of white gazebos which had been decorated that morning by our friends. We laid out a couple of wooden tables inside with boards of antipasti, and the setup for the ‘DIY Pimms’ area. Some local teenagers from the village (the children of family friends) worked really hard to set everything up and serve people drinks.
Our wedding was a creative and emotional endeavour, and it was imperative to us that our photographer was able to understand and express the feelings and nuances behind everything that happened. We didn’t want somebody who would just take pictures of the day, but somebody who could interpret and convey the conversations, moments, and expressions of all of the people there. We also wanted somebody who we really liked and trusted. So not a tall order at all! We were tremendously lucky to find Mister Phill by chance, as he had covered a wedding at our original venue, which was how we first discovered his beautiful images. He was actually the first person we contacted when our date changed, because by that stage he was inexorably linked to the way that we imagined our day (and crucially the way we would remember it for ever after). I think that we would have postponed the wedding to any date he could do, that crucial was he to our celebration! Luckily, he was able to make the new date and venue, and we knew after we had confirmed this that everything else would fall into place.
We first met Phill when he popped by to meet us the year before the wedding, as he happened to be in our area. He was so lovely, calm and personable that he immediately made us feel at ease, and we were 100% certain that we had made the right decision, and felt very fortunate that Phill would be covering our day.
On the day, Phill proved himself a hundred times over, firstly by rescuing me from the cottage where I had been inadvertently trapped by Jon, but then by proceeding to charm every guest with his enthusiasm, calmness, humour and uncanny ability to appear at the exact moment that something amusing was happening (I would cite the cucumber dance, bin-jumping and my window escaping antics as evidence). We cannot thank him enough for the memories that he has allowed us to have of our day – memories that we wouldn’t have otherwise had because a) we couldn’t be everywhere, and b) the whole day was so gloriously surreal and overwhelming that it washed over us in waves of good feeling that weren’t entirely conducive to lucid recall!
The morning after the wedding (when the guests who stayed locally were all enjoying a cooked breakfast prepared by Jon’s parents from their caravan which they had brought to Stowford), Phill came to say goodbye and showed me a selection of some of the pictures. They were all fantastic. One of the things that all the guests said to us was how fantastic Phill was – he was part of the party, and everyone loved talking to him. And we loved having him there! We cannot thank him, or recommend him enough.
Right up until the day before the wedding, I had been experiencing what was probably the worst cold I have ever had. On the journey down to Bath from Nottingham, I actually couldn’t stop sneezing or blowing my nose – I was pretty worried that I was going to end up with a Rudolph-like nose and be all bunged up on the day! Everyone proffered their cold remedy of choice, and I got through a lot of hot toddies in the days before! In desperation, on the Thursday we hit Boots for all the cold and flu medicine it had. I had read that zinc could help clear up colds, so that, vitamin C and Day Nurse got me through! Had I thought about it logically, it would make sense that even though I didn’t feel particularly stressed in the lead-up to the wedding, there was a lot to think about, and I was probably subconsciously under pressure and there was a risk of getting ill. With hindsight, I would have made sure I was doing everything I could to stop myself getting sick, and already had a supply of medicine on hand!
Although the first dance kicks the party off, we felt that it can sometimes be quite self-conscious, as everyone is obviously watching. During the last dance however, everyone has been dancing all night and getting into the party spirit. The last dance is also the music that will play you out, and that will stay with you as you leave. We chose ‘The Whole of the Moon’ by The Waterboys which has an upbeat feel, but felt like a good way to end the evening.
Your wedding day is often an opportunity to introduce friends and family to each other who wouldn’t normally have a chance to meet. We had been excited about particular people meeting, and then were kicking ourselves when we realised that they hadn’t actually happened to on the day! You will be too busy to host, so make sure that someone else knows to make the introductions for you.
Never underestimate the power of friends and family to make something happen – we felt so fortunate that we have such a fantastic group of people around us, without whom the day would not have been possible. From the set-up on the Thursday and Friday (which involved an impromptu BBQ!) to the clean-up operation on the Sunday, our friends were all absolute stars, and made everything possible. They worked so hard, it was really overwhelming and meant so much to us.
I had prepared a basket of white flip flops tied up with silver ribbon in case of tired feet later in the evening, and rolled up blankets in case people got cold. It turned out to be warm enough that nobody needed the blankets for that reason – however four of the bridal party (who shall remain nameless 😉 ) remained partying so long that all the taxi drivers had gone to bed for the night, and they ended up sleeping in the barn! It was at this stage that the blankets came in very handy.
Photography by Mister Phill
- Gown Mary by Jenny Packham
- Boutique James Bride
- Shoes Dune
- Florist Flowers Of The Hesperides
- Venue Stowford Manor Farm
- Furniture White Horse Marquees
- Decor Virginia’s Vintage Hire
- Catering Dolman’s Catering
- Brownies Alice’s Cakes
- Bridesmaids Monsoon
- Bowties Mrs Bowtie
- Groom Ben Sherman
- Barn Dance Peter Barnes