Kelmarsh Hall is celebrating 10 years of weddings this August, with more and more couples opting for the beautiful country house setting which Kelmarsh provides.
The last resident of Kelmarsh Hall, Miss Valencia Lancaster, would occasionally allow weddings at the Hall but they were mostly the estate’s tenant farmers. When Lesley Denton, who is now the General Manager, started working at Kelmarsh, she introduced weddings as a commercial business in 2003.
The first wedding on August 2nd was a military affair as the groom, Richard Mawers, was a helicopter pilot in the Forces. Ten years on, Richard and his wife Suzie have three children, Ben, 8, Libby, 4 and Imogen, 3. Richard's job as a helicopter pilot with the Army Air Corps has taken his family all around the world, including central America, Germany and more recently Scotland, where they are currently based.
Suzie said: “When we were looking for a wedding venue, Kelmarsh Hall had only just opened and it was so close to what I wanted. It provided a grand background and the dining area was very impressive. We were fortunate with the weather so our guests were able to enjoy the grounds and the views, and we had all the windows and doors thrown open.
“It was a beautiful backdrop and we have very happy memories of a wonderful location.”
Since that very first wedding, Kelmarsh Hall has been the venue for almost 400 weddings. The income generated from weddings is used to conserve the Grade I listed building and surrounding gardens which are now in the care of a charitable trust.
Mrs Denton said: “We think Kelmarsh Hall is unique and right from the start, people were keen to get married here. From day one, we have tried to be adaptable so couples feel like Kelmarsh Hall is their home for the day.
“When we started, weddings were very conventional but we’ve seen a big change to a more informal day, especially where catering is concerned. Traditionally, couples had a three-course meal, whereas now they have much more choice, from a cream tea to stone-baked pizzas cooked outside. We’ve had fish and chip vans, paella and Cornish pasties.
“One of the biggest differences is that 10 years ago, parents had much more input into the day and couples were younger. Another thing that has changed is the time of day that you can get married - we now have a 24-hour wedding licence so couples can get married later in the evening or at dawn if they want to.
“Another big change has been in the number of couples choosing Fridays for the day of their wedding. Lots of guests like to take a special day off work and make a weekend of it, often staying in the area, sometimes a local spa hotel, and taking a weekend break. It also gives families of couples the opportunity to spend another day with distant and long lost family and friends, in truth making it an extended party.”
Highlights over the years have included an Edwardian wedding where all the guests dressed in costume and another wedding which featured historical re-enactments because the couple were members of the Sealed Knot.
Couples have come from far and wide – Dubai, Canada and Holland to name a few – and there have been a variety of different services, including Jewish and Asian ceremonies and Pagan handfasting. The first same-sex ceremony was performed in 2007 and there have been a number of civil partnership ceremonies carried out since.
More recently, Kelmarsh Hall featured on CBBC’s Marrying Mum and Dad, where three children organised a Roman-style wedding for their parents as a surprise.
Wedding co-ordinator Jill Doughty, who has worked at Kelmarsh Hall for nine years, said: “We’ve had couples arriving on horseback and in helicopters and we’ve had people camping out overnight and bringing their motor homes. At one wedding, we even had the reindeer which are used at Buckingham Palace for the Christmas festivities.
“Moving forward, we’re going to offer a second venue for those looking for a more intimate ceremony as we’re planning to renovate the 18th century orangery which is in the grounds of the Hall. It also means that couples who got married here could come back for an anniversary party or to celebrate their children’s birthday. All in all, we’re looking forward to the next ten years.”