I knew that finding a wedding venue was going to be difficult. We are both very particular (to put it mildly) and have an antipathy towards weddings with a capital W. This, combined with a fairly modest budget, and England’s and Wales’ ridiculous laws on where nuptials can take place, meant that there were probably only going to be about three places in the entire country that would work for us.
Normally I suppose couples compile a guest list and then search for a venue to fit it. But because of how fussy we are about interiors, we decided to do it the other way around: find the venue and let that determine the number of guests.
Neither of us wants any of the ridiculous circus and theatre that seems to have attached itself to weddings in the last thirty years. We wanted a more traditional wedding: modest in size, hastily organised and most importantly held somewhere that isn’t a ‘wedding venue’. Really we were just looking for a nice, elegant room where we could pretend we lived somewhere fantastical and were hosting our wedding in our own home.
After about five minutes I realised I could thin-slice wedding venues by looking at the chairs. My non-negotiable requirement was that I wanted normal chairs. No gold conference chairs, no gold faux bamboo chairs, no chairs with slipper covers and bows. All far too ‘weddingy’. I just wanted normal chairs and it’s amazing how difficult this is. The next requirement was the table. No round tables crammed into the room if we could possibly avoid it. They remind me too much of dull works Christmas parties and don’t you always find yourself checking the other tables out to see which one is more interesting? We wanted to all sit together, on long tables only.
Once you remove the round tables and the gold chairs, suddenly you’ve edited out all the rooms devoted entirely to weddings and so the whole thing should have become much easier. But the fly in the ointment is the Marriage Act. In Scotland – always so much more advanced in law than us – and America, it is the officiant who is licensed. This means that you can marry absolutely anywhere: on a beach, up a tree and even in front of the fireplace in your own home. But in England and Wales, in our peculiar way of allowing people a little bit of fun but not too much, we have nonesuch freedoms.
In 2002 the Marriage Act was amended to allow marriages to be performed outside of churches and registrars’ offices. But rather than allow officiants to perform the ceremonies anyway, for some inexplicable reason the Labour government decided instead to license the venues. Weddings have to be performed in permanent and immoveable structures and so bye bye to the steam train wedding we’d been considering and bye bye to a garden wedding. (Hotels such as Barnsley House circumvent this rule by having the couple stand in their small summerhouse or gothic temple whilst the guests sit on the lawn).
This change in law was a multi-million pound gift to the leisure industry who can now devote entire properties to the lucrative business of weddings. Once a venue has paid £1500 to license a room, out come the gold chairs, the DJ booth and hideous carpets. And we have little choice in the matter unless we marry in a church.
I would have been quite happy with a beautiful country church wedding and a reception in a country house that isn’t licensed and therefore is more likely to remain unweddingized. But the problem is that I’m marrying someone who describes himself as an evangelical atheist and so that was never going to happen. I have no such qualms or convictions and believe that churches should be allowed to perform non-religious wedding ceremonies.
Last Christmas, the incumbent government amended the law to make it allow us to marry after 6pm for the first time since 1874 (big whoop, thanks Dave). This law was in place pre-electricity to ensure you could actually see who you were marrying. But when the bonnet was up, why the hell didn’t he fix this ridiculous situation where we can’t choose where we get married?
So we looked lackadaisically at a few wedding venues and gave up quickly, demoralised and uninspired. We almost settled on the perfect slice of bucolic England that is Barnsley House but in the end it was too expensive and we despondently shelved our plans and concentrated on moving house. And then, in that curious down time between Christmas and New Year, we went for a long lunch near our flat and hatched a plan. We decided to divorce (excuse the word) the ceremony from the reception. We planned to have a teeny tiny London wedding very soon, and a big country house party later in the year for all of our friends which we could organise stress free without the restrictions of it being a wedding.
As we talked more over lunch we realised that the answer was right under our noses, or rather right above them at that very moment. So we booked it. We’re getting married in a room above a pub and there is not a whiff of wedding about it. It’s just a beautiful room with beautiful views. It has one long table and normal chairs. It will feel a like marrying in our own home, just how we wanted it. We’re marrying in the York and Albany. And we’re marrying in March.