‘Buzzing with chat and laughter’ The wedding experience for volunteers
‘I have got the very prettiest bonnet for the occasion that ever was, and cannot help trying it on every time I go into my room‘
Elizabeth Gaskell writing to her friend Harriet Carr before her wedding in August 1832.
When I first joined Elizabeth Gaskell’s House as a volunteer in 2014, I never envisaged that I would be helping at weddings a few years later. However, you only need to enter our beautiful Drawing Room on a sunny day to see it is the perfect venue for a small wedding.
Weddings at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House have been unique and special from the very first one in March 2018, shortly after we gained our wedding licence, which was organised as a surprise for the couple by their friends. The staff and volunteers all knew and had to keep the secret for a couple of hours while the couple had a tour of the House, followed by a specially organised afternoon tea in the Tearoom – having no idea that shortly they were to get married in the Study!
Since then, we have hosted many weddings of all types and sizes from small ceremonies in the Study to a full day with ceremony, drinks reception, dinner, bar and dancing in the Servants’ Hall afterwards.
The rooms are always set up the day before and I love arriving on the day to see how the rooms have been decorated and the beautiful transformation of our Servants’ Hall for the reception with the tables decorated and dressed. Each couple stamps their own style on the way they decorate the rooms and the tables which is always fascinating to see. My favourite wedding cake was one which had icing replicas of the couple sitting on a pile of books.
With my love of clothes, one of my favourite moments is seeing the bride descend the staircase to enter the Drawing Room, where I get the opportunity to get a good look at and admire the dress. One of the most memorable dresses was at a recent wedding where the bride wore a white satin and feather mini dress with white patent ankle boots.
Once the ceremony is underway, the volunteers prepare the drinks reception, which is normally held in the Inner Hall, and hand out drinks as everybody comes out of the Drawing Room. Normally the guests have some free time to mingle and enjoy the rooms and the garden after the ceremony and they often take the opportunity to ask the volunteers about the House and, of course, compliment us on it!
Many couples hire a pianist to play our Broadwood boudoir piano for the ceremony and drinks reception, and at a recent wedding during the summer the Drawing Room windows were opened so the guests could enjoy the music while sipping their champagne in the garden – very atmospheric!
If the wedding party are having food, the caterers will be busy prepping in the kitchen, while the guests enjoy the House and Garden. Through the years we have been hosting weddings, we have built up a list of caterers we can recommend, and often the couple will choose somebody from that list. Victorian afternoon teas served on vintage china are a popular choice, not surprisingly, looking perfectly at home with our vintage tablecloths.
Once the wedding party are seated in the Servants’ Hall, the volunteers have a break while the caterers serve the food then, depending on how long the wedding party have booked for, we open the bar and keep the drinks and water topped up before starting to re-set the rooms for the next public open day.
All the wedding couples leave telling us what a memorable and unique day they have had. It’s a great feeling to know that you have helped to make their big day special for them and their guests and to have the house and garden buzzing with chat and laughter – I’m sure Elizabeth would have wholeheartedly approved.
Jane Baxter, Volunteer at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House