The Venue – The Planning Proper

It seems strange to start on food and makeup, but they were only the beginning of a slide into wedding planning – a tumble down the slippery slope to suddenly finding ourselves online, searching for licensed venues in Oxford, Birmingham, Sheffield and Bristol – but mostly in Oxford.

It was like my wedding brain – our wedding brain – had perked up, or activated.

Our parents had already asked about where we would be getting married. When we told them of our engagement, my mum had said, “So, hotel or registry office?”

And we had said, “Neither!”

…I could practically hear the dread in her silence on the other end of the phone as the thought entered her head that we might be considering getting married in church…

Guy’s parents had asked, “So, church or registry office?”

And we had said, “There are other options, you know!”

We were not considering a church, of course – both of us are atheists, and I can’t imagine anything worse than being made to lie through the most important promise you will ever make. But equally we were determined not to marry in a hotel. Guy felt they were impersonal and souless: a place for comings and goings, but not to marry in. And we had another reason: if I wanted a personalised menu, we were going to need an external caterer. A package was never going to work.

This wedding forum has shown me that people look for venues, and view places they have never been before, but I had always assumed that you got married somewhere you had a connection with: because that is what is done with churches. I think this is lovely, and wanted to embrace the same sentiments.

What’s more, we wanted the whole wedding in one location: since we weren’t using a church, it seemed unnecessary to shuffle everyone around! And the first place we tried – the first place we thought of – was Somerville College.

However, it was not to be. Somerville charged us far more than we could afford, including a £2000 fee just to have the wedding on the premises, additional to the admin fee and hire charges for the buildings; more crucial, however, was their date restriction: we had our hearts set on May (exam season… uh oh), but Somerville would only do a wedding on 3 dates in August!

We had a rethink. We approached Somerville and asked whether we could have the ceremony only in May, and then proceed elsewhere. The answer was yes! …if we got married at 3pm.

We were unhappy again. We wanted to leave for honeymoon that night, and were considering a late morning ceremony. Getting married at 3pm would mean we spent more than half of the day just waiting (I am notoriously poor at waiting), and the wedding would be cut short by a whole 4 hours. Somerville couldn’t offer us an alternative, and so, very sadly, we had to start looking elsewhere…

My mum was keen to move the wedding to Sheffield, where I grew up, but Oxford was where we both lived now, the city where we had met and fallen in love. Guy felt that this would be making the wedding “mine” rather than ours, and preferred the neutrality of Oxford, or Birmingham, where we would soon be moving for my PhD.

There was only really one licensed venue in central Oxford that was in budget, handsome, and we had a connection with: Oxford Town Hall.

We had been to a ball there only a few months ago, eaten delicious food, and occupied two of the three rooms available for civil weddings and big enough for our party: the great hall and the Assembly room. My mum saw pictures online and loved the Assembly Room for it’s light and wood panelled walls.

St Anthony’s Ball at the Town Hall:

The Great Hall:

The Assembly Room:

The third, smallest room, is the Old Library, and Guy immediately adored the idea of getting married in a library. The Great Hall was too big, seating 500 theatre style of 300 for dinner! – so the decision would be between the Old Library and Assembly Room.

Old Library

And then the Town Hall gave us some good news: the Old Library and Assembly Room are connected, the Old Library being accessed via the Assembly Room, so they would not book separate events in both of the rooms. We could put a deposit on one room, and changed our mind later.

We booked.

Initially this was just for the ceremony, but we toyed with the idea of hiring both rooms and having the ceremony in the Old Library (which, with South and West facing windows has more natural light in the morning) and reception in the Assembly Room (with big West facing windows for lots of light in the afternoon – I have heard too many horror stories about wedding photography in the dark!). But there was one major drawback. There was no outside area, no grass or garden for taking pictures in: and I did want our formal pictures outside!

So we started looking at village halls – low hire rates, and a space we could make our own and have external caterers in. After a lot of searching we found two possible venues: South Oxford Community Centre, which backed onto a beautiful park and was just down the road from the Town Hall, or Summertown Church Hall – a prettier building, but substantially further away and with a restricted outdoor space.

South Oxford Community Centre

Summertown Church Hall

At this juncture in the narrative, my mum threw a massive wobbly. She felt the Community Centre, our first choice, looked like a Victorian Workhouse and insisted we book the whole wedding at the Town Hall: she and my grandparents would be contributing. This caused a lot of stress between my mum and me for a while, and was especially hard because she has always valued outdoor spaces and is very fond of her garden.

It seemed for a while that we were at a stalemate – then we had another idea.

We went back to Somerville.

Yes, we had given up the idea of having our wedding reception there (August only), or ceremony (3pm only), but now we had a new plan, and this time we were able to carry it through… We asked if Somerville could host a drinks reception between the ceremony and dinner reception, allowing us time to take photos and enjoy the outdoors, before going back to the hotel. The booking fee was reasonable, and we bagged the Margaret Thatcher Conference Centre as our indoor space, and selected Cava, Buck’s Fizz, orange juice, Pimms and white and rose wine to offer. We would have our wedding in Somerville afterall!

All that was to be done now was return to return to the Town Hall and extend our booking to the wedding reception. Our wedding would be happening on the 19th May 2012, and we finally booked our venue for the event on the 19th May 2011 – exactly a year to the day. To celebrate, we bought a bottle of wine and headed out for a meal at a sleazy Italian BYO – it was a fantastic feeling.


About RowenaFW

I am a Fish. But you wouldn't know it just from looking at me. View all posts by RowenaFW

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