Brides Up North

Marabou, Choos & Merry Making – A Real Winter Wedding In The North East: Laura & John

March 14th, 2012 | Julia Braime

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Yesterday, the hubby and I took a much needed half day’s holiday together and headed off to The Spa at Oulton Hall for a few hours of rest and relaxation.  What bliss!  This was part of a Groupon deal that we had booked before Christmas, and I almost missed the expiry deadline, hence the random Tuesday afternoon getaway!

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How these first three months of the year have flown by – it’s been an absolute whirlwind for the Brides Up North brand and (I’m pleased to report) things are busier and more exciting than ever here at BUN HQ.

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I’m just putting my finishing touches to my latest subscriber newsletter – and it’s a hefty one! – so if you would like to know more about what goes on behind the scenes here at the wedding blog and keep updated with all the latest news, just sign up using the little black box at top right.  Easy peasy. 

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Speaking of looking back to the festive season, today’s beautiful Real Wedding with images by Alison Groves Photography does just that, and shows that the Winter hasn’t all been doom and gloom – especially not for today’s lovely loved up couple and their sparkling Winter wonderland wedding!

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Alison Groves Photography

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Let’s hear from Laura: We were married on 4th December at Jesmond Dene House Hotel, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Why would a couple from London get married 350 miles north? Both my parents are born and bred Geordies, while John’s dad was originally born just outside of Newcastle, but we had desperately wanted a proper capital knees-up in London. Several astronomic quotes later, however, and we realised that just wasn’t going to be possible.

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We were up in Newcastle visiting family one snowy January a couple of months after getting engaged and took my grandparents for lunch at Jesmond Dene House. And that was it. We loved the historic house features combined with tasteful, modern décor (John has a thing – and I mean a THING – about patterned carpets). We loved the natural setting in the Dene – surrounded by trees with the river rushing through the gardens – yet just 10 minutes from Newcastle Central Station for the convenience of our guests. We also liked the fact that it used to be the country pad of Lord Armstrong, the Victorian engineer who made the original lifting mechanism in Tower Bridge – which is where we live and where John proposed. Ok, admittedly that last point is a little tenuous… but we loved the warmth of the staff, the award-winning wines, the incredible food. Basically, we just wanted to move in.

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Alison Groves Photography

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Alison Groves Photography

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The dress – arrrggghh! I’ve got to be honest – choosing the dress was one of my least favourite parts of the whole wedding planning experience. That’s weird, right?! I knew what I didn’t want – strapless, flouncy, frilly, lacy, sparkly – because I just looked ridiculous in things like that. I encountered a fair few snooty shop assistants when I first started looking who seemed to be appalled by my lack of enthusiasm for the frou-frou creations they kept heaping on me. And the amount of red dresses you’re shown when you say you’re getting married in winter! So I didn’t look in as many places as I probably should have done, knowing what I know now about all the amazing designers there are out there (ahh, the benefit of hindsight eh?). I’m not sure to this day that I encountered “The One”, but I did adore my dress. I’d seen an advert for Le Spose di Gio in a bridal mag and something about the dress in that advert really spoke to me – it was quite ballet-esque, very dreamy, so I checked out their website and fell in love with the one on the homepage. I loved the Audrey Hepburn-esque boat neckline and the keyhole back. I loved the super-flattering ruching in the middle. I loved the way the material caught the light, the way it moved and how it felt against my skin. It was unlike any dress I’d ever seen, by a designer neither I nor anyone else had ever heard of, all of which caused me endless wobbles, but ultimately it was just very me. Simple as that.

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Alison Groves Photography

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Not being an ivory bridal shoe person, I had a sparkly, strappy pair of Jimmy Choos and a silver pair of Hunter wellies (complete with fleecy, ivory welly socks!), which saw me through from the ceremony to the outdoor photos to the dance floor. Every time I see my wellies sitting in the hallway at home now I remember our wedding day and it puts a massive smile on my face.

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Alison Groves Photography

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Alison Groves Photography

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Alison Groves Photography

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Alison Groves Photography

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I never wear my hair up or do anything with it, so I knew that all I wanted from my hairdresser was a good blow dry to make my thick mop look sleek and glossy. I soon fell in love with the idea of a sparkly headpiece that could blend into my hair while adding glamour. I tried loads of amazing ones on but none of them looked quite right, until I found a gorgeous vintage-inspired headband from the decidedly un-vintage Fenwicks department store.

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Alison Groves Photography

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Alison Groves Photography

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With my hair down and a high neckline I didn’t bother with earrings or a necklace. I very much wanted an understated, elegantly relaxed look. My something old and borrowed was a gorgeous Swarovski crystal cuff, which added just the right amount of statement sparkle to offset the relative plainness of my dress. I also had a marabou feather shrug from John Lewis, which was brilliant for the outdoor shots – I only wish I’d worn it more during the whole day, as it made me feel like a 1950s Hollywood movie star!

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Alison Groves Photography

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Alison Groves Photography

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Alison Groves Photography

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When it came to choosing a photographer we were at a complete loss as to where to begin. I turned to bridal magazines but soon discovered that there’s actually very little winter wedding love out there. It was all about that dreamy light (er…not much of that in deepest, darkest December), the cute jugs of homemade lemonade, gorgeous bunting wafting in a summer’s breeze, rippling cornfields and dancing at sunset. Sigh. And then while up in Newcastle visiting family we met Alison Groves at a wedding fair and instantly loved her work. There were no big, cheesy group shots or those ridiculously moody poses where the bride is pinning the groom up against a wall with a murderous look on her face (what is it with those pictures?!). They were natural, atmospheric and told a real story about the day, come rain or shine, which is exactly what we wanted. We were lucky enough to have snow on our wedding day and Ali made it work to our advantage – both the fun and the romance of it – resulting in those gorgeous outdoor shots that we absolutely love. Ali is a total professional – very discreet and efficient – but also very lovely, which is exactly the kind of person you want around on your wedding day. We were blown away when we first saw our photos and will treasure them for years to come.

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Alison Groves Photography

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John wore a tuxedo from Ralph Lauren. John wanted to wear a tux (and what girl is going to turn that down?!) so we decided to make it black tie and politely ignore all the comments about what a faux pas it is to wear dinner jackets during the day (seriously – who cares? And it’s dark virtually all day in December!).

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Despite the dress code, we aren’t ones for standing on ceremony – relaxed elegance was the aim. We were actually heartened by how enthusiastic everyone was about getting super glammed up, enjoying all the discussions about whether to go long or short (girls), shawl collar or pointy collar (boys) and who made the best James Bond (boys again). Walking into the Great Hall on the day and seeing everyone there looking so gorgeous was a real moment for me.

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Alison Groves Photography

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Alison Groves Photography

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Alison Groves Photography

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I walked down the aisle to the third movement from symphony number 3 in C major, op 52 by Jean Sibelius. John’s dad was a big Sibelius fan and it was our way of including him in the day. We hired Arco String Quartet who very kindly had the symphony reconfigured for a string quartet and we hired a flute and clarinet to recreate the piece of music as closely as possible. It’s not particularly bridal but it’s very moving and very personal to us.

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Alison Groves Photography

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Alison Groves Photography

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Alison Groves Photography

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Alison Groves Photography

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Alison Groves Photography

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Organising a wedding from 300 miles away was not an easy task. But I learnt pretty quickly to put my faith in our suppliers – all recommended either by our venue or our photographer – and trust the professionals. For flowers we went with the fantastic Viv at 5th Avenue flowers on the Quayside in Newcastle. Viv was enthusiastic, laid back and really genuine – she even gave me a lift back to the hotel the night before the wedding because the snow was creating massive queues for the taxis. As the first Saturday in December, the Christmas decorations were up and I decided against adding in more colours or foliage into the mix to avoid total décor overkill. Less is most definitely more. So I had a wonderfully pouffy ivory hydrangea bouquet – classic yet modern. For the registrars’ table Viv did us a lovely mix of all kinds of things (er, flowers not really my strong point!), all ivory with frosted foliage, and we hung a large ball of mistletoe in one of the doorways and placed hydrangea heads in low vases around the bar. We hired magnificent silver candelabra for the table centrepieces (also from the florist), lit the candles, switched on the fairy lights and voila! Magical, just as I’d hoped.

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Alison Groves Photography

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Jesmond Dene House provided all the catering. The food was a really important element to us (eating is one of our favourite pastimes – we named our tables after our favourite restaurants around the world) so the acclaimed restaurant at the hotel was an influential factor in us choosing it as a venue. The standard of the food on the day was superb – all our guests commented on how spot on everything was cooked and how amazing it tasted. I also liked their policy of using local produce, such as the Craster smoked salmon for the starter and Northumbrian lamb as the main.

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As the Christmas decorations were up there was very little that we needed to add. Fairy lights, candles and roaring fires – sparkle and cheer – was what I wanted to create. Jesmond Dene House have really lovely, unusual decorations that made it look really special. But I decided it wasn’t about having a winter wedding, a December wedding, and certainly not a Christmas wedding. It was about our wedding, so I was keen to make it as personal to us as possible.

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I bought loads of antique-effect mercuried glass tealights and votives to put about the place and we arranged photos of our families through the generations on their wedding days on the fireplaces. We framed a drawing of a bride and groom that one of John’s neices had made for us when we got engaged and had that on the entrance table along with wooden J&L letters from Not on the High Street. We tied the napkins with some “To Have and To Hold” ribbon from Cox & Cox and also had boxes of matches (“The Perfect Match” followed by the definition of marriage) in a bowl on the bar for the smokers and anyone else who fancied them (I randomly collect matches). We arranged with the local brewery to have our very own Archer Ale complete with personalised badge, which went down a storm with the lads (and a few ladies). And we personalised our menus with a description of the restaurant each table was named after, our favourite dishes at that restaurant and why it was a significant place in our relationship.

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Alison Groves Photography

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Alison Groves Photography.

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Alison Groves Photography

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We weren’t bothered about a live band, as we lived too far away to have been able to take on researching that as well as everything else! We used the hotel’s recommended DJ and asked everyone to put on their RSVP cards the one song that was guaranteed to get them on the dance floor. We then compiled a playlist of all the song choices and gave that to the DJ. We also hired a photo booth from Groovy Booth, complete with wind machine and props, which proved fantastic fun. It kept the kids entertained until they went to bed and all the adults loved it too – everyone got a set of prints to keep and one to stick in the guest book. Needless to say they get funnier as the night wore on!

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I’d been keen not to have a first dance but John wanted to as the time drew nearer, so we decided on “Misty Blue” by Ella Fitzgerald. It’s not a particularly happy song (!) but we love Ella and followed it up with Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” to get everyone on the dance floor.

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The advice I’d give to other Brides Up North is that there were so many things I’d wanted to do and either never got around to or just forgot about in the general wedding chaos leading up to the big day. So many little touches and details. But it really doesn’t matter in the end. Although loads of people commented on how much they liked the thought that had gone into things, no one said “but you didn’t have xyz!” Because what kind of crazy person would do that?! Certainly not one you’d invite to your wedding. There’s a lot of pressure out there to have the perfect day, to be original and not have a production-line wedding. And yes, we had a photo booth and pic ‘n’ mix and half of Cox & Cox – not original to brides poring over blogs and mags, certainly, but your guests will simply love it. Because they love you, and you could probably give them ham sandwiches and a mug of tea and they’d all cheer and laugh and have a ball.

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Timings will go awry, people close to you will let you down badly and people you don’t know all that well will go above and beyond the call of duty in ways that will touch you. We had several inches of snow that brought the roads, trains and planes to a standstill just two days before our wedding, people were snowed in on the day itself, my gran was taken to hospital just before the ceremony started, one of the best men left his tux in the dry cleaners, the other best man dropped me on my head on the dance floor – and a glass candlestick exploded randomly, just to top it off! And no amount of planning or stress can take those things into account, so just breathe, have a glass (or three) of champagne with your best girls in the morning and remember that you’ll be walking out of there that night married to the man you love, and nothing can detract from that.

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Congratulations Laura & John!

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Fancy sharing your real wedding memories on the wedding blog?  Get in touch!

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  – Images © 2012 Alison Groves Photography

Alison Groves Photography is a Brides Up North Featured Supplier, but this is not a sponsored post

Contact Brides Up North to submit your business as a Featured Supplier

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about the author

Julia Braime
Former lawyer and bride to be Julia founded Brides Up North in 2010 with a chip on her shoulder. Frustrated by the poor Northern presence in glossy bridal magazines and online, she decided to do something about it herself. Astounded by the rapid growth of her blog and brand, Julia now manages Brides Up North’s online content alongside their busy wedding exhibition season, industry events and related commissions. And she’s always, always, got a new project on the go…

learn more about Julia Braime