Unusual venues: Wellington Arch

London is scattered with fabulously quirky wedding venues from grand, historic buildings to unexpected, hidden treasures. And if chosen wisely these locations can really pack a welcome punch to your big day… with very little effort on your behalf (my kind of wedding planning!).

So following on from my article on Harrow School, we travel into the heart of the city to explore a site that you probably never imaged could be a wedding venue.

What is it called? Wellington Arch


Where is it? On the north-west side of Hyde Park, just a couple of minutes away from Hyde Park Corner station. You’d struggle to find a location any more central than this, unless of course you were following in the footsteps of Kate Middleton and tying the knot in Westminster Abbey.

Ceremony or reception? Reception.

Some history, please: This imposing structure was designed in 1825 by Decimus Burton [you’ve gotta love that name!] for two purposes – to act as an outer entrance to Buckingham Palace and as a monument of victory to mark Wellington’s defeat of Napoleon. It was completed in 1828, but was dismantled 55 years later and relocated 20 meters away to help ease the traffic around the park.

The original crowing statue of the Duke of Wellington was replaced with Peace Descending on the Quadriga of War, which remains the largest bronze statue in the UK.

Why this one? Imagine a lovely ceremony at a London church or town hall, followed by a ride for the wedding party on a quirky red routemaster, which eventually pulls up outside Wellington Arch. The expressions on the guests’ faces are guaranteed to be struck with surprise (in a good way!); no one would ever expect a wedding reception to take place within the walls of this majestic masterpiece.

After dinner, invite guests up to the balcony of the arch and sip some bubbles while taking in views of Westminster and the park at sunset – the knowledge that few others are ever likely to enjoy that same vista will make the experience all the more special.

If you are after somewhere pretty for your wedding snaps what could be better than London’s ultimate back garden – Hyde Park?

What’s on offer? This is ultimately a very intimate venue, and perfect for those who want to splash out on a smaller number of guests. The venue has a capacity of 80 people for drinks and 36 people for dining.

What’s the damage? budget2expensive1 = Somewhere in between!

Wellington Arch is available to hire through English Heritage all year round, seven days a week, during the daytime for £2,500. The evening hire price will set you back a little more at £3,500 (this is excluding VAT).

Anything else you need to know? Caterers (as well as florists and entertainment) must be booked through the venue’s approved list of suppliers, and they have a comprehensive list of high end companies that serve a range of cuisines. There are no budget options here, but as your numbers are smaller, you may find the budget stretches a little further per head.

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Unusual venues: Harrow School

Finding the right venue was a massive thing for me when I first started my wedding planning, and it was also the most daunting. I realised that the venue sets the tone for the day, and it is, of course, one of the biggest financial commitments you will make when you get hitched. I neither had a tone or theme in mind for my wedding and I had a pretty small budget… so I initially panicked, then  I think I probably cried, and then spent a lot of time researching venues both in London and in the neighbouring counties.

Through my search I came across a lot of beautiful and unusual venues for weddings – some serving just ceremonies, some serving receptions, others dealing with both of these things. I decided that having my wedding in a quirky venue would work really for me considering I was on a budget; I couldn’t afford to add wow factor through sheer scale, but I could give things a little wow-ness through choosing a place that had something different to offer, a place that guests would not have visited before or be expecting.

I struggled to find an article on quirky or unusual venues in the UK, so I’m creating one for you! Actually I’m going to create a little series of articles, and the first stop on the trip will be Harrow School.

As with my article on London garden venues, budget2 denotes “easy on the purse” and expensive1 denotes “pass the credit card”.

Read on, you might be inspired!


What is it called? Harrow School.

Where is it? Harrow-on-the-Hill in north-west London. Harrow-on-the-Hill station on the metropolitan line is a five minute walk away.

Ceremony or reception? Civil ceremony and reception.

Some history, please: Harrow is an independent boys’ school, which boasts a long list of famous alumni including Winston Churchill, Lord Byron, and (here’s one for the cheap seats at the back) James Blunt. There is evidence that the school has been on that site since 1243, however the school that we know today was officially founded by John Lyon under a Royal Charter of Elizabeth I in 1572.

Why this one? Now you might be thinking: “A school? Why would I want to get married in a school? What’s so unusual about that?” But hold your horses, because this school is not exactly a local comp based in a seventies, rectangular building (sort of like the one CB went to).

Not only are the old historic buildings beautiful, but Harrow-on-the-hill is stunning and has a really special atmosphere. It’s easy to feel like you are in a historic little village in the countryside; you certainly don’t feel like you are in London or that you have a tube stop or Harrow Town Centre a short-ish stroll away. But it’s a bonus to have them so close by, particularly for guests.

If you do look eastwards you get an amazing view across London, and on a clear day you can see all the way across the city to Canary Wharf.

Harrow School harrow_building

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What’s on offer? Civil ceremonies can take place in the Old Harrovian Room, which was designed by late British architect Sir Herbert Baker and is based in one of the historic buildings. The room has hanging portraits and artefacts, and can fit up to 120 people.

You can also accommodate 120 people in the school’s main function room the Shepherd Churchill Room, which offers views across London and has a large garden terrace. The Shepherd Churchill Hall is used for receptions and is equipped with a dance floor and bar.

Harrow School has its own catering team, which you will have to use, offering mainly British and med-style dishes.

How much will it set me back? budget2 To hire either room for a civil ceremony will cost £430 plus VAT (this was in 2010 when I asked and might have increased since). To hire the pianos in the rooms costs between £45-70 plus VAT. The hire charge for the hall is also £430 plus VAT.

A selection of 13 canapés cost around £13 (again this is based on prices at time of enquiry), starters are around £8, mains are £15-23, and desserts are around £7. You can also get a three course buffet from £38, and there are various options for evening catering.

Anything else you need to know? You can only hire the venue during school holidays. You can’t use confetti, party poppers, sparklers or fireworks on the grounds. You will have to arrange your own DJ.

This probably won’t be an issue for most readers, but at the time of enquiry the school said they would not be able to provide Indian or halal menus.

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How to have an English garden wedding in London…

My wedding research has made me fall in love with the idea of an English garden wedding – the flowers, the sunshine (fingers crossed) and the relaxed atmosphere. Perfect! However, if you live in London like me you probably don’t have the sort of garden that is big enough to swing a cat, or you might not have a garden at all.

Thankfully, the capital is a beautifully green city (a surprise to some), with lovely parks dotted around… most of which will have a central building that is licensed to hold a wedding, or at least is available for receptions. These all offer a unique and unusual alternative to the traditional city hotel wedding.  I’ve already written about the lovely former royal residence Cambridge Cottage in Kew, but to help out fellow city girls, here are some of the lovely park wedding venues I found when undertaking my own research – from budget to extravagant.*

budget2 * = easy on the purse expensive1 * = pass me the credit card

1. Pembroke Lodge


Where? Richmond Park, south-west London.

About: This pretty white Georgian Mansion, which is set in the 2,500 acres of Richmond Park, started out life as a mole-catchers cottage. However, it was eventually extended and given to Elizabeth Herbert, the Countess of Pembroke, the principal lady-in-waiting to King George III. In 1854 the Earl of Aberdeen’s Cabinet met at Pembroke Lodge and decided to proceed with the Crimean War against Russia. Philosopher Bertrand Russell also grew up at the lodge.

The building features two venues which are licensed for weddings. The Belvedere is based on the ground floor and has a terrace that boasts gorgeous views of Thames Valley. The Russell Suite is based on the first floor and accommodates more intimate weddings.

Ceremony and Reception? Yes

Numbers: 70-140 in the Belvedere – minimum numbers apply at certain times of the year and on weekends. The Russell Suite can accommodate up to 70 people.

Cost: Prices for the Belvedere range from £500 during the week in the winter, to £3,950 on a Saturday in the summer.

Think about: Pembroke lodge seemed very accommodating regarding dietry requirements – I was offered Indian catering prepared by a specialist Indian chef for £5 per head more than the usual cost (£35).

The lodge has very pretty grounds – great for romantic wedding pictures. If you want to venture further into the park, you might also get snaps of the lovely deer.

The building is home to a café, so during the day members of the public might be occupying the terrace and grounds. Also, weddings take place in the Belvedere and Russell Suite on the same day, although the timings are different.

pembroke lodge out

pem lodge terrace pem lodge inside

Images from www.pembroke-lodge.co.uk

2. The Belvedere


Where? Holland Park, west London.

About: Dating back to the 17th century, The Belvedere was a summer ballroom to Holland House. The restaurant, located just near Kensington High Street and Notting Hill, is surrounded by lawns, flowers gardens and a fountain. Chef Marco Pierre White got married here in 2000.

Ceremony and Reception? Yes

Numbers: The venue can accommodate up to 120 people.

Cost: Price on application. When I requested an estimate based on 60 people, on a Friday or Saturday in summer 2011 from 6pm (for exclusive use of the upper dining room including the mezzanine and terrace) I was quoted a min. spend of £7,000 including service charge. Three course meals with coffee started at £60 per head.

Think about: I was told there would not be an option of playing music or having speeches in this space as the ground floor restaurant would be in use by other people. This might be different if you are hiring out the whole venue.

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Images from www.belvedererestaurant.co.uk

3. The Pump House Gallery


Where? Battersea Park, south London

About: The Pump House is a restored Grade II listed Victorian building. It was built in 1861 to supply water to the lakes of Battersea Park. It lay disused for many years until English Heritgae and Wandsworth Council undertook a £400,000 restoration scheme to bring it back to life. It is now run as a shop and art gallery.

Ceremony and Reception? Yes

Numbers: The venue can fit up to 70 people for a ceremony, 120 people throughout, or 200 people for drinks and canapés. You will need a marquee to have dinner and dancing, which will increase the capacity by 150.

Cost: The hire of the gallery is £300 per hour, or for the gallery and terrace it is £400 per hour. There is an additional cost for a marquee (which is not provided by the venue).

Think about: You can bring in your own caterers and there is no corkage fee – so you can potentially really keep the cost down. Also, there cost does not change depending on the day or season you decide to get married in.

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Images from www.pumphousegallery.org.uk

4. The Horniman Museum


Where? Horniman Museum and Gardens, south-east London

About: The museum was opened in 1901 to house the international collections of artefacts and specimins collected by Victorian tea trader Frederick John Horniman (he initially stored everything in his home, but the collection soon increased). Further buildings were added to the original site last century, although in 1999 some of these were demolished as part of a Centenary Development scheme.

The venue as we know it today reopened in 2002. Set in 16 acres of gardens, the conservatory-like building is light and bright, and is available for hire from April 1 to October 31. It also features adjoining private terraces, and an area for a marquee.

Ceremony and Reception? Yes

Numbers: the venue can house up to 100 guests.

Cost: £2,730 for an eight hour booking (this applies throughout the opening period). Think about: The museum is not available for hire from Monday-Thursday. Barbeques are not permitted in the gardens or terraces.

horni out horni in horni in 2

Images from www.pumphousegallery.org.uk

5. Kenwood House

budget2 or expensive1

Where? Kenwood House and Gardens, north London

About: The estate was once owned by brewing magnate Edward Cecil Guinnessm, the first Earl of Iveagh. It was bequeathed to the nation on his death, including an important collection of art by the likes of Vermeer, Rembrandt, Turner and Gainsborough. The venue has great views of central London.

Ceremony and Reception? Yes

Numbers: 14-120 people.

Cost: £1,000 for the Old Kitchen to £3,500 for the Adam Library and Dining room or the East Wing.

Think about: Like some other venues, the prices do not include VAT – this will push the total cost.

ken out ken in ken in2

Images from www.english-heritage.org.uk and www.weddingvenues.com

6. Syon House


Where? Syon Park, south-west London

About: Stunning Syon House and Park is the London home of the Duke of Northumberland, whose family has lived there for more than 400 years. The site was originally the home of a medieval abbey named after Mount Zion, that was favoured by King Henry VIII’s first wife Catherine of Aragon.

The house boasts a number of spaces for weddings including the Great Hall, the State Dining Room,  the Great Conservatory and even a marquee for larger weddings.

Ceremony and Reception? Yes

Numbers: From 50-120 for ceremonies in the house, to a 200-600 marquee for an evening reception.

Cost: £3,000-£8,000 for 6pm to midnight hire.

Think about: The conservatory is not open for weddings November to March, although the state dining room and marquee is still available. The venue has a wide list of caterers it works with, including specialist companies such as those providing kosher food.

syon out1 syon out syon great_hall

Images from www.syonpark.co.uk

7. Beauberry House

budget2 or expensive1

Where? West Dulwich, south-east London

About: The estate originally consisted of two farms, and in 1785 John Wiles a corn factor from Whitechapel erected the building. After Willes death there was a new owner, Charles Ranken, who renamed the house Belair. Eighty years later it was purchased and renovated by Charles Hutton, a wool merchant and the sheriff of London and Middlesex. The building continued to change hands for the next 100 years.

In 2004, it was bought by Ibi Issoloah who renamed it Beauberry House and carried out a major refurbishment scheme. Last year, the house was voted the best wedding venue in south London and shortlisted as one of the UK’s best wedding venues.

Ceremony and Reception? Yes

Numbers: 20-150 people.

Cost: The White Room and private bar has a minimum spend of £5,000. Semi-exclusive hire of the whole venue costs a minimum of £6,000, and exclusive hire is from £10,000.

Think about: The venue offers a fun selection of menus from canapés, to bowl food, to a formal meal, to afternoon tea.

beauberry out BBHouse

Images from www.beauberryhouse.co.uk

8. Marble Hill House

budget2 or expensive1 (depending on hoe you look at it!)

Where? Richmond, south west London

About: The white Palladian villa is set in 60 acres of parkland in Richmond. It was built in the 18th century for Henrietta Howard, a mistress of King George II when he was the Prince of Wales. The house became a fashionable venue for artists, poets and politicians to congregate.

Ceremony and Reception? Ceremony and drinks reception

Numbers: 50 guests for the ceremony and 60 for a drinks reception.

Cost: £1,250 for a three hour period.

Think about: You cannot have dinner and dancing at the venue so you will have to find another location for that (thankfully in Richmond there are lots of choices). The venue is not available for hire on Sundays.

marblehillhouse marble in marble in 2

Images from www.english-heritage.org.uk

9. Chiswick house


Where? Chiswick House and Gardens, west London

About: A neo-Palladian villa that is set in a newly restored garden that opened this summer after a £12.1 million scheme. Built by the third Earl of Burlington in 1729 to showcase his art collection, the house continues to display many spectacular works of art and provides a stunning venue for entertaining.

Ceremony and Reception? Yes

Numbers: The house and courtyard can accommodate 96 seated guests and 150 for a standing reception. The Burlington Pavilion can fit 150 for a dinner and dance, 250 for dinner only and 350 for a standing reception.

Cost: Hire fees range from £3,500 to £6,000.

Think about: Not all of the wedding spaces are available in the winter.

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Images from www.chgt.org.uk

10. Chelsea Physic Garden


Where? Chelsea Physic Garden, west London

About: How about choosing a garden itself? The site was established in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries as an Apothecaries’ Garden, with the purpose of training apprentices in identifying plants. It continues to research the properties, origins and conservation of over 5000 plant species. Chelsea Physic Garden is an unusual venue in the heart of London.

It has a variety of function rooms in addition to the Garden available to hire for summer drinks parties on the lawn to weddings. Most events are centred around the lawn (90 feet by 77 feet) in front of the main building.

Ceremony and Reception? No, just a reception.

Numbers: The Garden has the capacity for 400 people for a standing reception.

Cost: Weekday and Sunday evenings prices ranges from £3,150 to £5,250. On Saturdays prices range from £4,200 to £6,300 and during the Chelsea Flower Show they treble.

Think about: Daytime hire is limited and prices leap during the Chelsea Flower Show. The website also states that amplified music is generally unsuitable for the garden – so maybe lean towards string quartets and harps.

cpgarden chgarden2 cpgarden3

Images from www.chelseaphysicgarden.co.uk

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