Fairytale Mansion Wedding
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Few wedding locations I have photographed at, come close to the charm & history enveloped in the magnificent surroundings of the Heath House, in Staffordshire. The Gothic revival mansion, built in 1836, has been home for the Phillips family in Tean for generations, and the imposing building nestled in the leafy countryside oozes class, beauty and tranquility unparalleled by any other location I have shot at.
Up in the bridal suit, I found Megan and her bridesmaids relaxed, in their custom made ‘Bride’ and ‘Bridesmaids’ tops, as the late July sun filled the 4 poster bed room with lashings of light, flowers & bouquets scattered on the ornate fireplace, as excited chatter filled the room. I chose to shoot both wide and tight wide open on my 24-70mm, using my tried and tested settings, aware of the natural vignette this lens brings to the table.
Heavy contrasts in the room and an abundance of mirrors meant light was bouncing all over the room, creating an ambience that would have been destroyed with flash. Pictures hanging from chains off high dado rails were dotted over the room, adding a genuine authenticity and feel that you had just stepped back in time, giving you a feeling that you are part of something very special unfolding in front of you – mess this wedding up at your peril!! As I looked out from the lead cladded windows across the manicured lush grass, you realise why the Phillips family and bride & grooms alike choose this as their location.
James had arrived. Hurray! This was no mean feat in itself, as both myself and the groom had liaised on the phone earlier over what seemed like everyone’s worst nightmare. 2 police cars and 2 lorries had crashed near Stoke on Trent closing the A500, and subsequently bringing all the major roads around the Potteries to a standstill.
It took me the best part of 2 hours and much swearing at Sat Nav to negotiate an alternate route to the venue. Having driven up to Stoke the night before so as to avoid any such circumstances, it seemed I was being punished for being sensible. With the groom and best man shots, ushers, and a few ‘exteriors’ safely in the bag, I made my way over to the Orangery where the service was to be held. A short 2-minute walk from the main building hidden down a long path flanked by meticulously trimmed low bushes, it took my breath away.
The guest chairs were gold with orange cushion, a single royal blue bow on the corners, so simple, so effective. Assisting the registrars and wedding planner, I devised a plan to arrange the chairs behind the desk, which would simply ‘work’. I cannot reveal my simple plan and ingenious logic, but I know for every wedding in the Orangery now, this simple formula will be used. As the guests arrived, and the camera shy girls, shuffling out of my view hid behind the lads who in turn gave me their best sides, I decided to slide back up the staircase and see how things were progressing in the bridal suit. Running short of breath at the top of the stairs, I finally had my last gasp taken from me as I saw Megan in her dress.
Today’s bride was simply perfection personified and the dress may as well have been sown on, so exact was the fit. I was, at this point concerned for Megan’s Father, as when he laid eyes upon his daughter looking like this, there was every chance he would topple over, so thankfully I cleared a space on the bed next to Megan! (I didn’t actually, but I should have) Then came the moment… And there were tears. As I wiped the mist from my glasses I seized a couple of shots. The now emotional wreck of a photographer descended the staircase and waited. As the bridal party made their way across the lawns and up the old steps, I maintained a steady speed to keep a few paces ahead.
I had by this point probably lost about 4 pounds in weight, but it was worth every drop of sweat as I witnessed the most incredible arrival of the bridal party down the long pathway to the waiting guests, as a superb pianist played the Butterfly Waltz. One by one, and very slowly the bridesmaids made their way towards the guests, each one having ‘their moment’, before the slow and beautifully executed entrance of the bride. The lump I had in my throat earlier, returned, it was simply the most beautiful entrance of any bride I have ever seen.
It was unrushed poetic beauty unfolding before me. This moment obviously meant so much to Megan and the time taken planning this simple, but effective arrival paid off. The ceremony was light hearted, warming and contained two readings by friends, which were well accepted by all. This was a very personal service. Following an array of group shots which was handled by one of the ushers in the most efficient of ways, the wedding party slipped away to the marquee which stands in the grounds on the lower level of the gardens.
For me this wedding meant a lot too, as last year I had photographed the bride’s brother John at the Ashes in Leek, where he and Hannah tied the knot. To photograph for a family, and to get the repeat business is always an honour, and to see your former brides and grooms as guests (and especially with a new born baby – congratulations guys!) makes me feel humbled and a part of something. As the light faded and I packed my kit away, I couldn’t help but be drawn back inside the Heath House.
I could not leave without a fun set up shot of Megan & James in the grand front room, posing like the lady & man of the manor, I may never visit this fabulous bit of history again, although I hope I do. Returning to the car, I unpacked my speedlights and set up in front of the fireplace. There was simply too much beauty inside these walls not too. I fired off a few shots, changed a few angles, said my goodbyes and drove off down the long winding driveway, and headed back to Gloucestershire. As Heath House disappeared in the rear view mirror, I knew not only had I been part of a very special wedding, but also I had been part of a very special building for a day, and I just hope I have been able to do the Phillips family justice in my photographs of the day of their family home. I would implore anyone looking for a spectacular venue to visit the Heath House and enjoy all it offers.