Approximately 250,000 people get married each year in England & Wales but that doesn’t mean that your day can’t be unique.
If you can combine a non-legal wedding ceremony, with a unusual wedding location, all of a sudden you’re well on your way to having a totally unique and personal wedding.
If you’ve jumped in here and are unsure what an non-legal, or alternative wedding ceremony is, here’s a quick recap…
You get legally married at a Register Office a few days before your wedding, and then have your wedding wherever and however you like. All you need is two witnesses for the legal ceremony. This could be friends, family, or even registrar office staff – they don’t need to know you!
I’ve photographed quite a few weddings done this way, and they’ve been some of my absolute favourite weddings, so I’d like to share some of their stories with you…
Rhiannon & Luke got married in a Forest, had a “first look” before the ceremony, followed by a festival / fete themed reception with Tipi.
They got married a couple of days before their woodland wedding.
“It was quite a hectic day. Since we were doing the legal part so close to the ceremony we had a lot to do on the day. We just wore our normal clothes as we needed to go out after. I was having my hair coloured ready for the wedding and Luke needed to go down to the venue. We had the ceremony as early as possible so we went for breakfast and then went straight to the ceremony.
We had both our parents there for the ceremony. It was quite awkward and funny since we were all crammed into a tiny office and we had to say our vows. It was a bit peculiar but it made for a funny day.
I can’t say that either of us felt much different afterwards. It was obviously a very happy day but because of everything we had to do, we didn’t get much time to take in the fact that we’d just gotten married…
They decided to get legally married before their actual wedding so that they could have their perfect wedding venue…
“We really wanted to get married outdoors in the forest so we looked at venues before we even thought about the legal aspect. When we found the perfect venue they told us that the legal ceremony couldn’t be done there, so we figured that we’d just do that a couple of days before.
For us, it was more important to have the wedding in the perfect venue rather than have the legal aspect happen at the same time.”
Rhiannon got ready at home, had a wedding car take her to Field & Forest (who are sadly no longer doing weddings) where she met Luke in the woods for a quiet moment before the ceremony.
“We had a good friend who’s currently doing his training to become a pastor perform the ceremony. It was very special for him too because even though it wasn’t technically a proper ceremony it was his first wedding.”
I wondered if already being married would change how they felt on the day, but it didn’t.
“We hadn’t had time to fully process the fact that we were already married. It was still an incredibly lovely day and we see our wedding day as the day we got married rather than the day we actually got married.”
After the ceremony, they walked down the hill to the field to celebrate in the sunshine with their closest friends and family. Drinks, live music, a food truck & games!
I loved their wedding 😍
The whole day was really chilled, and they totally made it their own. They chose to have a hog roast, which people waited in line for and then helped themselves to a selection of sides & salads. Once everyone had finished eating, they had their speeches followed by crepes as the sun set. They then cut the cake, had their first dance and partied the night away.
I asked them several weeks after their wedding “if you were to go back in time, would you do the legal bit before your wedding again?” They told me they would!
“Yes, and we wouldn’t change anything. It meant that we could have everything just as we wanted it.”
Sophie & Joseph got married at The Bombed Out Church in Liverpool, with an elegant marquee reception.
They got legally married on Thursday and had the actual wedding on Saturday.
“We didn’t stick to the “you can’t see the bride” rule. We travelled to St Georges Hall together and met our family there. We dressed smart but nothing too fancy as we still wanted to save all the best bits for the big celebration.
We then went for a big breakfast with champagne, where my mum had been that morning without us knowing and had decorated the table with balloons and lights, it was lovely.
We all then parted ways and I cracked on with finishing the prep at the venue.
We had our Mums and Dads and my sister with us. It was lovely and relaxed, I was still slightly nervous standing in front of people saying the vows but mainly because I could see my sister in the corner of my eye and wanted to laugh!
But the 2 women doing the small ceremony were so lovely and the mums were so surprised how intimate and lovely the words they used were, a few tears of happiness were shed”
Sophie & Joseph hadn’t thought about whether the venue had a marriage license when they started looking.
“I hadn’t really thought about it until I picked where I wanted to get married and they didn’t have a licence to do the marriage, and it didn’t put me off at all as it meant I could get married somewhere I really wanted to and celebrate an extra day as well 😊”
Sophie got ready at home and had a couple of cars take her and her bridal party to the venue. Once at The Bombed Out Church, Sophie’s bridesmaids and flower girls headed down the aisle first, followed by Sophie and her dad.
“We chose Joe’s aunty to perform the ceremony, it was lovely that someone close to him could do the service, it felt really relaxed and everyone loved it. I think it made us feel like there was slightly less pressure too. Without the legal bit to do, it meant we could do our own vows and then just get on with the partying and celebrating with everyone.”
And that’s exactly what they did! After the ceremony, they headed into the marquee for drinks & canapes. Everyone sat down around the tables for the speeches, followed by the most amazing food for their wedding breakfast – sharing platters tapas-style complimented the relaxed atmosphere perfectly. And later that evening a take-away pizza delivery turned up!
They decided to add a last-minute singer / songwriter duo to their wedding and I’m glad they did – everyone was up and dancing long before the first dance!
When I asked if they had any advice for future couples planning their wedding in a similar way, this is what they said…
“Don’t be put off by it at all, it’s really nice and means no limitations to your wedding venue”
There is another benefit to getting married at a Register Office, and that’s cost. To have a civil ceremony at a venue of your choice you could have to pay close to £500, whereas it’s just ~£58 for a basic room at the Register Office.
So if you’re on a budget, this could help save those all-important pennies or you could spend them on something else! 😉
Other ideas include renting an Airbnb for the weekend – like Sophie & James. There are some beautiful houses available to rent at great prices. You can find gorgeous properties that sleep 20+ people and plenty of unique alternative options too – like entire glamping sites, whole castles or even a lighthouse on its own private island.
Or what about your parents back garden? A local pub or restaurant? A farmer with a spare field or some woodland? It might take a little more planning and effort in the research stages, but I believe to have something that is totally unique, it’s worth the hard work.
However, if the thought of that extra work puts you off there’s nothing to stop you using a more traditional wedding venue in an unusual way.
There are plenty of venues that don’t have wedding licences for several reasons. A lot don’t have a licence for outdoor weddings because they don’t have a permanent structure with a solid roof. But if you are already legally got married, there’s no reason why you couldn’t have your ceremony inside, outside or on their roof terrace! So, let’s take a look at some more traditional wedding venues.
THIS IS JUST ONE CHAPTER...
In the rest of this guide, I explain the different ceremonies including, humanist, celebrant & non-legal wedding ceremonies. I also cover how to choose your wedding venue, wedding photographer, entertainment and plan your timeline. Plus there's wedding advice from real couples and top tips from industry experts.
So, to get the ever-expanding, "Chris Morse's Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Wedding" in your inbox, fill in your details below.
No SPAM - I promise.