By Patricia Campbell
A decadent party in a grand old house. It sounds like the stuff of a perfect New Year’s Eve. In fact, it’s to be the blueprint of my wedding reception in July 2013. The inspiration? London’s party set. When it comes to putting on the ultimate show-stopper event, they’re increasingly choosing to desert the bright lights of the city for the wilds of the countryside, teaming up with friends to hire a lavish country house for the weekend and host a soirée with a twist.
It all started with a clued-up network of leftfield party promoters and festival organisers keen to revive the traditional English country party. Then Downton came along, and our appetite for the trappings of a more lavish bygone era intensified – and the imminent big screen revival of literature’s most flamboyant Jazz Age party host, Jay Gatsby, is set to fan the flames further.
But how does this fit with a wedding? Well, they do say it’s the biggest party you’ll ever throw. And a century ago, the country house party was the best one going. The pinnacle of the season’s social calendar, members of society’s elite were only too happy to swap the city for a weekend of entertainment and frolics in the countryside. These typically lavish parties, held in opulent mansions, were an intoxicating cocktail of time-honoured hospitality and pure unadulterated showmanship – characterised by the sense that real life was suspended while you feasted by day and partied with wild abandon by evening. Certainly, I hope that on my wedding day, after the ceremony and the traditional formalities, the reception will take on this jubilant mood.
But where to host it? After deciding to concentrate our search in Devon, where my fiancé is originally from, we discovered a wealth of country houses, but many proved too small or shabby for a wedding. The more posh historical homes wouldn’t allow you inside – more a marquee on the lawn affair – and at the country house hotels, the look and feel was there, but the spirit was not: thanks to maddening curfews and prescriptive rules and regulations regarding set menus and corkage fees. So when we stumbled upon Huntsham Court, pictured above, we knew we had struck gold: a stunning Baronial mansion in the rolling Devonshire countryside, available for exclusive hire, that had all the trappings of a grand home but a refreshing ethos with it; giving us free reign to do our own thing.
Licenced for wedding ceremonies and dripping with Downton-esque glamour – replete with elegant dining rooms for banqueting, a Jacobean panelled Great Hall for dancing, a characterful library for lounging, a hidden Victorian bar for cocktails and a grand staircase just begging for a bride to waft down it – Huntsham ticked boxes we didn’t even know we had. But, added to this, 27 bedrooms, and plush ones at that (more Babington House than Grandma country chintz), it would allow for a sizable portion of our wedding party – we’re having 120 guests in all – to stay onsite. Plus, the extensive and utterly idyllic gardens are more than ripe for wedding photo opportunities. Add to this its easy location – two hours by rail from London Paddington, or a quick diversion off the M5 – and it was a no-brainer.
So now we’ve got the glamorous country house, the real work begins, piecing the puzzle together and curating the best party ever. Luckily Huntsham Court has brilliant links with local suppliers and staff so can give us as much or as little help as we like. We’re opting to do much of the organisation ourselves, choosing to bring our own alcohol (no corkage fees) and organise our own catering, entertainment and décor. We’re glad that by going for a smarter venue over a marquee that we can still stay true to our style and retain these DIY elements – after all, your wedding should be a reflection of you.
Huntsham Court, Devon can be hired exclusively for weddings and parties. To find out more visit huntshamcourt.co.uk/weddings
Pictures: Getty, IMAXTREE, Huntsham Court