SUSSEX WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY
Weddings in the ancient kingdom of Sussex, land of the South Saxons. Sat south of London, between the North Downs and the English Channel. Sussex is surrounded by Surrey, Kent and Hampshire. It’s a part of England that has seen a lot of history – not least the Norman invasion in 1066. It means there are plenty of characterful locations for wedding ceremonies: ancient homes, churches, barns and castles. Sussex can be good for flint walls!
For almost twenty years, it has been the county where I live. It’s where I photograph most of my weddings, as a Sussex wedding photographer. From private gardens to old Norman castles. From cathedrals to small parish churches. From old Napoleonic era barns to marquees on the village green. From stately homes to small village halls. From outdoor wedding ceremonies to town hall registry offices. Sussex offers a lot of special wedding venues.
But for me as a Sussex wedding photographer, which venues work and which maybe don’t works so well? Reality can be different to the brochure. Here are some of the wedding venues that I think make great pictures and work well for guests
Some Sussex wedding venues
Let’s start with a favourite of mine – the barns atop the South Downs, just outside Worthing. A short hop down the A24 for me. A collection of very old flint-walled sheep barns. What’s the best bit about this wedding venue? The fact that everything is contained within a small area, away from the noise but still offering lots of space for a variety of images – even, as I’ve found, when it rains. Parts can be a bit dark, even hard to access for a photographer when everyone is crowded around the bar. The ceremony works best shot from the middle of the aisle. The drinks area, either on the grass, or sheltering from the rain, under the tarpaulin, creates pictures. Enough space for people to mingle or play party games, without disappearing, as happens at some stately home venues. If a couple wants portraits, there are multiple options just a short walk away – no long trek across vast lawns. Getting ready can even happen down in the main house. But if the weather plays along, the sun dipping over the Downs creates a lovely backdrop. One of Sussex’s best wedding venues!
The Wild Garden, Hyde Estate
It’s very easy to drive past the understated entrance to the Wild Garden, on the Hyde Estate, just outside the village of Handcross in West Sussex. But guests driving down the hill come to a clearing in the woodland, overlooking a large pond. It’s hard to believe that the busy A23 is just over the hill – you can’t hear it. A quiet setting for a marquee reception or an outdoor wedding ceremony, surrounded by the trees. A venue that invites guests to have a small wander around and enjoy nature. A natural canvas onto which you can build a wedding day, with none of the stuffiness that some venues impose.
The ruins of what was once one of the finest Tudor houses in Sussex, Slaugham Place. Like the previous venue, it’s down a hill and a stone’s throw from the A23 – but you wouldn’t know. Another blank canvas upon which to create a wedding day. An outdoor wedding ceremony venue, in the shadow of the ruins – although actually of very hot days, there is little shadow. You want sunshine but not too much heat, as there is no real escape from the sun. Even the big marquee gets warm. That said, this is made for summer weddings, with plenty of space for guests to roam around, explore the ruins and the moat, and enjoy a summer’s day. But it’s at its best in the evening, as the golden light dips behind the ruins. A unique Sussex wedding venue.
Who has not heard of Brighton’s India-inspired Royal Pavilion? A mystery of architecture to many a visitor to the Sussex seaside town. Built in the Indo-Saracenic style (now you know!) as a Royal Residence for the Prince Regent – when Brighton was a bit different to today. The famous domes and minarets were designed by John Nash, who also designed Buckingham Place and Marble Arch in London. Now one of Sussex’s main tourist attractions, you can still get married inside, before heading off to one of Brighton’s many hotels or bars. I’ve only shot smaller weddings, in the Red Drawing Room, but larger groups are catered for in the ornate Music Room. The latter is open to tourists during the day, but the drawing-room isn’t, so timings not so restricted. It comes with its own entrance and was, ‘a place where the King’s distinguished female guests would withdraw to following lavish dinners in the palace’s Banqueting Room‘.
Duncton Mill Fishery, a wedding location for wedding receptions by the lake. Situated just south of Petworth in West Sussex, nestled below the South Downs. Pitch a marquee or a big tipi from these guys, and enjoy a summer’s evening, admiring the sun setting behind the water. There is even the option for small boat trips around the lake. A summer’s wedding in the Sussex countryside – away from everything.
Location, location, location! That’s what they say. Let’s be honest, it’s the location that makes The Gallivant, just across the road from Camber Sands. The hotel itself isn’t massive but has oodles of charm. The ceremony room isn’t massive and drinks can end up being in the car park. But couples who choose this venue don’t care about these things. The attraction is the relaxed beach vibe, and at this particular beach, you have a wide expanse of sand – a rarity in Sussex. Much of the Sussex coast is shingle, so it’s no surprise that this location is so favoured by film crews not looking to trek too far from London. I’ve done commercial and editorial shoots on Camber Sands myself. So the wedding could spill into a picnic on the beach, a game of football or cricket or frisbee. But it also has the possibility of a stunning sky and sunset as a backdrop to any photographs.
Another set of flint walled barns, not as the name maybe suggests, in Essex, but just south of Chichester. How many guests thought they were heading to Essex when they first looked at their invite? This is a contained space, with a lawn and also a field next to the car park, where I once photographed a wedding game of rounders as the sun dipped below the horizon. One lethal bride with a baseball bat! Southend Barns has grown and grown, and now also has an outdoor wedding ceremony space alongside the Dairy Barn. Slickly run and a venue with lots of natural light – always a good thing. It also has massive car park, an often overlooked feature.
I’ll be frank, I’m not a massive fan of big hotel chain venues. Some can be very uninspiring but Buxted Park is one of the exceptions. It looks good, has plenty of space – an outdoor wedding works well here – and it is very well run. They also don’t, like some hotel venues, try to insist on posed pictures of the brid– on the stairs! Just down the drive is the thirteenth century Buxted church – all that remains of the old village, after a Victorian-era estate owner forced the villagers to move across the valley and away from the house and his view. It’s an easy walk from a wedding ceremony at the church or hold the ceremony outdoors on the lawns or in the Victorian Orangery. One of the best Sussex hotel wedding venues.
A grand East Sussex house that is not a hotel, but the family home of the Earl De La Warr. As such, I think they only hold a limited number of weddings. The wedding receptions, I should say, aren’t in the house but on the lawns. But then it’s the views you are after. The vast terrace looks across to the Ashdown Forest. With space for the biggest marquee you could want, it’s the space and the view that mark this wedding venue out. A wedding ceremony in a picturesque Sussex village church nearby, then get the guests onto a bus or into their cars and off to a relaxed reception on the Buckhurst lawns.
The Secret Barn
If you are looking for an ‘authentic’ barn and not a ‘full-on’ wedding venue, check out The Secret Barn in West Sussex. Down a small country lane, just below Chanctonbury Ring, on the South Downs. A simple barn with a farm courtyard – all ready for you to decorate with bunting and flowers, to create your personal rustic wedding day. A very intimate and personal space, with the emphasis on good food and drink, and hanging out with your friends. A very nice wedding reception venue on a warm summer’s day. Plus one that offers something different in not being too sanitized.
The Party Field
Okay, so you want a seriously blank canvas on which to host your wedding day? To create your own wedding venue? Then how about a field? Just a field...south of Lewes. Hire a tipi or two, a mobile bar, arrange some hay bales, get some games on-site, a band, and plenty of food and drink. Have some guests pitch tents around the edge of the field – cross your fingers for good weather – and you have a relaxed party…sorry, wedding day party. This is how to create a chilled wedding day, forgetting some of those so-called ‘traditions’. Have a ceremony on the edge of the field then enjoy the food and drink until the ‘last man standing’.
The seat of the Duke of Richmond, perched on the South Downs above Chichester. A curious mix of architectural styles, the House sits within an estate famous for events such as The Festival of Speed. A very smart stately home wedding venue, with plenty of outside space for guests to enjoy a pleasant summers day. There is even a hotel on the estate for everyone to stay in. They even provide butlers!
Get married in a medieval castle keep? Why Not? Downside? The number of steps up to the Keep. But what a view of this part of Sussex. The ceremony at the top, outdoors, surrounded by the ruined walls. Then drinks back down at the bottom of the castle motte, before heading off for the wedding reception elsewhere. Unique, picturesque and historic.
The walled garden at Cowdray
Adjacent to the Cowdray Ruins, on the outskirts of Midhurst. The ruins of one of England’s greatest Tudor houses, which burnt down in the late eighteenth-century. The walled gardens can hold outdoor wedding ceremonies or large wedding receptions. Dining within two attached rooms. A pleasant setting for a summer’s evening.