Written by Bethany, PA to Luke Granger
As far as Maidstone wedding venues go, Chilston Park Hotel is a stunning choice and therefore we were overjoyed to be asked to photograph Jane & Mikes October 2020 Chilston Park wedding during the early stages of their wedding planning. Jane is a friend of mine and for me this was a key wedding day that I was excited to be a part of, little did I know how significant their wedding day would be this year.
As all our readers (and practically the whole world) will know, 2020 has been a testing year for everyone. With the government implementing tight socialising restrictions, many couples have chosen to postpone their original wedding dates in the hope that the Coronavirus outbreak will be over soon. However, throughout the year Jane & Mike have been so determined to say I do to each other that they weren't going to let a global pandemic get in the way. Despite adjusting the guest list 4 times and experiencing countless sleepless nights, on Wednesday 28th October 2020 the pair had a fantastic day getting married at Chilston Park. We were there to document all their precious memories and are pleased to be able to share some wedding photographs and memories with you today.
Autumn is by far my favourite time of year and Chilston Park Hotel in Maidstone makes a perfect Autumnal wedding venue. The traditional manor house hotel is set in extensive Kentish parkland with plenty of unique and luxury features, the iconic staircase is a fantastic spot for a wedding photographer and the luxurious setting is beautiful all year round.
At the time of Jane & Mikes wedding at Chilston Park, the government had implemented a 15 person limit for weddings. Thankfully the couple's close family unit is small and therefore having an intimate wedding was possible.
The perfect 15 were:
Jane, Mike & their adorable son Benjamin.
Parents of the Bride - Janice & Bill
Parents of the Groom - Sandra & Les
Jane's Sister Kate and her husband Anthony alongside their 2 girls Ava & Grace
Mikes Sister Helen and her husband Stuart alongside their daughter Alice
The Best Man, who is also called Mike.
One of the benefits of having a small, intimate wedding means that all the family were able to stay at Chilston Park the night beforehand. Both sets of parents have been supporting with childcare bubbles throughout the pandemic so keeping watch over the children was far easier having 4 extra pairs of hands around.
That said, the morning of the wedding seemed to fly by; the two Mikes finished getting ready together in the Evelyn Bedroom, Sandra & Janice wrestled a rather unsettled Ben into his outfit, whilst the lovely Hollie Rose Make Up Artist and Becky's Unique Creations worked their magic beautifying all the ladies in The Star Room.
Although my role at a wedding is primarily to assist Luke as the photographer, I always ensure I help wherever I can; zipping up Jane's dress, fastening buttonholes, carrying bags, making the children smile and generally moving things around, all helps keep the day going smoothly. In turn, that creates fantastic wedding photographs so its all part of the service of us as wedding photographers.
Once the whole wedding party was ready, it was time for Father of the Bride, Bill, to meet his little girl. Jane had already warned us that as a proud northerner he was unlikely to show any emotion but it appears seeing his little girl all grown up caused his heart of stone to melt just a little. Such a fantastic moment to capture between a daddy and his daughter.
The registrars spent a few moments with Jane and then it was time to make the journey to the aisle. Naturally, Chilston Park's staircase was a fantastic location to pose for photographs and I am sure you can agree, Jane makes a stunning bride. The scalloped detail on the sleeves of her French Connection wedding dress suit the classic decor of the wedding venue perfectly and the 5 bridesmaids each looked gorgeous in their blush pink dresses.
With autumnal views out to the grounds and the talented Leon String Quartet playing in the corner, The Orangery was a great choice of location for Jane & Mikes wedding ceremony. Soon enough Jane was making her grand entrance.
I will admit to getting a little teary as the pair met at the aisle, I'm an emotional person at the best of times but the build up to this wedding had been so intense that I really felt their love and determination. It wasn't long however until two special guests arrived to steal the glory away from the happy couple.
Maggie & Taco are a huge part of Jane & Mike's family so it felt natural to include them in their wedding day. With Best man Mike and Rumer from Hot Diggity Dog Walking Services supervising, the two pups were soon bounding, rather excitedly, down the aisle to their humans.
Soon enough the rings were exchanged and the wedding ceremony was sealed with a kiss. As the sisters did their part of signing as witnesses, Jane & Mike took the opportunity to wave hello to family and friends who had been watching at home via Zoom. Having a live stream feed is a fantastically modern solution to allowing loved ones to enjoy elements of a covid wedding. Some virtual guests had glammed up for the occasion and many were enjoying a celebratory drink to toast the happy couple from the safety of their homes.
Alongside following social distancing guidelines, face masks were also required for all adults during the ceremony with the exception of Jane, Mike & the registrars themselves. Guests were sat in family groups and although shortened to necessary wording only, it didn't feel as though the ceremony was rushed in anyway. Personally, I felt it was an ideal length, however it would have been nice to have been able to have the traditional shots of signing the register with the witnesses.
Luke's usual movement around the room was restricted slightly but he still had room to manoeuvre around a little. If you are planning a covid wedding, rest assured that everyone involved will do their best to make the day go smoothly, the Chilston Park team and the registrars were fantastically helpful throughout.
With rings securely on fingers, it was time for everyone to enjoy a glass of Prosecco and canapés in the private bar area whilst we whisked Jane & Mike to gather some photographs on Chilston Park's iconic staircase. The hotel was nice and quiet so the happy couple avoided wearing their masks and were able to enjoy the first moments of married life.
By the time we returned to the private bar area, Ava & Grace had dived straight into the candy cart. However, the celebrations were clearly all too much for the two youngest guests, as Ben & Alice both soon fell fast asleep. The afternoon drizzle had stopped so the rest of us made our way outside for some group photographs.
As you can see, Maggie and Taco enjoyed exploring the grounds of Chilston Park. As a dog friendly hotel, Chilston Park welcome guests to bring their pets along for overnight stays. There are plenty of spaces both inside and out that they can enjoy and supplies like beds and bowls can be added to rooms; such a cute idea.
With so many wedding venues now allowing dogs at weddings, many couples across the country are choosing to include their furry friends on their guest lists. None of us were sure how Maggie & Taco would behave but thankfully with a few treats as bribes, they sat still long enough to get the money shot before it was time for them to head home with Rumer.
The Autumnal red tree and the grand entrance of the hotel made fantastic locations for the newlyweds to pose and we took turns alternating the guests in their family groups. Note to self: check mischievous bridesmaids are not wearing candy necklaces during the wedding photos.
Whilst we had been exploring outside, Leon String Quartet had enjoyed a short lunch break and were poised ready to play to the guests during the traditional wedding breakfast. The Fitzhammond suite had been decorated beautifully, Jane's choice of lanterns, autumnal leaves and delicate candles were the perfect blend of natural elegance. Proof that although their wedding was small, it certainly included plenty of luxury.
Ben slept soundly during all 3 courses but woke up just in time for the speeches, despite wearing most of it he was very excited to eat his pizza and even joined in with some clapping.
Father of the Bride, Bill, made a heartwarming speech which of course made me a little teary. He spoke about how Jane had always been so determined but also thanked Mike's parents for supporting the couple which I found really touching. Jane moved from Hartlepool to Kent for university and chose to stay after she had graduated. Being so far away from her family has understandably been difficult at times, especially since having gorgeous Ben and juggling a career too. It was lovely to see both sets of parents come together and get on so well.
Mike took over the limelight next for his grooms speech where he proudly thanked his beautiful wife. Mike admitted to letting Jane plan everything and although he never expected she would have to plan multiple versions of their day, it was clear she had done a fantastic job. Who knew that a Tinder date 4 years ago would end so perfectly?
Lastly, Best Man Mike read his speech and what a fantastic Best Man's speech it was. I'm not sure the parents entirely approved of his "I thought you said you were going to Bangor for a week" line but I thought it was hilarious. Although he had the room laughing (mainly at Mikes expense), he had added in plenty of emotion and it was clear how much he values his friendship with Mike.
With everyone fed and speeches read, the children all enjoyed a little play as Jane & Mike took the opportunity to cut their wedding cake. Made by their friend Jo, the cake was decorated with delicate sugar flowers alongside a fun wedding themed lego set.
The cupcakes were a mixture of Victoria sponge with vanilla buttercream and red velvet and I can assure you they tasted delicious!
By now it was nearly 5pm so the sun was setting and the air had turned a little cooler. We seized the opportunity to all head back outside for some photographs together yet this time we had a few extra touches up our sleeves.
Two weeks ahead of the wedding, we had met with Jane & Mike to discuss their plans, at the time Jane was still not convinced the day would be going ahead but we were optimistic. Even with limited guest numbers, we were adamant we would help create some fantastic wedding day memories for them. We had mentioned adding smoke bombs and sparklers and that is exactly what we did.
As a Kent wedding photographer, Luke loves adding pyrotechnics to a wedding (or any photoshoot for that matter) so it's no surprise these wow shots are some of his favourites from Jane & Mikes wedding day at Chilston Park. After a short safety briefing, grenade pins were pulled and all I could hear from the other side of the smoke cloud was Jane giggling.
Our next activity was for everyone, except a very wriggly Ben who was obviously too small. Being whisked away from Mummy to hang out with me for 5 minutes was obviously not his idea of fun but we watched on as the pretty lights from the sparklers danced around and soon he was back in Jane's arms.
We weren't sure if it was the chilly autumn evening or the pull of a free bar, but the rest of the guests chose to return inside whilst Luke and I stayed with the Bride and groom for a little longer.
Pulling off a champagne shot is always hit and miss, there are so many factors to get just one successful photograph but they are a hell of a lot of fun to do. Having plenty of moments as a couple on your wedding day is really important as it can be so easy to get distracted by everything else that is going on. It was lovely that both Mike & Jane were enjoying themselves so much and I think its safe to say, this photo turned out amazing. Mike was spraying that champagne around as if he had won the Grand Prix, Jane was laughing more than I have ever heard before and Luke got a face full from behind the camera. All in a days work!
We headed back inside to the rest of the wedding party and enjoyed a drink as the happy couple mingled with their guests. The children had made a significant dent in the candy cart so Uncle Mike (who has a bit of a sweet tooth) needed to catch up and before long it was time for the first dance.
Covid wedding restrictions permit just one dance which must be between the Bride and Groom. Chilston Park had set up a mini dance floor in The Orangery, which was a lovely touch and the rest of the guests gathered round. Dancing to one of my favourite songs, The One by Kodaline, the new Mr & Mrs Collison swayed and swirled for their first dance as Husband & Wife. Although short but sweet, it was lovely to see them having such fun as their family looked on lovingly.
Soon after, individual plated buffets arrived and everyone tucked in to the lovely food. Ben was happily wrapping his grandparents around his little finger and the older children were having fun dancing, running and generally enjoying themselves. Throughout the day, all the children were so well behaved which added to the relaxed atmosphere of the wedding. Little Alice with her red hair and dainty features reminded me of a young Jessica and both Ava and Grace have such confident little personalities they had me cracking up at times.
With a 10pm curfew due, at around 8pm we headed back outside with Jane & Mike for one last time.
For us as wedding photographers, we aim to create a wide range of photographs for our couples; a mixture of posed shots, candid in the moment photos and photographs of fun moments, often including elements that have been directed.
Jane & Mike were perfect models, they didn't need much direction at all as their personalities and bond naturally came through to the camera.
With a moonlit walk through the trees complete, we then visited the outside gazebo ending up with some final fun on the giant swing. With just enough room for them both the squeeze on, they rocked back and forth before taking it in turns to push each other. After such an intense build up to the wedding, it was so lovely to see that all their stress had just melted away, this innocent moment signified the start of a new an exciting life together.
With a few last photographs inside, at 9:30pm we said our goodbyes to the family and Mr & Mrs Collison themselves. It was amazing to be part of such a special wedding at Chilston Park and as our only 2020 covid wedding, it was made even more significant. I am so proud of the sheer determination displayed by Jane & Mike, they are proof that even small weddings in the midst of a pandemic can be perfect.
As a wedding photographer, to be invited to any wedding is such an honour; couples choose us to preserve memories they haven't even made yet and that requires a hell of alot of trust. Jane and Mike (and their families) were a pleasure to work with throughout the whole process and we wish them a long and happy future together.
On behalf of the Bride and Groom we would like to thank all of the suppliers involved in making the day a success.
The wedding and events team at Chilston Park did a fantastic job ensuring that government guidelines were followed, whilst minimising the impact on Jane & Mikes covid wedding. Delivering a safe and special day was a priority to everyone involved; Guests had created bubbles in advance, masks were worn where needed and social distancing adhered to.
Just 3 days after Jane & Mikes Chilston Park wedding, the government announced a second national lockdown restricting weddings and social events from going head... Phew!