Amy in Andrea Hawkes Bridal for her Elegant Spring Wedding at Cowdray House

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On April 22nd, 2023, Amy and James’s wedding took place at Cowdray House in West Sussex, an occasion that was beautifully framed by the seasonal spring cherry blossoms and the venue’s breathtaking historic allure.

Being aware that so often, the decision making processes during wedding planning are lead by the bride, they very intentionally approached this aspect of planning together, as it was important to them that their day very much reflected their joint tastes and interests.

Whilst the groom and his groomsmen donned classic morning suits, Amy wore the most beautiful and elegant silk gown by Andrea Hawkes Bridal and accessorised with a veil by Luna Bea Bridal and an exquisitely hand-crafted headpiece by Hermione Harbutt – three British designers I’m so incredibly proud to recommend to you.

Photography by Paul and Nanda – enjoy!

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Groom in traditional morning suit looking lovingly in to his newlywed bride's eyes. She wears an Andrea Hawkes silk wedding dress.

Venue & Location

We got married at Cowdray House in Midhurst, West Sussex.  We both grew up locally and knew that we wanted a venue that was close to home. We looked around a lot of different options, but ultimately the decision was easy.

First and foremost, the house and grounds at Cowdray are stunning. We were so lucky that the cherry blossom avenue was in full bloom. It felt like something out of a fairy tale.  Plus we could accommodate most of our guests on site, which meant that we could party late into the night and also catch up with everyone over brunch the next day.

Finally, the team at Cowdray sealed the deal. They were so warm and organised that we felt confident entrusting them with our special day. 

We didn’t use an event planner, but Erin Overend from the Cowdray Team and Phern Latta from our caterers,  Jacaranda, were absolute angels. They ensured that the day went incredibly smoothly. 

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Cowdray House wedding venue in Midhurst, West Sussex.

Bridal Beauty & Accessories

I am so grateful to have found Gavin Harvie and Nadia Harper – also known as The Bridal Dream Team. They instantly put both me and my bridesmaids at ease, and the final result was exactly what I’d hoped for.  I was pretty indecisive about  whether to have my hair up or down, so Gavin designed a ‘two in one’ style. This meant I could take out the bottom half of my chignon for the evening party. And Nadia is probably the first and only make-up artists who has ever made me feel comfortable in my own skin. She’s a magician! 

I loved wearing a veil for the ceremony. I chose the ‘Aura’ tuille veil with a blusher from Luna Bea Bridal, which was very plain but had quite a lot of length and volume. I’d found the studio through Instagram and, much like with my wedding dress, it felt right to choose a female-owned studio where everything is made in the UK. 

Bride in red lipstick and silk pyjamas getting ready on the morning of her wedding. Bride sat smiling on a vintage chair reading a letter from her groom.

My shoes were white leather slingbacks from Hugo Boss. On the advice of the Andrea Hawkes team, I avoided any sparkly embellishments that could catch on my dress – and I honestly loved how simple they were. They were surprisingly comfortable and I’ve already worn them a few times since. 

About five years ago – long before  we got engaged (whoops!), I saved a picture of a Hermione Harbutt’s Wild Rose Tiara on Instagram. It had really stuck in my mind, so I went with my maid of honour to try it on at theKensington showroom. The freshwater pearls were a nice compliment to the silk satin wedding dress, and I then ‘borrowed’ my mum’s pearl stud earrings to match. 

 I wore my great-grandma’s wedding ring as my “something old’. I’ve worn it on my right hand pretty much every day since turning eighteen, so I would have felt very strange without it.

For my perfume, I wore my usual Chanel Coco Mademoiselle. I’ve worn it every day for the last decade and just wanted to smell like ‘me’.

White Hugo Boss slingback wedding shoes. Hermione Harbutt mother of pearl bridal headpiece.
Bride with red lipstick wearing an elegant & minimalist Andrea Hawkes Bridal silk wedding dress.

The Dress

My dress was bespoke by Andrea Hawkes, and I honestly can’t recommend their team more. 

I didn’t enjoy wedding dress shopping that much, as I was struggling to find a dress that felt like “me”. To be honest, I probably put a bit too much pressure on the experience.

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When I finally found Andrea Hawkes, they were so incredibly kind, patient and creative. The studio felt totally different to all the other wedding dress shops I had visited (in a good way!).

After trying on various options, the team suggested a new design that pulled together all my favourite elements of three different dresses. 

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We slowly refined everything over a series of fittings, and it was very heartwarming to meet all the different talented women that were responsible for bringing the vision to life. They clearly pour so much love and craftsmanship into everything they do.

The end result was more than I could have hoped for: a corseted bodice with a sweetheart neckline, angel sleeves and a full, flowing skirt. It fit like a glove and the silk satin shone in the spring sunshine. 

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The bridesmaids’ dresses were from ASOS and worked really well. We experimented a little with “mix and match”  styles, but ultimately they all preferred the same cut and sage green colour. The bridesmaids’ picked their own shoes and accessories, although we did get them new PJs to wear whilst we got ready. They looked gorgeous. 

The Groom

I kept things fairly traditional, going for a classic morning suit. My ushers and I paired this with a stone-coloured waistcoat and a forest green tie from Ted Baker, while we gave our Dads a bit more freedom to match their accessories to our Mums’ dresses. I had a couple of meaningful accessories; my cufflinks were a tenth anniversary gift from Amy, made of Amazonite to commemorate where we first got to know each other. I also wore a watch gifted to me by my parents for my twenty first birthday.

It was nice to make an occasion of choosing our outfits – with a special trip to the Neal and Palmer shop in Burlington arcade followed by dinner.

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The Ceremony

We hired Charlie Mappin to play the piano for the ceremony and then the drinks reception afterwards. He played the perfect blend of songs, effortlessly mixing classical, jazz and contemporary hits. It was particularly great when he played ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ as we signed the register, in acknowledgment of the wedding scene in the canonical RomCom, ‘Ella Enchanted’ (IYKYK!).

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Charlie played Tom Odell’s ‘Grow Old With Me’ as I walked down the aisle with my dad. We’ve seen him a few times in concert, and the sentiment was perfect for the occasion. James was surprisingly teary – which is very unlike him! 

We had an officiant called Cheryl from Sussex County Council. She was so warm and helped make everything feel very joyful. Our mums – both called Jane – acted as our witnesses.

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The readings were very important to us and took a lot of thought. We ended up with three. We chose Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116,  as it is such a classic. There’s something beautiful knowing the words have been spoken at lots of previous weddings, and that we were part of that tradition. 

For something a bit more light-hearted, we had a section from Dolly Alderton’s ‘Everything I know About Love’. It’s becoming increasingly popular at weddings for good reason!

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Finally, we chose a curve ball. James has a doctorate in Astrophysics, so we picked an excerpt of William Herschel’s research on binary stars. It’s about two stars orbiting each other forever, which is a gorgeously scientific metaphor for marriage. 

Our rings came from Rachel Boston. After working with her to create Amy’s engagement ring, there really wasn’t any other option! We both have plain gold bands, but designed with Rachel’s signature “knife edge” detail. 

We also arranged to have a secret engraving put on each others’ rings, which was only revealed when we looked together after the ceremony. 

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Photography & Videography

Choosing Paul and Nanda as our wedding photographers was easily one of the best decisions we made. 

The photos speak for themselves. We can’t quite believe how beautifully they captured all the details, as well as all the personalities of our guests! We’ll treasure every shot forever. Plus, their attention to detail was superb throughout.

Most importantly though, they were such a calm presence and made everything feel very natural. You spend so much time with your photographers over the course of the wedding, and we couldn’t have picked a more lovely couple to share the day with. 

We found our wonderful videographer, Ash, thanks to Love My Dress. We had seen another Cowdray wedding featured on the blog, which led us to Ash’s Instagram page. She was so wonderful that two different friends have since booked her for their weddings. Ash did a brilliant job with our wedding film.

A few family members shed a tear watching it back! And her sunny personality really made such a difference in helping us relax. Two different friends have since booked her for their weddings, which is the highest compliment. 

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How They Met

We met as teenagers, and had been together over eleven years by the time we got married. The romantic version of the story has us meeting in the Peruvian Amazon on a youth expedition with the British Exploring Society. In reality, we first locked eyes at a pre-expedition training weekend at the Drumhill Scout Camp in Derby.

We got engaged shortly before our tenth anniversary whilst on holiday in Madeira. James proposed at sunrise overlooking a peninsula at the edge of the island. It was so early in the morning that our families thought we’d had an accident when we rang to share the happy news. 

It was important that we did everything together. So much of the wedding planning process defaults to the Bride, but we really wanted it to be a reflection of our joint tastes and interests. 

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The Reception

For the reception, we had three long tables lined with taper candles and bud vases. The lights were steadily dimmed throughout the meal, meaning that pudding was served by candlelight.

Whilst we didn’t have a traditional top-table, we did sit together with our parents – giving us a chance to actually catch-up in the midst of all the activity!

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Lovely Karen from This Floral Life did all our flowers. We pretty much gave her free reign, as we implicitly trusted her expertise. 

Everything was locally grown and seasonal, with lots of ranunculus, peonies, sweetpeas, tulips and fresh foliage. We requested a colourful palette, with lots of reds, pinks and greens.

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We didn’t do wedding favours, but we did have fun deconstructing all the floristry for guests to take home after the event. It was nice that nothing went to waste, and we were sent so many photos over the next week of the flowers spread across the country!

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We did almost all the stationary ourselves using Canva and then It was all very simple and classic, and James did an amazing drawing of the venue that we subsequently used for our thank-you cards. 

All our catering was by Jacaranda, and they also sorted the evening bar. The food tasting had been the best bit about wedding planning, and everything was just as delicious on the day. 

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Highlights included a tomato tarte-tatin with torn burrata, roast chicken served with potato gratin, and a chocolate caramel torte served with griottines cherries, ice-cream and a hazelnut brittle. We served Madeira with desert, in reference to where we got engaged.  

After dinner, Jacaranda had set up a cocktail bar with Espresso Martinis, G&Ts, Margarita’s and a personalised cocktail devised by one of our best friends called ‘The Am Jam’.

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At midnight we did a round of tequila shots, and served late-night empanadas as a nod to our various South American adventures. 

We had a triple tier buttercream cake made by Butter & Cream – a Surrey based bakery who had made Amy’s birthday cakes as a teenager! It was the biggest cake they’d ever made, and it was delicious. 

Amy’s mum also made a boozy fruitcake that went down an absolute treat both on the night and with hungover guests the next day. 

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We do have to give a special mention to our photographers for crafting a pretty magical moment. After dinner, Paul and Nanda took us outside for portraits and  surprised us by playing our first dance song. It felt very surreal dancing under the cherry blossom at golden hour. 

Evening & Dancing

Electric Kicks are an absolutely superb wedding band. The dance floor was always packed, and they even provided 45-minutes of ‘bandeoke’ where guests could take a turn at the mic. There’s arguably too much footage from this part of the evening!

We were exceptionally lucky that a group of friends had secretly got in touch with the band to organise a surprise performance for us. They had re-written the lyrics of Taylor Swift’s Love Story to be about our relationship, which was hilarious. The lyrics are now framed and hanging in our hallway. 

Our first official date was at a Snow Patrol concert in 2012, and our favourite song as a couple has always been a track called ‘Lifening’. The lyrics include the refrain “this is all I’ve ever wanted from life”, so it was always going to be our first dance song. Lots of our friends have been taking dance lessons in preparation for their first dance. We just made it up on the spot! And whilst that worked out in the end, it might have been fun to learn a few new moves ahead of time.

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I knew I wanted to be able to properly let loose later in the evening, without fear of trashing my beautiful train. So I  swapped into a sparkly party dress and fresh white trainers about an hour after our first dance.

I was a bit sad to take off my wedding gown, but ultimately my second dress gave me more freedom to bounce around the dancefloor. 

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Firebird did an expert job of providing a sound system, uplighters and dancefloor. Plus their sound engineer queued up the music for our “entrance” into dinner – the theme tune to Test Match Special. 

A shout-out to the best men for redecorating our car ahead of our “going away”. All our slightly worse-for-wear guests had assembled to wave goodbye, and it was only at the last-minute we realised the car had been decked out with tin cans, banners and balloons. What could have been quite a sad moment – the “end” of the celebrations – turned into a really heartwarming and funny way to round things off. 

Words of Wedded Wisdom

We did our best to stick together as a couple – and scheduled a few quiet moments (for example, immediately after the ceremony) where we would be able to actually chat and reflect on everything that was happening. 

Speaking of schedules, we’d recommend creating a concise  and precise list of the formal family/friend portraits you want to take on the day. We literally printed this list – including the order they would be taken – and the two best men were in charge of corralling the relevant people. All in all, we were done in about fifteen minutes!

Lastly, our most popular planning decision was a late-night snack hamper. This featured everything from Twixes and Hula Hoops through to Haribo and Monster Munch. Not particularly elegant, but the perfect after-party fuel. The crowd went wild.

We often visited Love My Dress for inspiration! It was a great way to see how different couples approached the day. We particularly enjoyed reading about other weddings that had taken place at our venue, as it was a great way to see how the space could be used to full effect.

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Annabel View all Annabel's articles

Founder of Love My Dress. Passionate Podcaster and Editor. Annabel lives in rural North Yorkshire with her husband and business partner Philip, their two daughters and menagerie of furry hounds. She loves photography, meditation, walking, being outdoors and star gazing. She is fierce when it comes to championing talent within the wedding industry and when she's not working on Love My Dress, she supports her husband Philip in the running of the family's sustainable flower farm and floral design business, Moonwind Flowers. In 2013, she became a published author.