Weddings and Events

How This Section Works

Over the years I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve also been getting dozens of people asking me about things to do with celebrating. Mainly, I’ll grant you, people with weddings to organise – they usually need somewhere that’s quirky and original and that won’t break the bank – just like everyone else, but occasionally I get the odd ‘money-no-object-I-just-want-it-to-be-fabulous’ question.

Then there are the people who want to arrange a birthday party or a quiet dinner.

Now I’m no expert in this field – believe me, wedding planning pays better than haunting, but I do keep an eye out – and occasionally I even put my phantasmagorical thinking cap on.

For restaurants and pubs, may I suggest you peruse my “Eating Out” and “Drinking” sections. But for now, here are going to be a few thoughts I’ve had on wedding/party/celebration venues and services.

Don’t worry. This is not going to be paid-for advertising (save the little Adsense ads which I have no choice-control over.) And most (read “pretty much all”) of it I won’t have tried myself. It’s an unscientific, brainstormed section – funky ideas I’ve had, thoughts and suggestions for local (Greenwich or nearish) places and things that I think might be good. Like a sort of interactive FAQ.

I’ll be updating this as I think of new stuff. From time to time people will send me thoughts. I’ll try to include them – but this follows my usual caveat – my blog, my choice. Everything is included at my own whim…

Happy celebrating.


Henrietta and new hubby…

You know, this has to be my most frequently asked of all frequently-asked questions. People love Greenwich and want to be married in such a beautiful location but they either get mesmerised by the choice or horrified by the cost (or both…)

So here are a few thoughts I’ve had – I’ll try to give you links where I can, but virtually none of this is properly researched – I’m a blogger, not a wedding-planner. It’s a few ideas to set you in the right direction.

Wedding Basics

Whatever else, you need to get it all done officially. You need to give notice of your intentions and sort out a proper way to go about it formally.

I could just do a cut-and-paste job of Greenwich Council’s dedicated registry page but it seems like reinventing the wheel – find a list of places that are licensed for civil partnerships and weddings here.

And before you completely dismiss the idea of a registry office, take Henrietta Bergman-Janes’s experience to heart – she LOVED Woolwich Town Hall’s sweeping staircase and stained glass window. Even if the registrar was so horrid she made her cry and the loos were awful, she still reckons it’s a fantastic place to get hitched.If you don’t believe me, here’s the proof:

If you want to do the church-thing, then it becomes a little more complicated. All kinds of requirements are generally needed, or so I gather. I don’t think going to church for a couple of weeks will cut it. But talk with the vicar. Whatever happens, I understand they all do nice cups of tea…

The prettiest churches in Greenwich are:

St Alfeges – a fabulous Hawksmoor building right in the centre of town. You need to live within the parish boundaries or at least be a regular worshipper there, but sometimes things can be worked out. They usually like you to talk to them on a Saturday morning but check out the website by clicking the name above.

Old Royal Naval College Chapel. I actually went to a wedding in this gorgeous chapel, but I know it was a special dispensation-job. I have no idea what the usual requirements are but you could try talking to the chaplain

Our Lady Star of the Sea (RC) A glorious 1851 Pugin affair up Crooms Hill. No website but the phone number’s 020 8858 0662.
All Saints, Blackheath has similar requirements to St Alfeges.

Weddings – Glamorous but Scary

Right at the scary top, we’re looking at the big venues. The Old Royal Naval College must be one of the most sought-after venues in Greenwich, and there’s no denying that the Painted Hall is pretty grand. Sadly for many, so is the cost, though if you have huge numbers to cater for and a big budget, this could be your blow-out of choice. The Queen Mary Antechamber isn’t much smaller, and nor is the cost.

The King William Restaurant is smaller in size and has attractive arched ceilings. It’s immediately below the Painted Hall, and although it’s effectively underground its white-painted walls and high windows make it light and airy.

The Admiral’s House is smallest of all – an intimate room with a large wooden table and grand paintings.

The ORNC is licenced for civil weddings, but it does seem to come with one caveat as far as I can see. They insist, I am led to believe, that the catering is done by their in-house caters, Leiths. (I am sure they’ll put me right if I’m wrong…) I have eaten at the King William restaurant and have found the food to be serviceable but not exciting.

My next biggie is Ranger’s House on the very edge of Greenwich Park and Blackheath. An extraordinary building, I’ve seen it all dolled up for an event and it was something else. Administered by English Heritage, don’t expect much change out of four grand – though just a ceremony and a few drinks is half price as long as you don’t take too long.

Another HUGE hitter, still in the borough but not in the town, is the exquisite Eltham Palace. It’s extremely popular – I will never forget the day I turned up to view the tapestries on a Saturday and got very rudely turned away by a dreadful horsey woman. She put me off for years, but when I finally plucked up courage to go again, I realised that it is a beautiful venue. Also organised by EH, take a deep breath and be prepared to stump up up to six thousand quid. But oh, what a night…

Still on the terrifying side, The Trafalgar Tavern has been a wedding venue for a couple of centuries now – it was even used by Dickens characters in Our Mutual Friend. And it is beautiful. The ballroom upstairs is exhilarating and the view over the Thames from the bowed balconies is fabulous. A great venue for a Regency-Themed wedding. Sadly the little bar that was done out like a ship has now been obliterated with a ‘makeover.’ There’s a downstairs “Trafalgar Club” but I’ve never seen it. Again, you’re not talking cheap. They’re not owning up to how much – you have to call to find out, which I always find suspicious.

The swanky venues don’t stop there, though. The Queen’s House is yet another breathtaking venue – and a film star in its own right. Look to be spending in the region of £1,100-7,000 – I couldn’t tell whether this includes the slightly alarming-looking “personal co-coordinator”. It looks amazing, but I wonder whether with their “approved list of suppliers” and other rules and regs it might be a rather stifling experience. One thing’s for certain though – it would be an event not to be forgotten. I’ve been unable to find out whether the glorious Octagon Room at the Old Royal Observatory is available. I suspect not, because of the problems with keeping the park open after hours. It involves tiny trains and guests being counted – such a hassle.

The Cutty Sark is out of action just now – but when that comes back – probably in 2010, it should be an incredible space. I don’t know if they’re taking tentative enquiries yet. I went to a wedding there before it closed and it was fantastic. A word to the wise. If you’re of the traditional-jazz-persuasion, do not be tempted to book a peripatetic marching band with sousaphone below decks…

Moving on, Devonport House is another central Greenwich venue. I confess I know practically nothing about it. And after visiting the website, I don’t know much more. It doesn’t give you any idea of anything – it all looks a bit – well, corporate to me. They too, threaten the dreaded “coordinator” and force you to fill in an enquiry form, reminding you which bits are “mandatory” – am I the only person who just wants to scrap an online form that’s so rude?

Charlton House is beginning to sound a bit more like it. It’s local-authority-run, with whatever connotations that brings with it, but it is a lovely, 400 year-old mansion with several good rooms of different sizes. Expect to pay between £700 and just under £2000 – though Good News, GreenwichCard holders – you can get 5% off! A note of caution – I have heard that the kitchens are some way from potential dining spaces, so there is a risk that food can go cold on the journey…

Just out of the area, smaller, but perfectly-formed, Danson House is an exquisite Palladian dolls house of a venue. Gorgeous, taking up to 60 guests and, I believe, licensed for civil ceremonies, it’s administered by the Bexley Heritage Trust.

As is the glorious medieval Hall Place in Bexleyheath, which is also licensed for civil ceremonies, but is v. popular so might be rather full.

My final pick of the truly frightening, but a much smaller choice – more like having a reception in a jewel box than a palace, is The Fan Museum at the bottom of Crooms Hill. You can either have a tiny reception in the exquisite orangery – or spill over into a marquee, which for my money sounds a bit less exciting – after all it’s the whole dinkiness of their fabulous garden you’re after and let’s face it – a tent is a tent. They’re not owning up to any prices either.

I’ll be discussing more options – from the quirky to the downright penny-pinching below…

Weddings – Pub Venues

Practically every pub will give you a price for hiring it out for a wedding – some are worth it, others aren’t. This isn’t going to be exhaustive; just a few places I like that could be a starting point for you.

The Vanbrugh A pleasant local pub outside the centre of Greenwich – but virtually next door to Maze Hill station. They cater for private functions (no prices easily available…)
Their website takes ages to load and is dogged with music and no way of turning it off, but it’s stylish and tells you more or less what you need.

The Plume of Feathers is one of my favourites. Again, not quite in the centre, it’s a pretty place and the food’s good. They’re not admitting to holding events on their website but I went in there for a meal the other day and it was very clearly set up for a buffet.

The Trafalgar Tavern is the only Greenwich pub I know of that’s also licensed to hold civil ceremonies (at least I think it’s licensed!)It’s massive, gorgeous, grand and glorious – and it knows it. You will need deep pockets and long arms to hire this place – but the photos will look great. Check the website for more.

The Cutty Sark is definitely a little on the scruffy side, but it’s friendly, old and has a view to die for. I cannot find whether they do event hire and I can’t find a website either.

The Guildford Does lovely, lovely food, and has a proper beer garden – with plants and trees and lights. They can supply a marquee if necessary. Like all the others, no prices advertised on the website.

I’ve never seen the upstairs function room at The Spanish Galleon but it may well be worth a peek when you’re searching out a venue. It’s bang in the middle of Greenwich and very close to the DLR. Check out the frankly unexciting website for contact details.

More will be added if I think of them, but I won’t put every single pub that has a function room down.

Weddings – Realistic

Let’s face it – we don’t all have tens of thousands to splash out on the Queen’s House, fireworks and a slap-up for 300 of our closest friends. So here are some nice local venues that shouldn’t break the bank too much…
Can’t afford Eltham Palace but still want a spot of Tudor splendour? Try the Tudor Barn (above) just down the road in Well Hall Pleasaunce. Surrounded by a medieval moat, with cute bridge, in colourful gardens, this will make good backgrounds for the pictures too. The barn has been very nicely restored to a restaurant and bar and the upstairs gallery is available for hire for weddings from £99.00 per person, and though it looks like you still have to have the ubiquitous wedding co-ordinator, at least that’s involved in the price. The website is here

The Forum on Trafalgar Road is the pretty bit of what used to be Christ Church (the church itself is in the modern building next door these days.) There are two big rooms for hire: Caledonian Hall, which is fully licensed and takes up to 150 seated guests and Lovell Hall which takes 120 but isn’t licensed. You have to arrange your own catering with Lovell Hall; I can’t work out whether it’s obligatory or just a possibility to use the centre’s own caterers in Caledonian Hall. Once again no prices, but I’m guessing not nearly as bad as the big hitters above. The halls are a little plain but with a little imagination and energy…

The Novotel next door to Greenwich Station isn’t the most exciting of venues, but I suspect that their events are solid and serviceable. They don’t mention weddings specifically, but the do have meeting and ‘banqueting’ rooms.

For larger numbers, especially for cosy winter weddings, I am particularly taken with the extensive cellar at Davy’s Wine Vaults. See my feature about it here.

The Trafalgar Rowing Centre on the Thames is currently closed for refurbishment BUT is reopening Autumn 2008 and is taking bookings from September onwards. They will be newly tarted up, have a bar, space and a view to die for…

Mycenae House in Westcombe Park isn’t at its best just now with next-door Woodlands under scaffolding, but their rates are not bad at all – between £350 and £600 for a whole day’s hire.

I personally find The Clarendon Hotel a little tired around the edges but it is a hugely popular wedding venue on the edge of Blackheath, with several large rooms, a licence for ceremonies and a view of the heath that’s really rather good.

Still in Blackheath, the Blackheath Halls have a couple of rooms – one enormous; the other much more intimate.

The Hangar Arts Trust in Woolwich have been undergoing work recently and I’m not totally sure how far they’ve got with it, but they do hire the place out. Sadly the official YouTube video a lovely Woolwich-based reader sent me recently doesn’t do the space any favours at all; I suspect it’s ome of those places that can’t (and therefore shouldn’t) be captured on camera. They should make people come and see it for themselves…

GreenwichWest Community Centre on Greenwich High Road has a large (and from the pic – to my shame I’ve never been inside) grand-looking hall. No prices as per usual.

I’ll be adding to this section as stuff occurs to me. Let me know if you come up with a fab idea!

Weddings – Wacky

Mad about football? Of more specifically, mad about Charlton Athletic? You can have your wedding ceremony and reception there if that’s what gives you a kick. Only click on the link they give you if you don’t mind an extremely annoying PDF-a-like brochure that jumps around on the screen. It won’t even come up as a hyperlink for me which is why all I can do is tell you to go to the general hospitality webpage and navigate from there…

A glorious meander aboard the Silver Fleet is the top-end of the Thames Cruise market. I’ve been to a do on board the Silver Sturgeon and it was very swanky indeed. Or for a cheaper option, try chartering a Thames Clipper The fleet’s just been upgraded and the boats are really rather nice.

Olivers Not a first choice, perhaps, for a wedding reception. But if you wanted a seedy, sensual, jazzy alternative party, you’d be hard pressed to find somewhere better. Olivier is notoriously difficult to pin down but if you’re after a fabulous authentic jazz-bar feel, this is your place.

According to the council website, Firepower at the Woolwich Arsenal seems to be licensed to perform ceremonies, but I can find nothing about it on their website. However they do corporate event hire, so it’s worth an ask.

I’ll be adding to this section as I think of ideas – but don’t be shy – if you come up with something wacky for me, let me know…

Weddings – Cheapskate

True love knows no bounds – and just because you’re strapped for cash doesn’t mean that you want a rubbish wedding. So I’ve been trying to come up with ideas that cost as little as possible.

There’s a few things you HAVE to pay for – you’re not going to get out of registry office fees etc – but you don’t have to pay out a fortune on swanky venues – you just have to be a bit lateral in your thinking.

I have several friends who are pagans – and it was their choice to have a hand-fasting in the open air – but it also occurs to me that it was sincere, beautiful and sweet – and why should wiccans have all the fun? I’ve been to a couple now – one at the stone circle in Hilly Fields Park in Lewisham, another in a wood at the top of a neolithic fort in Hampshire – you may like to remember that Maryon Park and Gilberts Pit in Charlton have ancient connotations – or you might fancy Oxleas Wood – one of the most ancient woodlands in London?

I’d steer clear of parks like Greenwich as they have rules and regs* – and if you’re doing the pagan thing, I’d also remember you can’t close it off – so you will have small boys on bicycles watching with intense curiosity. Nothing to stop you decorating trees or having lovely cakes, rituals, formalities, whatever – just hold off on the sky-clad bit, eh…

If that’s all a bit hippy for you, then don’t discount the upstairs rooms at pubs. Many charge, from silly prices to actually very reasonable. And some will even be glad to rent it out to you free of charge if you can guarantee a bar-taking (let’s face it – it’s a wedding – everyone will be buying drinks.) I’m not sure whether any in Greenwich will, but if you do a ring-round and still have no luck, then try the Square Mile – many pubs in the City have such poor takings at weekends, they’re only too delighted to let you have a room. Penderel’s Oak, The Citie of Yorke and The Centre Page are just three I or one of my pals have held parties in. Of these I like best the Citie of Yorke, though the Centre Page is close to the river, so you could arrive by river bus. The Phantom Webmaster reckons that the ‘price’ that Penderel’s Oak charges (or a disguised minimum-spend, perhaps) amounted to a minimum of 75 people so get your mates along.

Some other friends of mine who had a zero budget for their wedding couldn’t afford a special car to take them from the registry office to the reception, so they found a white London taxi cab and just called him – it cost them the price of – well – of a cab, actually.

I’ll be adding to this post as I come up with skinflint ideas for Greenwich weddings on the dirt-cheap. In the meanwhile – let me know if you come up with good stuff others could use…

* having said that I have just read Transpontine’s account of just such a wedding in Greenwich Park. Rock on…

Birthday Parties, Anniversaries, etc.

Do take a glance through the wedding venues I’ve suggested – many of the rooms, especially the pubs, would work well for parties.

The Spread Eagle Has two private dining rooms – seating 12 and 14 people respectively. They look sumptuous. I have no idea how much they charge – you’ll just have to call the mysterious Lesley to find out. Their website is here. One for a very special occasion and small numbers.

How about hiring Greenwich Picture House for a birthday screening of your fave film? The screening room isn’t as lovely as it once was, but it’s still intimate and there’s a little private bar in there. I get the feeling you have to use their chosen caterers.

Money no object? Try using the VIP package at the Vanbrugh who have bought a private box at the O2 and do humongously expensive all-in packages to see all the big acts. You’ll get no change out of at least £250 per person – but if you just have to see Kylie…

And, from really-rather-reasonable to the-sky’s-the-limit you could choose a personalised wine tasting from Theatre of Wine. Anyone who’s ever been to one of the Thursday night Bacchanalias only has to imagine what they’d come up with if they were asked to create a tasing just for you…

I’m not a massive fan of Bar du Musee after having poor-to-no-service on my past couple of visits, but they do have lots of space if you want to invite lots of people for a sit-down, or if you prefer to hire your own space, downstairs takes 30 people and can be privately hired. Once again, talk to the mysterious Lesley.

I’ll be adding to this every time I think of a good thing to do – do email me with suggestions!

Children’s Birthday Parties

This frankly isn’t my area at all, but one or two places leap out at me. Firstly the Secret Garden Wildlife Centre is a great venue for children’s birthday parties in Greenwich Park – and, as such things go, not horrific in price.

Several restaurants do children’s parties, or you might try a screening at the Picturehouse.

Mycenae House in Westcombe Park isn’t at its best just now with next-door Woodlands under scaffolding, but their rates are not bad at all. The basement hall is painted bight kiddie colours.

I will be doing more work on this section – in the meanwhile, do let me know of any fab kid’s celebration ideas, eh!