Anthea and Martin Busk host about six weddings a year at Houghton Lodge (www.houghtonlodge.co.uk), their 18th-century fishing lodge on the River Test just outside Stockbridge, Hampshire, which featured in the pages of Country Life in 1951, and on the cover three years ago.
The Busks, who have been renting their home and gardens for celebrations since 1985, charge wedding parties £3,000 to hire either the house or the garden £5,000 for both and pay £2,000 to their local authority for a three-year licence to hold civil ceremonies in the domed, circular music room taking up to 30 people, or in the dining room which seats 50 (75 standing). ‘We’ve accommodated 400 people for an Indian wedding in a large marquee on the lawn, which was covered with glints of gold and jewels that fell off their beautiful clothes,’ says Mrs Busk.
Mr Busk suggests you limit the number of weddings held on your property each year. ‘It cuts down disruption in your home and makes the weddings special, getting away from that hotel attitude where they hardly clear one away before the next arrives.’ He also advises letting the bridal party book its own marquee, catering and entertainment so that you play a background role as much as possible and ensure there’s plenty of parking. ‘We forbid cars parking at the house, with the exception of transport for the bride,’ explains Mr Busk, ‘but, recently, a bride’s father wanted to leave his car on the drive. As it was a beautiful 35-year-old Bentley, conservatively valued at £220,000, we said we were honoured.’
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Houghton, like many other venues, is marketed via a well-designed website, which is a must for anyone entering the business. It needn’t cost a fortune think hundreds rather than thousands of pounds but do ensure it details the key elements (location, prices, guest sizes) and is optimised for Google and other search engines with all the correct keywords (explanations on how to do this are found on the internet, but, as the algorithm changes frequently, be sure to find the most up-to-date advice). Furthermore, there are specialist websites where you can advertise, such as www.weddingvenues.com, which lists more than 4,000 hotels, castles and country houses, and www.findaweddingvenue.co.uk.
The small print
Saskia Arthur, partner at law firm Boodle Hatfield, says local authorities are drawing up criteria that premises will be required to meet before they’re granted a licence. This is likely to take into account situation, construction, state of repair and fire precautions.
‘If you’re buying a house that has already hosted weddings, your solicitor should ask whether there has been any attempt to revoke the wedding licence or whether the seller is aware of anything that may cause the licence to be revoked,’ advises Miss Arthur. Public liability insurance is vital in case someone is injured on the premises.
You also need to consider noise or other nuisances are there livestock or houses nearby that could be disturbed by fireworks or loud music? and check there are no covenants restricting the use of the property for anything other than private residence, counsels Katherine Haslam from solicitors Adams & Remers. ‘Also, be aware of potential discrimination. It is unlawful to refuse to hire your venue or provide services to gay or lesbian couples, for instance.’