James and Sophie’s ‘Intimate Secret Garden’ West Sussex Wedding by Murray Clarke Photography

Today is a very special day as my baby boy is 10!! not such a  baby boy any more I guess! I do love a birthday, so he has been properly spoilt, with the whole celebrations spreading over 3 weekends. He is off to school today, so I can’t wait to celebrate with him later on. Now though I have this rather gorgeous wedding of Sophie and James, who held a flower filled, secret garden wedding in West Sussex. They wanted an intimate day with 30 of their closest friends and family, which meant they could really go to town with the decor, creating a stunning instillation of flowers, bringing the outdoor garden into their stunning indoor venue. The whole day looks absolutely beautiful and has been captured perfectly by Murray Clarke Photography.

Our wedding day was the most joyful day filled with our closest friends and family in the such a beautiful setting. The day was filled with magical moments that we will never forget.

Sophie and James were married on 14th September at The Spread Eagle Hotel, Midhurst in West Sussex. ‘The Spread Eagle Hotel is a much beloved retreat for us as a couple. Prior to the wedding, we had spent many a family birthday celebration at the Hotel and Christmas Day with my late grandfather. When I was studying for my Masters’ we lived a short drive from Midhurst – a beautiful small town near Cowdray surrounded by English countryside. The Hotel itself is steeped in history, with parts of the hotel built in the early 15th century. Even Queen Elizabeth I stayed in the Queens Suite of the Hotel (our bridal suite!). The venue felt like the natural choice for us. Our wedding was set for September 2021, during the rollercoaster year of Covid restrictions. We had always wanted an intimate wedding, so thirty guests worked out perfectly during our wedding planning. The wedding planning took just under a year. Everything fell naturally into place after confirming the venue and we were fortunate to find fantastic suppliers in the West Sussex area. We produced our master document (aka our wedding bible) of the detailed scheduling and important details for the wedding venue, which Sarah Stacey from the Spread Eagle Hotel coordinated to perfection.’

How they met
This year we have been together for fifteen years, having met aged 16 learning first aid at a St John Ambulance cadet group. In a typically “high school romance” setting, we made it official at the summer camp disco!

The proposal
After being together for eleven years and living together for four years, in 2020 the pandemic struck. Due to James’ work in the Met Police, I moved in with my grandmother to help her whilst James continued his work. That period of separation underscored what was important to everyone. In August 2020, as restrictions began to lift, we celebrated our eleven year anniversary at Painshill Park where we used to visit as teenagers when we were first together. It was a beautiful sunny day and we trekked up to the gazebo on the top of the hill with incredible views of the park. The park was filled dragonflies when James got on one knee – I was completely shocked, it all felt incredibly surreal and we later celebrated with champagne in the park.

How did you allocate your budget?
Just after we got engaged, we sat in the park with a notebook and wrote a list of our non-negotiables for our wedding (flowers, family and photography were at the top of the list!).  We also listed elements of weddings that were not so important to us, such as a wedding car or a hired DJ. This process helped us define where to use our time and resources during the wedding planning. Finding that notebook again recently, we reflected we had stuck to our original list much better than expected!

Where did you splurge and where did you save?
As we were having a small wedding, we were able to allocate more budget to elevate the interior styling of the venue. I had the vision of transforming the Jacobean Hall into an intimate secret garden with an Italian courtyard garden feel (roses growing whimsically around the historic brick walls and trails of jasmine weaving through the table arrangements). We wanted to spend a suitable amount of money on fresh flowers as the main architecture of our wedding decoration. The photography and wedding invitations were also important to us as they become the pieces of artwork that can be forever treasured. Working in the arts, I valued the craftsmanship and creativity of the floral arrangements, photography and hand-illustrated wedding invitations. We did make all of the “on the day” wedding stationary ourselves, in addition to making the welcome bags and wedding favours ourselves too.

How did you choose your photographer?
We discovered Murray Clarke’s work when searching for photographers in West Sussex and we were both immediately enamoured by his incredible portfolio. Murray captures all the most joyful wedding moments with such colour and vivacity – even the rain shots were spectacular (which was worth preparing for with a September wedding). We loved Murray’s style of shooting both the quiet moments and the celebratory group shots.  It was the most fun working with Murray on our wedding day and we were so thrilled with how our wedding photographs turned out. There was one shot taken by the Midhurst duck pond which transforms the surrounding willow trees into an enchanted forest!

The dress
Ben and Adrian from Nortier and Shallow created my dress, which was the most magical process. I had seen their Prairie design online and fell in love with the classical shape and enchanting embroidered flowers. Every step of the process was joyful with Ben and Adrien. It was incredible to watch their craftsmanship as we added bespoke elements such as the sash and sewing a patch of my late grandfathers blue handkerchief into the inside of my dress. My veil was my “something borrowed” – my grandmother’s wedding veil. Ben and Adrien carefully restored the veil and added the tiny embroidered flowers from my dress to the veil too. I wore my trusted Russell and Bromley classic platform sandals and ivory antique earrings borrowed from my mother. Ben and Adrien recommended the wonderful and talented Samantha for hair and makeup, who performed magic with hair and makeup, setting any on the day nerves at bay.

The suit and bridesmaids
James’ wool green suit, waistcoat and shirt were all made bespoke by King and Allen. His silk tie was from Turnbull and Asser in Jermyn Street and he borrowed my late grandfather’s gold cufflinks for good luck. Nortier and Shallow also made my flower girl’s dress – the sweetest A-line ivory dress with little cap sleeves and a floral sash to correspond with my veil and dress.

Theme or colour scheme
Our colour scheme stemmed from our florals – forest green, blush, cream and sepia tones. We carried through the hues through most aspects of the wedding design, including wedding stationary and James’ forest green wool suit.

Sue from Bramble and Belle Florist was brilliant at taking my mood board and transforming it into reality – filling the walls, ceiling and entrance with flowers.  More was most certainly more in our approach to the flowers and we filled the venue with bud roses, blush foxgloves and natural foliage. Walking down the aisle, the flowers brought the surrounding nature of the countryside into the historic venue, and it smelled absolutely incredible! The next morning we made bunches of flowers for everyone to take home as a parting gift.

The flowers took centre stage for the venue decorations, but we also added some handmade touches throughout, such as our cushion wedding favours. Creative Spark supplied us with festoon lighting and lanterns to decorate the Jacobean Hall, and antique wooden chairs supplied by Co Hire, to continue the dreamy secret garden aesthetic.

It was important to us that nobody went hungry during the wedding, so upon guests arrival we provided sandwiches and Sussex Sparkling Wine. After the ceremony, we served canapés and more Sussex Sparkling. Our wedding breakfast consisted of smoked salmon for starters, roast lamb for main, followed by lemon posset for dessert. Later in the evening we had cheese and charcuterie platters to keep people well fed during the dancing!

Wedding cake
The wedding cake was provided by Cutter and Squidge, topped with flowers from our florist and surrounded by decorations crotched by James’ grandmother. We chose lemon, strawberries and cream, and chocolate for the three layers cake layers.

Our brilliant friend Ed played the piano as I walked down the aisle and he also did a fabulous job organising the music for the reception. After our ceremony, the three piece band, Hot Club Trio, played live jazz music in the garden as confetti was thrown and we all enjoyed the sunshine before the wedding breakfast.

Who supplied the stationery?
Aimee Willow Designs designed our save the dates and wedding invitations. After seeing her beautiful work online (and being a big stationary fan) I adored how she told such personal stories of the venue, the couple and the excitement of the wedding day through her illustrations. Sealed with golden wax, the save the dates and invitations are something I will treasure forever as they perfectly captured the spirit of the day,

Where did you go on your honeymoon?
After the wedding we travelled up to the Lake District for a short mini-moon which was delightful and a peaceful moment to reflect on all our favourite memories from our wedding day. A year later, we were able to enjoy our Scandinavian honeymoon, travelling to Trondheim, Oslo, Gothenburg, Copenhagen, Oland and Stockholm. It was such an exciting adventure and the ideal mixture of culture, beach escape and exploration.

Personal touches
My mother and I spent many a crafting weekend creating the welcome bags, orders of service, place cards, table plan and menus. We incorporated dried flowers, green silk ribbons and handmade paper to all elements of the ‘on the day’ stationary. I spent many an hour trying to perfect my calligraphy skills. For the wedding favours, each gift received a personalised cushion which were presented on each guests chair around the wedding breakfast table. I am fortunate enough to have an incredibly talented soft furnishings designer as my mother, who did a fabulous job with the cushions and helping to embroider all guests initials onto their individual handkerchiefs in their welcome bags.

Special moments 
Walking down the aisle to see James under the rose arch, surrounded by our closest friends and family, framed by beautiful sights and smells of the trailing roses and jasmine, was simply magical. The day was sprinkled with so much joy, from sparklers on the lawn, my grandma partaking in the conga, and taking in those first moments as a couple during our couple photoshoot in the Midhurst countryside.

Advice for other couples?
Defining how you both envisage the day to look before you begin the planning process is so important. Those initial thoughts will naturally develop as you view venues and begin to budget, but it’s important not to lose sight of your original priorities as a couple. This allowed us not to feel we compromised on any aspect of the wedding day. Compiling all my inspiration images of venues, floral arrangements and colour swatches into one mood board rather than a Pinterest board helped to refine my ideas and relay them to our suppliers.

Biggest surprise
The weather really did take us by surprise! After waking up to pouring rain, the sun emerged through the window just as we were taking our vows. The rest of the day was bright September sunshine and the countryside sparkled for us.


Supplier Shout Outs



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