Back in September, when weddings could go ahead with 30 people, we had the pleasure of hosting Alexandra & Liam’s special day at The Historic Dockyard, with an intimate, ceremony-only wedding on HMS Gannet.
We asked Alex if she would mind sending us a few words about her wedding day and were really touched to receive such a beautiful response, proving that despite all the challenges COVID threw at them, they were still able to have the day of their dreams.
For any brides keeping their fingers crossed for rules to be relaxed next year, we hope you find comfort in Alex’s words and realise that you can still have your magical day…
Alex, Bride, September 2020:
“When we got engaged in Ireland in 2017, we’d just bought a house together, celebrated my 30th birthday (I STILL can’t come to terms with the idea of not being in my twenties anymore!), and adopted a puppy. With all that going on, we dared to think that planning a wedding might actually be fun and easy. Cue COVID-19!
We had a look around The Historic Dockyard Chatham in October 2019 and loved it.
We hadn’t thought about using it as a venue before purely because it was right on our doorstep, and we’d imagined ourselves saying “I do” in some sort of manor house, deep in the Kent countryside. If anything, we thought we would stop by the dockyard in passing, just to rule it out!
When we did look around, however, we were blown away by the period beauty of Commissioner’s House, the well kept – almost secret – gardens, and the wonderfully fun novelty of exchanging vows on HMS Gannet.
All that, plus how instantly put at ease we were by the wedding planner, Chloe, made securing the date of 12th September 2020 an easy decision.
Of all the venues we’d looked at, the relaxed and easy-going nature of the way things are run at the dockyard, while they also try to accommodate your every whim, made the process a lot less stressful than it might have been. This feeling continued as January 2020 rolled around, and news of a virus in Asia started to make headlines over here. We naively assumed it would be nothing to worry about and, even if there were a few cases in the UK, there’d be no way it wouldn’t be sorted before September!
How wrong we were!
As the threat became more serious, we put off sending our invitations (though the ‘save the dates’ had long since gone out!) and I ended up putting most things on hold – decorations, rings, my dress appointments, flowers, catering – as it looked increasingly uncertain that we would get married at all, let alone have everything the way we wanted it.
By August 2020, we’d become quite despondent and everything had ground to a halt.
Liam and I sat down one weekend and realised we had to make a decision: to plough ahead and compromise where necessary, or to postpone our wedding indefinitely, until the pandemic was finally dealt with. It was then that we decided to contact the Dockyard and the registrar. The registrar was happy to go ahead, providing we stuck to the government’s guidance.
Olivia at the Dockyard was instrumental in making us realise that, despite everything, we could still go ahead and get married on the day we’d chosen nearly three years before.
After that, it was all systems go. I ordered my bridesmaids’ dresses online, booked a dress fitting for myself, and managed to secure my lovely hair and makeup ladies, while Liam sorted out suits, the rings and the wedding car.
I must say that we also had an enormous amount of help from our friends and family; without whom we almost certainly couldn’t have pulled it all off in what was, in the end, essentially just three weeks! We even managed to squeeze in a socially distanced stag and hen party before the big day.
It was bittersweet only being allowed 30 attendees, including ourselves, as it felt so unfair having to pick and choose the family and friends we could have there to celebrate with us.
Thankfully, our friends and family are absolutely amazing, and completely understood our predicament.
So, on Saturday 12th September 2020, my bridal party and I got ready in Commissioner’s House while a few of the Dockyard staff and some of my friends got busy decorating HMS Gannet with flowers, bunting and tulle.
Liam and his groomsmen got ready at his parents’ house in Cliffe Woods. Our lovely photographers (who also happen to be family members!) documented us getting ready – including the gorgeously greasy McDonald’s breakfast I’d requested! – and I felt like I was in a whirlwind of champagne, fake eyelashes, and clothes strewn around the ornate, 18th century, panelled rooms.
From the first floor of Commissioner’s House, where we were getting ready, I felt butterflies as I could see my guests arriving. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and couldn’t have been better. I remember thinking at the time that worrying about the pandemic had, at least, taken my mind off of worrying about the weather!
My florist friend, Garry, brought our beautiful bouquets up to us, and we had some photos taken on the balcony. Gradually, everyone made their way to HMS Gannet, while my dad and I were driven the short distance in the bridal car.
I felt butterflies again as I heard my entrance music playing, and walked up the gangplank on my dad’s arm.
Despite only being allowed 30 people, the guests’ chairs had been arranged in such a way that, even with social distancing, the deck looked full.
Both Liam and I beamed with pride and excitement as we, at last, had our beautiful ceremony.
Since wedding catering wasn’t allowed at that time, but restaurants were still allowed to open, we all then had a few photos and went for a meal in Rochester, where we were even able to have a few short speeches and cut our wedding cake.
As yet, we still haven’t technically had our first dance as a married couple (dancing around the kitchen while redecorating doesn’t count, apparently), so we’ve provisionally booked the Dockyard for same date next year – our first anniversary! – so that we can hopefully do it all again with those friends and family members who missed out the first time.
They say that your wedding day goes by in a flash, and it does, so we feel lucky in a way that we get to experience it all twice, and we can’t wait. I think my mum, who paid for my wedding dress, is also quite pleased that the dress will get a second outing!
All in all, it wasn’t the wedding we’d dreamt of, but, all things considered, it definitely ended up being the wedding of our dreams.”