Devonport House was like Ye Olde English Pubbe in Heathrow Terminal 4. Fake. Superficial. Devoid of any unique features or character. I hated it from the moment I stepped in the door. They had two rooms and a bar available for large events, and while one of them was merely soulless, the other had the ambiance of a Denny's--the sort of place that you know if you tried to decorate it, it would just look even more soul-crushing. The meeting coordinator asked me if I had any questions, and I had a hard time thinking of anything aside from "where is the nearest exit?" Curse my politeness. Any further details and you'd surely run away. Moving swiftly on . . .
The first house I visited yesterday was a beautiful, amazing structure called Hall Place. Out about ten minutes away from Eltham, it a 16th century manor house, with a 17th century manor house stuck to it, surrounded by several acres of gardens and parkland. The duckling-covered River Cray cuts through this, and structures (including a wisteria-covered bridge) cross it at several points.
|Great Hall at Hall Place. If I had a room like this in my house, I'd name the house after it too.|
They offer their Great Hall, which is part of the 1537 build, as well as the adjoining Tudor Kitchen for parties and drinks receptions, plus access to the private courtyard (with a lovely knot garden), the minstrels gallery, and (in case of inclement weather) their upstairs Long Gallery which overlooks the Topiary Garden (which boasts a delightful collection of Heraldic Squirrels, as well as abstract pieces).
|Tudor Kitchen, which sticks off the Great Hall like an L.|
The venue boasts plenty of parking, as well as a greenhouse and café which are open to the public. As a gesture of formality, they open the main gates to the house (usually closed, and you have to enter via the public access point by the greenhouses) for cabs and limos and the like to drop the wedding party (and any handicapped guests) at the front door.
|Long Gallery upstairs. The caterers would bring up sit-able chairs.|
The place is gorgeous, that's a given. And everything is ready and right there. The Great Hall is absolutely fabulous. The (substantial) hire fee includes paying a few staff members of the house to wrangle tourists, who would still have access to other areas of the house, as well as the informal areas of the grounds.
A couple of problems I have with it, though: you have to use their on-site catering. Now granted, they appear to be fine, and they know the place well and are prepared to set up for it. That is their only vendor requirement, but it is a big one--the building controls the food and drink, so the selections of meals and beverages are rather specific. They do have some lovely vegetarian options and can offer a buffet instead of table-service, but the booze is the big thing. Boy and I aren't big wine drinkers, and the beers we like tend to be funny little micro-brews and local companies. I enjoy port and Boy doesn't mind it, but Champagne gives me an insta-headache and makes Boy want to run screaming from the room. I will of course offer wine to those who want it, but when it comes to ceremonial boozing, there are certain things we want that I don't think a caterer could offer.
Also, while it would be very difficult to take a bad picture in the whole setup, the bookings for this place are through the roof, which makes me feel like all of our photos would be...canned. As neat as it could be to take bride and groom photos nestled amongst the topiary chess pieces, they already have two other couples on their brochure doing just that. Lamezors. Their midweek rates included a full-operation package: ceremony, interval drinks, table set-up, meal, interval drinks, table clear-away, dj, cash bar, dancing, get out. Boring. You don't have to take the dj, but you do have to pay for him to not show up. Ew.
It is a perfect venue for a fairy-tale wedding. But I don't particularly want a fairy-tale wedding--if nothing else, weddings in fairy-tales are usually mentioned in passing right at the end. Before that there's ogres and witches and wolves and starving German children in cages. Eeeek!
The facility is a community centre first and foremost, but there's not a whole lot on the books so they're flexible. The site manager, a lady named Cathy who I absolutely adored, explained that the centre has had their budget slashed and the building has not received the sort of upkeep and updating it deserves for a number of reasons (mainly the people who've been running it are in their 90's and think the Internet is a fad), but they are trying. And as of tomorrow the library floor will be sanded and re-finished.
The beautiful back room has a potential hitch, but avoidable if we are in touch with them early enough: it is used during term-time as a day care, and as per Ofsted regulations it must be decorated in bright colours so as to designate it a children's place. Now, I'm planning the events for around Easter, primarily because a significant number of my Boy's family and our friends will be off work because they're teachers (so they'll be available to help out and hang out with my family, who regardless of vacation periods will not be at work). The pre-school teachers switch out their decorations and bulletin boards at the holidays, so if we let them know in advance, they can pull down the winter paper and hold off on hanging the spring décor until after the show. Then we get a pretty room that doesn't look like it's set up for toddlers. (And it does have such beautiful ceilings, and curvy walls!)
The institutional stuff can go away and be replaced with nice stuff. We can do whatever we want for food, booze, and furniture, as well as parlour games, music, and "Traditions".