This Alabama Bride Brought a Dose of Southern Comfort to Her Classic Wedding in the United Kingdom
A student at the Royal Vet College in London in 2013, Claire Woodall was, she says, "determined not to marry another vet." Enter Samuel Bellman: When he reached out to her on a dating app after noticing she was wearing a football jersey, he'd already met her number one priority. Plus, she quickly discovered that they had plenty to talk about: "Sam had played American football in college in the U.K., which is a fairly rare experience for a Brit," says Claire.
The two shared their first date at a London speakeasy, and a little more than four years later, Sam was ready to pop the question on a weekend trip to England's Lake District. The couple hiked all eight peaks of the Ambleside Horseshoe; all the while, Sam waited for the perfect moment to propose, finally stalling until another group of hikers left the last peak to present Claire with a rose gold necklace—a stand-in for a custom ring made by a family friend, which was ready a week later.
Since Claire had to prepare for the wedding from the United States, she enlisted local planner Emma Tebbey of Tebbey & Co. to do "all the heavy lifting." After giving a little direction—"flowers, lots of flowers!" says Claire—she let Tebbey take the lead. The end result? A colorful garden party bursting with bright shades of red, blue, yellow, orange, and pink that featured flowers everywhere: in a stunning arch at the ceremony entrance; bundled on the five-tier cake; pressed onto custom escort cards; and even embossed onto the fabric of Claire's wedding dress. The vision was "an elevated celebration with an undertone of comfort," she says. "We wanted happy colors, relaxed and joyous!"
For the 125 guests who attended the wedding on May 5, 2019, the day included plenty of nods to both British and American culture, and to both Claire and Sam's personalities—like personalized dessert stations offering "Claire's Coffee & Cookies" and "Sam's Tea & Biscuits," their favorite drinks, and late-night snacks of pizza and chow mein. "Do what you want to do," says Claire. "There are no rules to a wedding day—it's your day, so make it yours! What people take away from a wedding is not in the details; it's about how they felt in the moment."
After Sam proposed, he and Claire returned to the bed and breakfast they had booked for the weekend and shared their happy news with the owner; when they woke up the next morning, she told them over breakfast that she had made an appointment for them to visit Askham Hall, a nearby venue where her own daughter was getting married. "What could it hurt to look, right?" says the couple. "Once we got there, we fell in love. It was stately, yet homey. The vibe was elegant rustic, while being charming and comfortable and quintessentially British. It was the one and only place we looked, and we booked it the day after we got engaged."
For Claire, finding the perfect wedding dress became the most difficult part of the planning process—but not because she had a specific design in mind. "Since my wedding was across the world, I wanted to have my dress with me at all times," she says. Claire didn't want to risk shipping her dress, so she needed one that would travel well and fit in a carry-on—a tall order, until she found designer Lela Rose. She loved the designer's "effortless-looking dresses" that are made for movement, travel, and dancing. She chose a sleeveless gown in an embossed floral fabric, with a deep V-neckline, a low back, and practical pockets, but made one addition: a dramatic train. "I mean, when else do you get to wear a train but on your wedding day?" she says.
A Personal Touch
The bride added one more special detail to her ensemble: A blue patch embroidered with her and Sam's names and symbols representing their roots.
A Blue Groom and a First Look
When Sam began trying on suits, his request was simple: He wanted something he could move in. "It was important to Sam to be comfortable. He did not want a three-piece suit, and I understood—comfort was important to me, too!" says Claire. He chose a classic ensemble in French blue and added a French cuff shirt from Mizzen and Main, a cream-colored tie, and matching pocket square.
Claire and Sam met for their first look on the front lawn of Askham Hall just before the ceremony. "I was excited before!" says Claire. "I couldn't wait to show Sam my dress and see how handsome he was, all dressed up." The couple then joined their families and bridal party for a first look before group portraits. "I was more nervous," says Claire, "when I had my first look with the bridesmaids and groomsmen and family!"
Her Bright Bouquet
Claire gave her bridesmaids the freedom to select their own dresses, but it was a happy surprise to see how well they coordinated. "I told them preferably a neutral color—I didn't want them to clash with the bright floral theme," she says. "Funny that the color of the season was blush, so all of them ended up in a blush dress!"
Before the ceremony, Sam and his groomsmen took the first turn at the lawn games the couple had set up for the cocktail hour. The men's attire matched Sam's—right down to their accessories. "I gave Sam and all of the groomsmen cuff links," says Claire. "One had the American flag on it, and the other, the British flag—a nod to both of our countries."
Into the Church
The couple chose to decorate the exterior of their ceremony venue, St. Peter's Church, with a roaming floral arch, which was placed over the doorway; a collection of lanterns, potted plants, and loose blooms were arranged on the ground near the entrance. "This was the only color at the ceremony," says wedding planner Emma Tebbey. "The church interior was kept simple by using greens, whites, and candlelight only—the party could come later."
After arriving at the chapel, the bridal party and family processed into the service while Claire and her father waited outside for their cue. "I'll never forget, right before my dad and I walked into the church, some walkers came by and told me how lovely I looked and wished me luck," says Claire. "Also, we could hear our minister singing in his deep, belting tone inside. We could not stop laughing at his enthusiasm for the hymns! What a great moment with my dad right before we walked down the aisle."
Saying "I Do"
Immigration rules required Claire and Sam to marry officially in the United States, so their U.K. ceremony was a religious service that gave them the chance to celebrate with their loved ones. They asked a longtime friend of Claire's family, Nigel, who works as a university minister, to perform the ceremony, where they recited traditional vows and traded rings.
A Joyful Song
Nigel incorporated many personal touches—including a reference to Claire's grandfather—and lots of music into the service. "Nigel loves to sing, and filled our ceremony with so many hymns we couldn't keep up!" says Claire. "At one point, the congregation was not singing enthusiastically enough for Nigel. He stopped the hymn and made everyone start over, 'With clapping this time!' It made for such a happy and joyous moment. Nigel's part was so special to the two of us, and for him we could not be more grateful."
Ready to Celebrate
After the ceremony, guests tossed confetti as the newlyweds left the church lawn. Claire and Sam led the way back to Askham Hall for the reception, while a double-decker bus waited to assist guests who needed it.
Sax Leads the Way
"We had a saxophone meet us all outside the church after the ceremony and play as we walked up through the garden gate to the Askham Gardens," says the bride. This was reminiscent of a Southern tradition that she loved and wanted to incorporate on her own big day.
Throughout the day, multiple signs—some were chalked onto pieces of rough-cut slate, while others, like this bicycle rendition, were painted onto wood—welcomed guests to each part of the event, detailed the timeline, and directed friends and family towards games or other amenities.
After the ceremony, guests mingled at a cocktail hour that played up the couple's British and American cultures. Lawn games included corn hole for the guests from the States and croquet for the locals; the couple served their favorite drinks (margaritas and Champagne) alongside U.K. classic Pimm's; and a four-piece Motown band provided music.
The food served included locally-sourced cheese and meats. Tebbey & Co created a menu sign that offered British and American colloquialisms—including chips/french fries, pudding/dessert, and bangers/sausages.
Though the newlyweds ducked out for a few quick portraits, they made sure to attend most of the interlude. "It was important to us that pictures didn't stop us from enjoying the day in the moment," says the couple. "And they definitely didn't!"
Another nod to the event's locale? A tea cup display, featuring plenty of fresh flowers. The setup also nodded to the duo's garden theme (note the floral-filled watering can and tiered plant stand).
Inside Askham Hall, exposed stonework and wooden beams created a rustic background for the reception tables, which were topped with elegant white linens and colorful centerpieces (some tall, some short); strands of white lights were hung overhead.
Among the Wildflowers
An expansive escort card wall displayed individual notes with British wildflowers collected and pressed by Tebbey & Co.; they were calligraphed by By Moon and Tide.
Blue napkins, colorful glassware, and tall taper candles in primary colors complemented the many-hued centerpieces and white linens. Hand-dyed muslin wraps in shades of red, pink, yellow, and peach kept the favors—Grasmere Gingerbread—fresh for guests to enjoy after the party.
Room with a View
Heaton Cooper watercolor paintings—depicting a myriad of local spots—served as table names, which helped guests find their seats. Individual blooms in a variety of glass vases were clustered around the artwork.
Two of a Kind
A semi-naked five-tier from Cutie Pie Cake Company—displayed in front of the escort card wall—added to the floral theme thanks to the fresh blooms gathered on each layer. The couple chose two flavors: Traditional sponge cake with lemon curd and carrot cake, which is Sam's favorite.
Home Sweet Home
Claire and Sam shared their first dance to James Taylor's "How Sweet It Is." "It has always been a favorite of ours," says the duo. The nine-piece band they hired for the reception played hits that kept the dance floor full, especially when they turned to an American classic: "A special request for 'Sweet Home Alabama' was made—I'm from Alabama, and this is where we moved after the wedding," says the bride. "It went so well, they actually played it again at the end of the night!"
Photography, Jessica Reeve Fine Art Photography
Location and Catering, Askham Hall
Event planning, Tebbey & Co.
Flowers, Made in Flowers
Stationery, Bess Booth
Calligraphy, By Moon and Tide
Cake, Cutie Pie Cake Co.
Music, Bloomsbury Music Group
Bride's gown, Lela Rose
Bride's shoes, Alexandre Birman
Hair, Claire Hall of Peaches and Cream Hair
Makeup, Leonie Canniffe
Menswear, Moss Brothers
Groom's shirt, Mizzen and Main
Transportation, Stagecoach Routemaster Bus
Favors, Grasmere Gingerbread
Guest Book and Table Numbers, Heaton Cooper
Linens, Special Occasion Linen
Place Cards, Torn Edge Paper