How municipal buildings became chic again
While elaborate stately home and ornate church weddings have reigned supreme for the past few decades, a more humble and understated alternative seems to now be the choice du jour.
Despite being previously considered an old-fashioned or even last resort option, registry office weddings are having a renaissance.
In fact, it’s their understated nature – both in aesthetic and cost – that appears to be very much at the forefront of this revival.
With the average cost of a mid-range wedding coming in at almost £20,000 in 2023 (and at £55,000 for a more luxurious affair), it’s no surprise that brides and grooms-to-be are searching for romantic but cost-effective alternatives.
And, thanks to their ease and affordability (with basic ceremonies starting at £57), municipal buildings, such as registry offices and town halls, have become chic once again – with searches soaring 190% in the past year.
Zoe Burke, a wedding expert at Hitched.co.uk, says: ‘While there is so much to be said for the traditional wedding, there’s definitely something really romantic about a registry office one.
‘For me, a registry office wedding says: “I’m eschewing all the extras because I just want to get married” – there’s an energy around them in the way they get straight to the point.’
In fact, it’s this exact lack of fuss that’s gaining traction – and that doesn’t have to mean a wedding is any less stylish.
This was definitely the case for 30-year-old Amber Fryer and her 32-year-old partner, Micaela, who got married earlier this year at Islington Town Hall – four years into their relationship.
Art director Amber told Metro: ‘We always wanted our ceremony to be a private love bubble for just us. Micaela is Peruvian and has a large family all over the world, and I am from London with a pretty small, immediate family.
‘We didn’t want our families and friends to have to pay for anything, or for us to have to make something incredibly intimate, much bigger than we wanted. Islington Town Hall felt right for us, the building itself is gorgeous, it’s super close to where we live and we love hanging out in the area on weekends.
‘Although the ceremony was intimate, we wanted to be able to afford to go on a great honeymoon, and later this year we have plans to have a small party with our friends to celebrate.
The pandemic gave couples perspective on what truly matters
‘Also, the cost of weddings has sky-rocketed and the standards have gotten so unrealistic – and we think you can partly blame the performative influence of social media for that.
‘We also think the delays in weddings during the pandemic gave couples perspective on what truly mattered, them. The simplicity of reducing your guestlist down, having something more intimate and low-key, has huge appeal. You don’t need a lot to celebrate love and be happy.’
Amber adds that a registry office – like Islington Town Hall – is a more inclusive option, not just financially, but for the LGBTQ+ community too.
She continues: ‘The main thing is that marriage isn’t about one extravagant event, it’s about the lifetime commitment to each other, and we think registry offices give you so much freedom, allowing a much more affordable and relaxing option, and there are lots of really beautiful ones to choose from.
‘Registry offices are very openly inclusive to queer couples too, being recognised and having the freedom to create our own traditions is really empowering, sadly not all wedding venues and vendors can be as accepting.’
This was also true for Derek O’Sullivan, 44, and husband Steve, 50, who both knew a religious ceremony wasn’t for them – so instead picked Marylebone Town Hall as their venue.
Derek explains: ‘We knew from the outset that any religious ceremony was not for us. We wanted to do something small and intimate but at the same time have the significance of an event.
‘We chose a registry office as it allowed us to have a “formal” part to the day and make commitments to each other on front of our family and close friends without the religious connotation.’
Derek adds he thinks this is a growing trend as people want the significance of their wedding day without religious attachment.
He adds: ‘I also think people want less formal, less tradition, fewer rules and more intimacy and personalisation.’
Attitudes around the venues themselves have also shifted, he stresses.
‘For us growing up, registry offices were places you went to for your second marriage or because there was some barrier to you being able to have something more “traditional,”‘ says Derek.
‘Now that’s changed… anything goes. Church weddings are no longer the only option and I think people want the flexibility to mark the occasion and have some formality to the ceremony but with far more personality and fun attached.’
Growing up, registry offices used to be places you went to for your second marriage – now that’s changed.’
Actor and musician Molly Lynch and her now-husband Colin Middleton also opted for a more casual registry office setting, at Woolwich Town Hall in London, for their recent nuptials.
‘We knew we didn’t want to get married in a church and we knew we wanted something low-key so we just went to check out the nearest registry office and loved it,’ says Molly,
And it’s safe to say Molly and Colin’s meet-cute is as romantic as they come. The pair met eight years ago when they were acting in a pantomime in Ireland: Molly as Cinderella and Colin as her Prince Charming.
For us, it was the sheer ease and practicality
Molly and Colin also wanted their special day to reflect their priorities – rather than a big, lavish affair.
She adds: ‘We just wanted something intimate for our vows and a big party afterwards. We weren’t too fussed about having 100 people watch us tie the knot but we were totally fussed about have 100 people on the dance floor.
‘I can just say, for us, it was the sheer ease and practicality. It was near to home, it was really beautiful but also very low effort in terms of organising. We didn’t have to worry about decorating it or setting it up and it kept things really simple on the day.’