Real ethical weddings

James & Barbara's ethical wedding

James & Barbara

Ethical weddings have always happened

Although the notion of 'ethical weddings' as a concept is relatively recent, James Bradshaw of ethical dating agency Natural Friends shows that it's actually another idea that has been recycled...

How we met

Don't necessarily believe people when they say that workplace romances are just found in Mills and Boon books.

Take yourself back to late summer in 1972. There is definitely a special ‘feel' to the environment at this time. Autumnal tints were beginning to paint the trees. Wood smoke wafted from some bonfire in the distance. The birds were feverishly stocking up on seeds and fruits.

We are standing somewhere in Culford Park. The mansion is the ancestral home of the Earls of Cadogan, but, since the period just before WW2 it has housed Culford School for the sons of gentlefolk. In other words, an independent school.

Just down the road in Bury St.Edmunds resided an independent school for the daughters of gentlefolk - The East Anglian School for Girls.

Since one school had an acreage of several hundred and both schools were feeling the chains of financial pressure tightening, it was vowed that the girls should move, lock, stock and hockey sticks, to Culford.

The ‘new' biology lab turned out to be a second-hand portababin. Barbara had been the Head of Biology at the former girls school and was, naturally, delegated to establish the biology department at Culford.

Her assistant turned out to be a long-haired, bespectacled biology teacher doing his first teaching post. Unbeknownst to James, this was where Fate had planted him; working with a single woman, not bad looking (she'll kill me!), and with whom he instantly developed a rapport - moods excepted!

This happens if two strangers are instructed to move all the useful kit from Culford's original lab to the Portacabin; with the same happening from the girls school. The old lab was a separate article in itself, by the way. Think of Mr. Chips and you are in the right era.

We were the Biology Department, sharing ideas, problems, worksheets and friendship. We also began to share our leisure time, walking in the nearby Thetford Forest, the Suffolk coast, London and more.

Marriage sort of developed. We were meant for each other and we would have been fools to separate - although I vowed to do research on snails!

The wedding

Cutting to the chase, we find ourselves in the childless school on Bastille Day, July 14th, 1973. We are married. The Culford Church is as pretty as a picture, but not half as stunning as Barbara. We are surrounded by close friends, colleagues; some friends had travelled from far away, one couple in a large removal van that they had converted into a mobile home. Another had flown from Canada while others materialised from the four corners of Britain.

The splendid Mrs. Parry, wife of the French master, had made a delicious cake, indistinguishable from a commercially-produced variety. Some of the upper school boys, commandeered as ushers, had also brewed a lethal, though tasty, punch. Ignorant of the strength of the mixture, Barbara's very ‘just so' former headmistress was later observed cycling round and round on James' bike, flowers in her hair!

All the guests had made something for the reception or had helped in setting everything out, arranging flowers, playing the organ in the church and much much more.

How much nicer that was than to have done the orthodox thing: hiring a venue; dealing with the caterer; the photography; the formality and so on and on.

Weddings today, organised in the ‘formal' way can cost tens of thousands of pounds. If an ethical wedding means anything, it means that everyone has a great day, everyone feels part of the great event and bank accounts are not necessarily drained dry.

One golden rule for others organising an ethical wedding should be noted, however. Always expect something to happen that might de-rail your plans.

In our case, the Bursar had failed to tell us that the demolition of the kitchen next to our reception room would start on the same day as the wedding!!! Not what we wanted to hear, but unbelievably fortunate that we did and that we could delay the bulldozers till the following Monday.

Our top tips

Apart from ‘beware the unexpected event', what would be our tips for anyone planning an ethical wedding?
  • Be open about the fact; your plans and the ethos of the event should be explained to your guests.
  • Lower your expectations . Instead of thinking expensive limousines and everyone in morning suits and expensive dresses, think of alternatives.
  • If you don't want to daunt your guests with the John Lewis Wedding List, leave it to your guests to devise their own surprises. We still use that carefully turned fruit bowl and the bread board, not to mention all the other lovely gestures. We think it is not the purpose of a wedding to supply all the contents of the home, down to the plugs and light fittings!
  • If you have a favourite charity, suggest donations to that instead of the third retro toaster!
  • Relax. Have fun with family and old friends. They will enjoy rallying round and love you the more for letting them do so.
I must leave you with one embarrassing story. After we left for our honeymoon, we learned that a group of louts had been seen pulling the enormous cricket roller towards the river. No police were called, but a very irate groundsman nearly exploded with fury. The naughty boys? My brother, best man, a couple of other college friends and Barbara's old headmistress!
Natural Friends - ethical dating agency

Too late for readers of this lovely Ethical Weddings site, but there are always those Hugh Grant characters lurking in the receptions. If all they do is go to weddings and funerals, tell them about Natural Friends.

Natural Friends - an Ethical Junction Member, founded in 1985

Odd that we ended up running an ethical dating agency.