Reviving the tradition of hospitality at Nymans

Wedding of Helen Buchanan, daughter of Alistair, at Nymans in 2002 © National Trust/ Alistair Buchanan

Wedding of Helen Buchanan, daughter of Alistair, at Nymans in 2002

Alistair Buchanan, Messel family representative at Nymans, recounts (with his usual knack for telling a good yarn) the wedding of his daughter Helen at Nymans in 2002.

Nymans now has a successful wedding business up and running, but Alistair looks back fondly on his own adventures as a wedding planner before his family's home became a popular destination for couples.

'In 2002, our youngest daughter, Helen, wanted her wedding ceremonies to be at Nymans, rather than at our home in Wiltshire, where her two older sisters had been married.

'My wife and I were thrilled when the National Trust gave permission. David Masters, who was the head gardener at the time, was worried that the garden might suffer as the weather had been terrible. I promised to do my best to minimise compaction on the south lawn. The chosen date was 6 July 2002.

'My wife and I know from experience that there are two essential pieces of equipment for a successful outdoor evening party – luxurious loos and a chilling unit for champagne and white wine. We chose a T-shaped tent to allow room for a disco and we had a wooden floor laid to protect the lawn and to help the dancers.

'Putting up the tent, setting up tables to seat 150 and the delivery of the cooking apparatus and the wine all went smoothly. My wife ordered wonderful flower arrangements so that the interior of the tent looked magical. Thick electrical cables were laid from the car park as we hoped to flood light the ruins at 11pm.

'I was only aware of two mishaps: the first was when two large lorries came nose to nose outside the walled garden having entered by separate gates, requiring one of them to reverse, which led to some heated exchanges. The second was when waitresses ignored the request that they should walk from the car park and parked instead on the grass by the prospect. I knew that David would not be pleased.

'Technically Nymans was not licensed at that stage for wedding ceremonies, so the legal aspect was dealt with in London. My youngest sister is a priest in the Church of England so she gave an evening service of blessing in the sunk garden. Pre-recorded music allowed us to sing hymns. As everybody had a glass of champagne in their hands throughout the service, the singing was spirited!

'The dinner and dancing went extraordinarily well. The ruins looked wonderful in flickering red flood lights. The deadline for locking the car park gates was 1am. The ushers succeeded in rounding up stragglers from the bushes just in time to catch the buses!

'The family were thrilled to revive the Nymans tradition for hospitality. My only concern, the following day, was that the waiters had opened every unused bottle of wine and taken the corks to charge corkage, so we had to drink 80 bottles in quick time to stop the wine going bad. We made it!'