Reading the Collections, Week 23: Brides Wedding Book

Thursday 9 July 2015

It’s summer time, the season of weddings, and so this week the focus is upon Brides Wedding Book by Elizabeth Hillier, a graduate of the University of St Andrews. I have to admit that I didn’t set out to read this book once the new strand for this ’52 weeks of …’ was announced, but a friend jokingly suggested one coffee break that as I was recently engaged I should read something about weddings.

Pic 1 Marriage cert JV-36803_1
A photograph of the marriage certificate of Thomas Erskine (1750-1823), to Sarah Buck (d. 1856), dated 1818. St Andrews copy JV-36803. This was Erskine’s second marriage, both of which took place at Gretna Green, a village famous for runaway marriages, parental consent to a union not being required in Scotland.

I immediately thought of this book, which had passed through my hands a couple of years ago when I was working for the Reading Room team. At the time I’d been struck by the very 1980s style of the dresses, with their puffed sleeves, and some made with (to my mind) rather flamboyant fabrics. So, being newly engaged, the chance to read something ‘wedding-ey’ seemed very appropriate.

Pic 2 Puff-sleeve dress_1
One of the many illustrations of dresses in Brides Wedding Book. This dress is made of silk seersucker, and the puff sleeves are very iconic of the late 1980s/early 1990s.

By the time I got round to reading this book, most of the plans for my own wedding were in place (to be honest, they were in place a couple of months after my engagement on Christmas Eve last year!), so I felt a fair bit of trepidation when going through this book. What if there was something I’d been hasty about? Would I now have regrets about something? But I needn’t have worried. It seemed I’d done things (mostly) as recommended by the author, and there were still a few tips to pick up.

The groom and his family and friends traditionally occupy the half of the church to the right of the central aisle as you face the altar, and the bride’s family the left-hand half. The origin of this is the groom’s assumed right-handedness. If he is right-handed, he needs that arm free to draw his sword or otherwise defend his bride and himself from marauding aggressors in church. […] Today the tradition continues, even if the groom is left-handed and no marauders are anticipated.

Brides Wedding Book, p. 66.

Brides Wedding Book abounds with handy checklists. On the left is one for costs involved with a wedding, and on the right the ‘Stage 3 checklist’ of things to start doing 3-4 weeks before the wedding.

The book is logically set out, with 7 sections: Beginnings, Practical Matters, The Marriage, Personal Matters, Style, Celebrations, and After the Wedding. Each of these has clear subsections, covering essentials such as engagement and wedding rings, finance and budgeting, invitations, seating in the church, beauty tips, dressing bridesmaids and page boys, letters of congratulations, honeymoon travel, etc., etc. So should one wish to dip in and out, and not read it from cover to cover, it is easy to find the relevant information.

Pic 4 Ring_1
The advice on engagement ring is to go shopping together, as “The choosing is a deliciously romantic moment”. However, I think it’s more romantic for the proposal to be accompanied by an engagement ring, which is what happened when my fiancé proposed. My hints about wanting an antique ring were clearly listened to, and my proposal was accompanied by this gorgeous Edwardian ring.

Much of the planning for our wedding in April 2016 are in place. But this book has still provided me with ideas for things which are not yet settled.

Pic 5 St Salvator's Chapel PGA-6-32_1
Photograph, by Peter Adamson, of the interior of St Salvator’s Chapel, a beautiful setting for a wedding ceremony for those with a University connection. St Andrews copy PGA-6-32.

I shall take advice of the handy hint to brief one of the ushers to take my mother to her seat in the Chapel (after all, it wouldn’t be fair to strand her on her own as my father and I make our way to the Chapel), and also follow some suggestions of who should be thanked by whom in the speeches. I apparently don’t need to buy new underwear, the bride’s “usual underwear, clean and comfortable” being perfectly suitable (although my suggestion to a friend that I wear a pair of old blue knickers for my ‘something blue’ elicited the horrified response not to contemplate such a thing!). And should we be unfortunate enough to receive a gift “hideous beyond belief” I can take comfort in the thought that we can “hide it or give it to a charity after a suitable pause”. However, I think I’ll be unlikely to leave the reception on an elephant (this being an interesting alternative to the bride or groom’s car).

Pic 6 Dresses_1
Brides Wedding Book contains examples of dresses to suit all tastes. These dresses incorporate fine fabrics and lace, suited to brides who are traditional at heart, and perhaps want to think of themselves as the heroine of a romantic novel.

Being over 20 years old, this book does feel somewhat dated –the dress fashions are no longer in vogue, there is an emphasis on the wife taking care of the home whilst the husband takes on the financial responsibilities, and much more organisation will be done via email today rather than over the telephone or by letter as is advised in the book. But the suggestions for timings on the day, the checklists of things to do (and when to do them), wordings for invitations, order of service, etc., and the general guidance on how to organise your wedding all remain relevant. I’ve had great fun reading this book, and will undoubtedly be incorporating suggestions from it into our own wedding. Only 9 months to go!

Briony Aitchison

Lead Cataloguer (Phase 1)

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2 thoughts on "Reading the Collections, Week 23: Brides Wedding Book"

  • Michelle Erskine
    Michelle Erskine
    Sunday 22 October 2017, 10.55pm

    Thomas Erskine and Sarah Buck are my 3rd great grandparents. I hope you will allow me to copy the photograph of their wedding certificate.

    • St Andrews Special Collections
      St Andrews Special Collections
      Monday 23 October 2017, 10.26am

      Hi Michelle, it is good to hear that the blog was of interest to you! You can use the image of the certificate for your own personal use, but if you would like a high resolution copy of the image, please get in touch with our photographic team: [email protected].


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