Yorkshire brides become activists to save their wedding days

Brides in the market towns of Yorkshire have become activists to fight for the right to hold their wedding at their dream venue – an historic and culturally significant building dating back to c.1650 that is at risk of closure due to council cutbacks. Their stories are not only heart breaking, but are a response to the deeper anger and frustration that has been building up for a long time and resonates with people across the country.

For these brides and their partners, their special days lie in tatters. Dates had been pencilled in the diaries, dresses ordered, menus set and visitors as far out as America were invited. Yet, they discovered that their venue would not be able to honour their committed dates via social media, as news of the closures were masked by a raft of planned cuts by the council. 

Some of the brides have stepped forward to share their rollercoaster experiences, to shed light on what is happening all around. Wedding days are meant to be the stuff of fairy tales, not nightmares. These brides share the same fate, which is yet unknown, but also what binds them is their love and passion for their wedding venue: Clay House (West Vale). Public sympathy for their situation was such that a petition requiring the closure to be brought back to the council reached the threshold in a matter of days.

Clay House is an imposing ancient structure in the Lower Calder Valley. The four-gabled house was built by the Clay family between 1650 and 1661 on the site of an earlier house that is mentioned as far back as 1296. The Jacobean building was purchased by Greetland Urban District Council in 1923, and the grounds converted into a park. As with any ancient site, stories of the paranormal are associated with it, namely the ghost of Jane Clay. Jane is recorded as living there between 1693 and 1709.

The site hosts many events throughout the year, including a designated a war memorial. Residents are up in arms since the announcements of closure were made public, and rightly so, as mothballing the site pending closure and putting it up for sale is the wrong way to preserve the local heritage. Fear that the site will become derelict is at the forefront of everyone minds. 

I contacted Danielle Clarke-Peel, the bride-to-be and organiser of ‘Help Save Clay House’ who is the most vocal opponent against these cuts. She introduced me to Helen, Emma and Lauren.

Helen and Edward

Helen, who works for Special Needs Transport Calderdale, and Edward, who is self-employed, are both from Elland. They had planned their wedding for 7 August 2021 and found out about the closures via social media on 3 October 2020. 

They both attended the council meeting in October 2020 via Zoom, when councillors were largely ignoring the topic of Clay House. Only councillor Marilyn Greenwood approached the subject, making an impassioned plea – emphasising the historical significance of the site and referencing the fact that it had been given to the people by the Clay Family.  

Helen told me how she felt when the news broke:

“I was upset, frustrated, heartbroken, angry and devastated. It felt surreal. I was unable to think straight, there were so many things going through my mind”.

Having to break the news to family and friends was extremely upsetting for the couple, though everyone reassured them that it would still go ahead. 

“I cry as our dreams could be shattered, everyone wants a wedding of their dreams, but sometimes you only have a little amount of money, and we do the best we can in our means, but everything is up in the air. We now do not have a confirmed date and venue, we had family travelling from America which is on hold now.”

I asked her what was so special about her wedding venue. “It’s historical, magical, beautiful and close to where we live, and we pass by regularly. The wedding of our dreams on our doorstep. We used to walk past Clay House, and the thought of that being my dream wedding venue made me all warm and fuzzy inside. I had it all planned, the scenic pictures, the bridesmaids lined up, the bouquet being tossed with Clay House in the backdrop, but now it’s all gone. I feel empty and angry.” 

I asked Helen who she held responsible, and what she wanted to happen. “It has got to be the Calderdale Council. Why take the booking as far as 2021? We want the magnificent, historic building saved, for it to be used to its full potential and brought back to life. On a personal note from both of us, we want Clay House to remain open for the next 12 months to honour the bookings.”

Clay House by Tim Green aka atoach is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Emma and Ashlee

Emma lives in Holmfirth but grew up in Elland and is in full-time employment. Her wedding plans were dashed by the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, as it was initially planned for 3 October 2020 and then postponed to 2 October 2021 at Clay House. Emma found out about the Clay House closure through Facebook and immediately made contact with someone who works for Calderdale Council. 

“I felt quite sad to find out from Facebook, but I would have been sad no matter whichever way the news would have broken.”

Emma grew up just up the road from Clay House and loved that it was an ideal DIY venue and where she had the choice of her own catering. 

“I had to break the news to my family and friends, and they were all sad and upset for me, as this was the second time the wedding was being postponed. Financially we have not been impacted so much, as refunds have been offered, but now it’s distressing, as we have to plan a third date. It’s been a bit of a nightmare.”

Since the news broke, Emma and her partner have been looking for other venues and planning again. They say it’s “third time lucky”. Emma is more sympathetic to the situation of the venue being closed, even though she clearly holds the council responsible for the situation.

“I understand that a lot of councils are struggling and are having to sell assets, but I do feel that a listed building should be a protected asset. I would like for Clay House to be reopened and for the council to take care of it properly.” 

Lauren and Telford

Lauren and Telford are from Halifax and both work full time – Lauren for the NHS. They were planning to get married on 18 July 2020. This was postponed to 17 July 2021. Like the other couples, they found out about the closure of Clay house through Facebook.

“I found out it was being closed down initially from a post on Facebook saying that a vote is taking place on closing Clay House amongst other things. I enquired with the council who said they would publish the results on their website.

“I saw the outcome again on Facebook before the council actually announced it and started making my own enquiries with Clay House directly. To my surprise, they didn’t know much either.”

Lauren was dismayed at the prospect of not knowing whether she would be able to get married as planned.

“I felt awful. The lack of communication was horrendous. The council, in general, showed no care or consideration. It was really badly managed.”

“I have not even told all my family or friends yet, because we simply don’t know what to do now. It’s just been a nightmare. It’s exhausting, and we are now facing planning a third wedding, which is obviously less than ideal.

“It’s a beautiful venue; there is nothing comparable in Halifax. It’s surrounded by lovely gardens and the setting was perfect for what we wanted.

“The council is solely responsible for ruining my wedding. This is a beautiful venue, and if [the council] simply advertised it better, I have no doubt that it could be a successful wedding venue bringing in a decent profit. I do not think they have even considered this. I want the council to reconsider their decision. We are campaigning to have this decision reversed.”  

Danielle

The closure of Clay House is much more personal for Danielle, who has lived in Greetland all her life and has deep roots in the community, where her great-grandmother ran the family owned business and owned land. Danielle, who works at the Greetland Academy as a senior midday supervisor, was the first bride I made contact with and, as you can expect, was extremely distraught.

“My wedding date was booked at the Clay House for 9 July 2021.

“I found out about the planned closure from a post on Facebook just like everyone I know, and my heart broke. I was filled with upset, anger and panic not knowing what was happening, especially since my wedding was only ten months away and as no one I contacted had a clue, it came as a shock.”

“When the person you love proposes, you have the dream wedding in mind, the car, cake, the venue. Clay House was and still is my dream venue, the building is beautiful inside from its wooden flooring to the beautiful fireplace, not to mention the historical side of it. The grounds which are so immaculately kept is the perfect place to have pictures, it truly is the perfect wedding venue for me to marry the man I love.”

Danielle’s friends and family had the same reaction of disbelief and shock when they heard the news of the cancellation and closure of Clay House.

“This was sprung on us with no warning. I’ve spent time having to ring around venues trying to find an alternative. But with only months to go, I’ve been left with limited choice and am now having to pay more money out to book a more expensive venue that isn’t to the beauty of Clay House, even my invites have to be reprinted, it all starts to add up.

“I use to drive past Clay House and get butterflies knowing I was getting married there, I now break down into tears. Once I go over the initial shock, I decided it’s not on, they cannot do this. I hold the council personally responsible for my wedding cancellation and poorly managing Clay House, which is now at risk of ruins. I started contacting the council, but they have stopped replying to me.”

“Many residents of different generations have grown up with Clay House as a landmark, the council keeps on taking things away from us, but I decided that wasn’t good enough. My wedding is important, but Clay House is not just being taken away from us, but from our children and future generations.

“I set up Help Save Clay House on Facebook and many flocked in support. We share our connections to the site, and the brides rally around to give both emotional and practical support to each other. The community has been wonderful and share our passion and concerns. It’s amazing.”

“We are looking at setting up a community organisation for an asset transfer, so we all have our beloved Clay House back, it’s ours. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. None of the key decision-makers in the council lives anywhere near Clay House and they don’t suffer the devastation when such decisions are made.”

The building has been successfully registered as an Asset of Community Value, which forces the council to consult the residents before they sell it. The Labour-run council blames 10 years of cuts and the current Covid-19 situation on the decision.

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