Of the 350,000 who will marry in Britain this year, half will have a wedding list. Interesting documents. There can be no better index of the fantasies, foibles, follies and down-to-earth needs at the point of embarkation on wedlock's long (or short) voyage.
Dawn Crewe and John Cooper

List at Marks & Spencer

Guests 120

Total Spend pounds 2,560

Most expensive single item

Mahogany finish bathroom cabinet at pounds 85

Cheapest single item

White embossed sugar bowl with lid at pounds 3

Dawn Crewe, 30, is an accounts executive at a distribution company. Her fiance, John Cooper, 27, is a merchandising manager at a home furnishing store. They met in a department store more than three years ago when Dawn was shopping in the home furnishings section of which John was manager. They live together in Watford and are getting married today with 120 guests at Christchurch, in Dawn's home town, Newport, Gwent. Dawn, in particular, was keen on a list as several friends who had not had one had been disappointed with their gifts, falling prey to the ten toasters problem. She chose 75 per cent of the items.

It is obvious from their list that John, who now works for Marks & Spencer, and Dawn are not into fussy detail (witness the plain white Lumiere china dinner service with a delicate gold rim), have a modest budget (the most expensive single item is a bathroom cabinet at pounds 85) and are practical in their choices (with the kettle and iron). They are probably not big dinner party throwers: the dinner service has a maximum of eight settings, not the more usual 12.

While most of the gifts on their list are those you might expect a young couple starting out would use, some are for later on in their married life. Both John and Dawn admit that the sherry glasses will not get a great deal of use immediately as neither they, nor their friends, are sherry drinkers quite yet. "I suppose we wouldn't have got the quality or quantity of glassware if we had bought it ourselves," John admits. "We would probably have left the peripheral items until later on and built up both the glass and china sets gradually over a period of time. I think you ask for items like sherry glasses when you're looking for a really nice complete set."

As John and Dawn are planning to stay in their present house for the time being, their list contains enhancements rather than basics. As with many couples, they have asked for two dinner services - one for every day and one more formal - as well as the staples of fine china and a set of crystal glasses. There are no surprises apart from a steam iron (pounds 40) and a kettle (pounds 28) - both items one would expect a couple to own already. But, as Dawn explains, "We keep breaking our iron and I have a habit of dropping the kettle. I also like to update kettles on a regular basis."

There are also indications of John and Dawn's colour scheme for their house. Blue and green together with cream is a repeated theme in the list from the lighting - pleat blue shade (pounds 18) and blue ribbed base (pounds 30); textiles - blue check napkins(pounds 10) and glassware - blue frost large bowl (pounds 10). Green for the kitchen with the Cuisine tea towels (pounds 10), oven mitt (pounds 8) and coffee mugs (pounds 4 each) and cream furnishings are evident with the four cream ottoman cushions (standard at pounds 10, large at pounds 18).

They disagreed only over the crystal. John wanted a more ornate cut class set but Dawn decided they should go for a more subtle design. "I think the only discussion we kept having was over the glassware," says Dawn, "and I managed to win the day with the perfectly plain Alsace lead crystal set" (pounds 497 in total). But John got his way on the coffee mugs, "I hate drinking out of the little cups we have now and my coffee mugs date back to my student days so they definitely needed replacing."

Dawn says, "The best thing about our wedding list is it is like starting again with wonderful complete sets. When you move in together initially you end up with two of everything - yet nothing matches." Nathalie Lalonde Goldhar

and Bradley Goldhar

List at Wedding List Services

Guests 120

Total Spend pounds 6,574.56

Most expensive single item

Epsom blue check picnic basket at pounds 170

Cheapest single item

Manhattan ice bucket at pounds 17.50

Nathalie Lalonde Goldhar, 32, works in PR. Bradley Goldhar, 34, is an investment banker. Both come from Canada and work in London, where they have recently bought a house in Richmond. Nathalie and Bradley met while skiing at Val d'Isere five years ago and married in March this year in Canada surrounded by 120 family and friends. They placed their list at Wedding List Services, which links up with manufacturers direct.

Bradley Goldhar admits he is "not a happy shopper". The thought of trawling round a department store on a Saturday afternoon looking for wedding list gifts would be "my worst nightmare". So, Nathalie and Brad decided to go to Wedding List Services which caters for bridal couples during the evenings or at weekends. Colin Dachtler, who runs the company, operates from a house in Battersea, south London, which has been transformed into a spotlit showroom where couples can view a huge range of china, glass, linen and other artefacts over a glass of wine or two and a civilised chat. The service includes regular updates by post for the couple to find out who has bought what off the list. As Nathalie says, "It was like Christmas every day as the updates arrived."

The couple had rented places together for nearly three years but the wedding gifts, and the purchase of their first house, gave them an excuse to start again, choosing complete sets and quite extravagant items typical of the thirtysomething upwardly mobile couple.

It is obvious from the extravagant wine accoutrements that this couple are serious about their plonk. In fact, if Nathalie hadn't intervened, Bradley would have been quite happy with cases of wine from Berry Bros as the main bulk of their wedding list. They have asked for three decanters from different designers; four sets of 12 glasses for champagne, red and white wine, and the extraordinary wide-bottomed 30oz Bordeaux glasses (at pounds 27.50 each), which hold almost a bottle of wine each.

Bradley is particularly interested in design and was dead set on the Alessi cutlery (pounds 1,018 in total), which Nathalie found too plain at first but now appreciates. The Alessi set comprises seven pieces per person - Nathalie reckons that she and Bradley entertain formally about once a week.

A keen cook, she was responsible for the choice of kitchenware. Not just ordinary pots and pans though. Nathalie asked for a dual function fondue set (pounds 45.88), which doubles as a casserole dish; two frying pans (pounds 43.45/pounds 62.45), three saucepans of varying sizes and a bain-marie (pounds 44.15), essential for her special sauces.

There is little indication of a particular colour scheme in their new house; most of the items are silver plated, white or chrome. A few items for the kitchen follow a theme with the butler's tray (dark green, pounds 55), Lady Clare trays (bottle green with gold line, pounds 55 each) and photo frames (dark green, pounds 24.99/26.99).

The only surprise on a list steeped in English tradition, are ceramic tiles decorated by vivid fruit bursts by Kate Glanville, to be incorporated into the tiling of the house. The collector's coffee set from Wedgwood (pounds 480 for the entire set) seems out of place with the rest of the list with its slightly tacky pictures of such landmarks as Notre Dame and the British Museum. But, Bradley explains, they are a record of their extensive travels around Europe (hence the Koh-i-Noor Express suitcases, pounds 109 each) and also a reflection of his own interest in architecture.

An unexpected new interest has developed out of planning the list itself. Annie Boursot, an expert in antique silver, visited the couple to advise them on their silverware and Nathalie is now keen on extending her knowledge. "I want to collect the whole catalogue of Saint Hilaire now."

They should have died out years ago. In an age when most couples live together before marrying and probably own all the pots and pans they need, wedding lists seem part of an era when fathers provided dowrys and brides promised virginity. Not so. Of the 350,000 couples who tie the knot each year in the UK, more than half decide to follow tradition and compile a list. For those already cohabiting, it is often a strategy for avoiding four new toasters than acquiring their first, and for sparing their friends the bother of finding something for a couple who seem to have everything already.

Kathryn Flett, editor of men's style magazine, Arena, is getting married in September and is definitely in favour of a wedding list. "It's an essential thing to have! I think it used to be fantastically naff but in the Eighties, the wedding list had a renaissance. Not that anyone gives a hoot what the royal family do, but when minor royals had lists in the past few years, it sort of gave the whole thing the pukka seal of approval. Everyone wants to give presents and it's far better to get something you actually want than some hideous old crystal decanter. We haven't discussed it yet, but I think we'll place several lists - probably at the Conran Shop, Divertimenti and John Lewis - which should cover all options."

Most lists are placed at department stores, from the traditional outlets like John Lewis (where Antonia de Sancha had her list) and the Sloanes' favourite, the General Trading Company to the upmarket Harrods Bridal Registry or Thomas Goode in Mayfair (where Viscount and Vicountess Linley placed one list). Marks & Spencer got in on the act two years ago, and account for a rising number of couples with more modest budgets, while urban professionals, unwilling to tramp round the shops on a busy weekend, may choose one of the growing numbers of select services which deal direct with manufacturers. For pounds 150, the Wedding Shop, for example, takes busy couples round stores and galleries in London by taxi. Other specialist companies, like all department stores, offer their services for nothing.

The purchasing power of the modern bride and groom to be is mighty indeed. The total spend in wedding lists on domestic appliances alone is estimated at pounds 124 million a year. Eager to attract consumers at the start of their married life, advertisers flock to the many brides' magazines which hold the promise of readers partaking in a market worth a cool pounds 1 billion. Some stores aim to retain the bride's loyalty after her wedding list is closed and both Harrods and the General Trading Company offer a complimentary credit of ten per cent of the list's total value to spend at the stores after the event.

The modern bridal objects of desire are still surprisingly conventional. At House of Fraser, Le Creuset cookware is the most popular wedding present, with the distinctly unglamorous lavatory brush coming in tenth. The chic jewellers Tiffany, claim that the Audubon cheese set, retailing at pounds 125, is one of their most popular items. According to research at Brides and Setting up Home magazine, china is always "top of the list", with 74 per cent of couples expecting to receive their first complete set of china at an average cost of pounds 416 as a wedding gift. Ninety-one per cent of brides choose towels and linen and 76 per cent still ask for "special occasions only" crystal.

Some couples like to include more individual choices on their wedding lists. Wedding List Services (where Nathalie and Bradley Goldbar had their list) are presently ordering a two-horse horsebox in silver and blue for one couple, while another bride wanted a silver-plated dog ball for her spaniel, Ariel, who walked up the aisle with her. Some couples have asked for matching wet suits and the decoupage artist, Lulu Lodge, is apparently in great demand for her customised toilet seats in black lacquer, complete with favourite photographs incorporated in the design.

Do guests feel pressurised into buying gifts purely off a wedding list? Andrew Duffy, an editor on Brides and Setting up Home, thinks not. "I don't think people feel awkward giving presents off a wedding list. I know that younger people are often keen to give more personal items, but the older generation are much happier buying cutlery and crockery as they don't feel they have to impress the couple. If people have been married themselves they know that if you don't have a list you'll end up with six vases. When I got married, I was given eight candelabras, which were lovely - but where do you put them?"

Highlights from Nathalie and Bradley's pounds 6,500 list

Collector's Coffee Set Wedgwood

featuring paintings of European hotspots

2 Grand Tour Coffee Cup & Saucer British Museum, pounds 22.50

2 Grand Tour Coffee Cup & Saucer Notre Dame, pounds 22.50

2 Grand Tour Coffee Cup & Saucer Palais du Luxembourg, pounds 22.50

2 Grand Tour Coffee Cup & Saucer Palazzo Vecchio, pounds 22.50

2 Grand Tour Coffee Cup & Saucer San Marco, pounds 22.50

2 Grand Tour Coffee Cup & Saucer St Paul's Cathedral, pounds 22.50

2 Grand Tour Plate - 8" British Museum, pounds 17.50

2 Grand Tour Plate - 8" Notre Dame, pounds 17.50

2 Grand Tour Plate - 8" Palais du Luxembourg, pounds 17.50

2 Grand Tour Plate - 8" Palazzo Vecchio, pounds 17.50

2 Grand Tour Plate - 8" San Marco, pounds 17.50

2 Grand Tour Plate - 8" St Paul's Cathedral, pounds 17.50

Crystal & Glass John Jenkins

1 Carlton Decanter - bottle size pounds 75.00

1 Chantilly Wine Decanter - 750ml pounds 40.00

1 Decanters Victory Decanter - 1.5pt pounds 35.00

1 Manhattan Ice Bucket pounds 17.50

6 Wine Masters Bordeaux - 30oz pounds 27.50

6 Wine Masters Flute Champagne pounds 21.00

6 Wine Masters Red Wine - 17oz pounds 21.00

6 Wine Masters White Wine - 11oz pounds 19.50


1 Bacchus Cake Stand - 30cm pounds 39.50

1 Bowls and Dishes Solo Salad Bowl - 30cm pounds 39.50

8 Bysantium Collection Tumbler pounds 7.75

1 jug tapered - 3pt pounds 17.95

1 vases Triangle Vase - Giant 40cm pounds 67.50

Dartington Crystal

6 Dartmoor Suite PR Highball Glasses pounds 16.50

Silver Saint Hilaire

1 Silver-plated Bottle Holder pounds 61.50

6 Elephant Name Holders pounds 65.00

1 Silver-plated Crystal Butter Dish "Nura" pounds 62.50

1 Silver-plated Ice Tongs pounds 21.50

1 Silver-plated Oval Woven Bread Basket pounds 100.00

1 Silver-plated Pie Server pounds 39.50

1 Silver-plated Iced Water Jug - 28cm pounds 125.00