Church loses to zoos and stately homes for weddings

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THE WAY we get married is altering dramatically, with people increasingly choosing their own venue frather than having a church wedding.

"Approved premises" - those which applied to become wedding venues under new regulations from 1995 - have made significant inroads in the wedding business with a fourfold increase in the space of a year. In one county (Monmouthshire), approved premises now account for one in five of all marriages. And in some counties church weddings dropped by as much as 20 per cent.

The law was changed in 1995, allowing local authorities to approve premises for solemnising civil marriages. Since April that year, more than 2,000 have been approved, primarily hotels and stately homes although some of the more exotic include a zoo and an old ironclad battleship.

In the first year, approved premises claimed 4,000 marriages, but the following year there were 15,000. Between 1994-5 and 1996-7 register office weddings fell from 149,000 to 146,000 and church wedding dropped from 135,000 to 114,000.

Ian Callister of Cheshire County Council, which has the highest number of approved locations, said the reason for the rise was the beautiful locations - such as Tatton Park (which provided the interior of the film Brideshead Revisited) and the mock-medieval Peckforton Castle. "We performed nearly 1,000 weddings in 1997 - we had to hire nine extra part-time deputy registrars," said Mr Callister.

Janet Simpson, editor of Noble's Wedding Venues Guide, named several factors: "First, people are moving away from the church and looking for alternatives ... churches can also be quite difficult about second-time round marriages, or getting married outside their own denomination."