Your Kent Wedding talks to James Brown, Medway Superintendent Registrar

With its spectacular riverside location and rich heritage, it’s no surprise that Medway is one of Kent’s most popular wedding destinations, supported by some of the county’s most spectacular and unique venues.

James Brown leads the team who register 800 weddings a year on average in Medway including places of worship, for those wanting a traditional religious ceremony, as well as ships, castles and buildings rich in history.

Eastgate House outside Credit: Eastgate House
Upnor Castle from Visitkent Credit: Upnor Castle

Please tell us a bit about yourself and the work of the Medway registrar team.

I’m the Superintendent Registrar for Medway, working with a core team on the registering of birth, death and marriage within the boundaries of Medway.

We’re supported by a team of about 20 dedicated sessional registrars. These are people who only come in during the week or at weekends, just to conduct wedding ceremonies, including the Guildhall on weekends.

A lot of our sessional registrars are retired teachers or magistrates, or they’ve got jobs elsewhere. This is very much like a social job for them and they’re a wonderful bunch of people. They perform the vast majority of weddings that occur in Medway’s outside venues.

How do you get selected as a wedding registrar?

We rarely advertise to tell the truth, there’s not a high turnover because once people start, they don’t leave as it’s one of the best jobs in the world!

We probably have vacancies every other year or so. There’s an interview process as with any other job but there’s no requirements or qualifications really. It’s more about technical ability and personality.

You’ve married 3,000 people in Medway over the past 18 years. Can you remember your first?

I don’t remember the names very well but can visualise the ceremony now, the groom was an artist, and the bride was Polish. It was a very small wedding, very short and sweet too, with just the couple and their two witnesses.

Small, of course, doesn’t mean it needs to be any less of an occasion. It still has the words, the vows and the exchange of rings. Of all the weddings, I’ve conducted, weddings like that first one can be the most moving, because they are boiled down to the absolute essence.

Eastgate House interior Credit: Eastgate House
Upnor Castle Aerial View Credit: Upnor Castle

What has this meant for the mystique and tradition of getting married?

Some couples expect to do what they have seen at previous weddings, so you must take that into account. Yes, there have been some changes, but, the legal part of the ceremony, the two lines that makes you married or not, haven’t changed for over 100 years – and they remain the same today.

How closely does the Medway register office work with wedding venues across Medway?

There are 15 approved ceremony venues across Medway, including a number of privately owned and council managed historic buildings. All cater for all sizes of wedding from the intimate and the quick, to the large, all day occasion with all the bells and whistles.

How has the job changed in your time in Medway?

There’s been a huge amount of change in legislation from same sex weddings and civil partnerships to how weddings and civil partnerships are registered.

We are now the people who produce all the marriage certificates for anyone who is married in Medway – including Church of England weddings - since the law changed a couple of years ago.

There’s no register to sign any more, which was quite an emotional part of the ceremony. Now you’re just signing a pie of paper, but it’s no less important. As a registrar, we build new parts into the ceremony to make up for that change in tradition.

What are the most important components of a successful wedding venue?

If you want to be a successful wedding venue, you’re going to need the three p’s. – photographs, privacy and parking.

You want photographic backdrops at every turn, exclusive use of your chosen venue, and lots of places to park or at least enjoy good access to public transport.

How have the expectations of couples marrying today changed over recent years?

While they always evolve with a lot more American influence right now, the expectations remain much the same as they always have.

We don’t do ‘insert name’ weddings in Medway. My sessional registrar team write the ceremony to make it as personal to the couple as we can. Because Medway is small and perfectly formed, we can provide a lot more freedom than some larger districts.

Rochester Corn Exchange ceremony Credit: Rochester Corn Exchange
Rochester Corn Exchange reception Credit: Rochester Corn Exchanage

How do you ensure couples get the wedding they want?

We give couples a choice pack when they register and actively encourage them to add to the ceremony and make it their own. We seek to tailor the whole ceremony to their requirements. Provided they say the all-important two lines – and there’s no religious content – we will cater for pretty much anything.

What trends are you seeing for wedding and civil partnerships in Medway?

We’ve had weddings with pets delivering the rings but the big thing at the moment are ‘flower dudes’ hired to dance down the aisle, sprinkling petals. Music wise, Ed Sheeran and Christina Perri are getting a big look right now – along with the usual popular classics.

Have wedding bookings recovered post-Covid?

We’re only now getting back to kind of pre-Covid levels of confidence. A lot of last year’s weddings were the last of those postponed as a result of the pandemic.

We’ve had a real increase in weddings from people who have realised how important it is to get the legalities done. So, we’ve seen bookings from couples that have been living together for 40/50 years who just haven’t got around to getting that bit of paper.

Covid has brought home to them how important that is to them. We’ve seen a significant spike in very small, very intimate, inexpensive weddings – without the bells and whistles - just wanting to mark the occasion. That has been something that has certainly benefited Medway’s smaller venues.

When are the most popular days to get married?

Whereas Friday was the new Saturday that’s now spreading into Thursdays. People are still not really getting married on a Sunday, which has always flabbergasted me.

The most popular day and time for a wedding is 2pm on a Saturday or 4pm on a Friday. We’re also seeing a rise in requests for Twilight weddings, for couples who want to go straight from the ceremony to the do.

In terms of the time of year, there’s fewer weddings on Valentine’s Day in Medway than any other day of the year. The second week of September and school holidays are traditionally the most popular

What tips would you give to a couple starting out on planning their wedding?

Do all the preparation beforehand, including contacting your registrar – one nearest to where you live and one your chosen venue is in, if not in the same area. It’s easy with all there is to do in planning a wedding to forget about the legal bit. We can advise on that when you first come in.

On the day of the wedding, the best advice I always give is to just turn up and forget it all, try and relax and let it happen. This is your day – enjoy it.

Find out more abouts saying "I do" in Medway at www.medway.gov.uk/homepage/138/ceremony_venues_in_medway

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