A Vintage Circus Themed Wedding at Grays Court

Written by Emma Hla
All images by Shoot Photography.

This is the bright, colourful and happy wedding day of Sophie & Russ and it’s a wedding I’m truly fond of as it feels synonymous with Coco and one of our original venues – Grays Court York. This gorgeous City location is very much entwined in this couple’s love story and I couldn’t be happier telling their tale today…

Grays Court is the only venue in the city of York with an outdoor wedding license. You can choose to be wed in their beautiful walled gardens, or in the silk-wallpapered Sterne Room like our gorgeous couple. With fun and honest photography by Shoot Photography, the warmth of this venue is captured so beautifully.

Come quickly… Take a peek inside this Modern Vintage wedding.

Notes from the Bride


Images by Shoot Photography.

Sophie: It was really important for us that we should celebrate our big day at a venue that meant something to us. On that basis, when it came to choosing a venue there was only ever one contender; Grays Court, in fact we were so sure of this we didn’t ever look at any other options! We live a stone’s throw from Grays and since discovering the beautiful old house a few years ago have always considered it a very special ‘secret local’, enjoying many a peaceful bottle of wine there, tucked behind York Minster away from the city’s many tourist traps. And, when one summers evening 17 years after we had met, Russ decided the time was right to pop the question, it felt absolutely right that he should arrange for to do it in Grays beautiful walled gardens, complete with a brass quartet playing Lionel Richie from the balcony above!

Pin Up Girl

When it comes to hair and make-up I have always loved the 40’s and 50’s ‘pin-up’ girl styling and wanted to incorporate key elements of these eras in to my wedding day look. I had a couple of make-up trials to gather some inspiration but decided that I would be happier and look and feel more ‘me’ doing my make-up on the day. I chose to keep my make-up simple and focused on my eyes, long lashes, black liner and strong brows with a flash of pink Mac lippy. I was keen to keep my hair looking fairly relaxed and natural and the amazing Abby at Bang Hair managed to create my vision, incorporating a loose victory roll twist which balanced my headpiece perfectly.


Images by Shoot Photography.

Pretty & Classic

I was determined that wedding dress shopping would not turn in to an arduous task for my mum, bridesmaids or I so did lots of research online and chose my perfect dress shape before I booked any fittings. Since I had also committed the cardinal sin of buying the bridesmaids dresses and my shoes before I had chosen a dress, I knew the dress was going to have to be pretty classic- there were already lots of colours, patterns and textures going on! I went to one bridal shop, tried on 6 dresses and with my ideal shape confirmed in my mind I roped my sister in to measuring me and took the plunge ordering a simple bateau neck silk dress online. Just a few weeks later, after some serious pressing to remove the creases and some final tweaking to ensure my perfect fit, my dress was finished and more beautiful than I could have ever imagined!

I trawled etsy looking for the perfect headpiece and knew the 50’s style silk headpiece with chenille spotted veil was exactly right as soon as I saw it. It was custom made for me by the very clever Agnes Hart who runs her own millinery workshop in London.

The bridesmaids’ and flower girl dresses were the very first wedding things we bought, I spotted them in our local Joules outlet store and knew the colours, patterns and styles were absolutely perfect for the fun, vibrant ‘vintage circus’ style we had in mind for the day. The boys’ suits were off the peg from another high street store and their velvet bow ties were made to order by an amazing little company called Mrs Bowtie. Russ’ suit was made to measure and whilst we originally thought about choosing some off the wall fabric combinations we eventually settled for a beautiful black and white herringbone wool with a mustard yellow suit lining and striped waistcoat.


Images by Shoot Photography.

Vintage Circus

The vintage circus theme came about as a result of a brainstorm we did shortly after getting engaged. Our priority for the day was that it was fun, relaxed and very ‘us’ with an odd surprise thrown in here and there for good measure. I love interior design and our home is an eclectic mix of new and old put together with a sense of humour and these are things that we wanted to get across on our big day. Regardless of what anyone says I really believe that weddings are a little theatrical, a performance for your nearest and dearest and we decided to embrace and play on this idea though our theme.

The bridesmaids and flower girl dresses were the first things we bought and really helped to define the whole colour palette. I bought additional dresses for us to cut up and use within the decor so elements of the scheme tied together. I got a little bit obsessed with perfectly round oversized balloons which I sourced via eBay and am glad I did as they proved a brilliant prop for our couple shots. One of the most successful elements of our decor was a custom made sign of our initials which sat on the fireplace in the ceremony room. I bought this almost a year before the wedding and had it tucked away in the loft before unveiling it on the big day. Everyone admired it and it also gave the photos some real wow!

Pom-Pom Florals

I wanted the flowers to be cute, pom-pom shaped and bright and having spent some time looking at bouquets online had a clear of idea of what I liked and what I didn’t. I had set my heart on pink peonies, little yellow craspedia, hydrangeas in pink and white and dahlias with white freesias. As peonies weren’t in season our florist, the fabulous Heaven Scent Florists, suggested fuchsia David Austen roses, which despite my reservations were absolutely beautiful. We also decided to incorporate yellow pinhead proteas to add texture and colour. Russ and I spent many a Saturday morning at a local flea market collecting the many oversized vintage coloured vases we used for the centrepieces which really anchored the eclectic look we were trying to achieve.


Images by Shoot Photography


On a visit to Grays Court we had heard the antique piano being played and decided immediately that we wanted to find a pianist to set the mood for our big day. I booked a lovely guy called Antoine who covers the North of England and who agreed to play from our guests’ arrival until the end of the wedding breakfast- no mean feat! He was amazing and even learnt a classic piano version of Hans Zimmer’s ‘You’re so cool’ for us which I walked down the aisle to.

Our amazing photographers Jo and Simon of Shoot Lifestyle Photography also recommended an acoustic singer called Just Ben to us and after listening to his voice via his website we were convinced he was perfect and got him booked.  He did us proud on the night, involving our guests in his rendition of ‘Ho Hey’ by the Lumineers which we had requested he perform for our first dance. It got the party started and was so wonderful to see our friends and family, young and old up on the dance floor! We also had a brilliant photo booth company from Harrogate which our guests absolutely loved and were fighting to get in to!

Jam Roly Poly

We wanted our wedding breakfast to be a slant on a hearty, traditional menu, making the most of some amazing local produce. In the end we settled on a mini Yorkshire ploughmans to start, followed by individual steak and ale pies and a jam roly poly pudding to finish. It was delicious and there were clean plates all round! We had a simple evening buffet of bacon butties and local cheeses served alongside the amazing rainbow wedding cake my sister in law and bridesmaid Krissy had made for us. Our smartie jar favours doubled up as place names and I tied them in to the theme by decorating them with little animals I had sprayed gold and added pipe cleaner collars to! We also provided the wine and fizz for the reception, meal and toasts, having sourced it during a family holiday from an amazing little vineyard near Bergerac in France.


Images by Shoot Photography.

Gold, Stripes and Florals… Oh My

I have a bit of an obsession with typography and printed media so our wedding stationary was always going to be my baby! Russ and I wanted the build up to our wedding to begin from the moment our save the dates dropped on our guests doormats and started as we meant to go on by wrapping these in bright, stripy sweetie bays and sealing them with gold stickers complete with circus animal stamps which I bought on etsy. I went on to design little 3D carousels featuring Russ and I to sit within our wedding invitations. I probably took on a few too many projects but had a very clear idea of what I wanted and often just couldn’t find what I had in mind ready to buy. So when I decided on bow-backed stripy chair covers, a vintage carousel as a cake topper which coordinated with our theme, gold glitter-covered table numbers, gold animal balloon weights, a stripy spotty, floral cards box or 100 metres of perfectly coordinated bunting incorporating fabrics from the bridesmaids dresses, I had little choice but to get busy and with a committed friend or two make the finishing details of my dreams!

Words of Wisdom

Remember your wedding day is all about you, your love for one another, your taste and what makes you happy – your guests will enjoy whatever you choose because they love you! Don’t worry about pleasing or impressing anyone and don’t feel like you ‘should’ do this or that because it is expected of you. Concentrate on enjoying every moment and having an absolute blast.

A wedding is a celebration of love so throw caution to the wind and party! Finally, whatever you do, choose photographers you trust with your life and are completely and utterly comfortable with. Because once the confetti is brushed out of your hair and your dress has gone to the dry cleaners, amazing photos are absolutely the best mementos of your amazing day and all the special people and memories that made it perfect and made it yours. It goes without saying that we literally can not recommend the incredible Jo and Simon at Shoot Photography strongly enough and thank our lucky stars that after much research and blog searching we found them.  It’s fair to say we are in fact a little bit in love with them both.



Venue Grays Court York | Photography Shoot Photography | Florist Heaven Scent Florists | Hair Bang Hair | Bride’s Shoes Kurt Geiger | Headpiece Agnes Hart | Groomsmen Bowties Mrs Bowtie | Circus Marquee Letters West Vintage Trading Co. | Entertainment Antoine Robinson {Pianist) and Just Ben | Photo Booth Booth Revolution

So much to love! Take a spin through the gallery for full pinning glory.

Thank you to Sophie & Russ and Shoot Photography for sharing this happy, happy day at Grays Court York. You can view this fab venue in the Coco Wedding Venues directory, of course.

Lots of love…

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