Are weddings any different today, than those in Medieval times?

My job role in the last six months has changed significantly. I have gone from organising various events to researching the current wedding market. My focus in this blog is to look at the ‘traditional wedding’ through the ages, and explore the differences to the modern day wedding.

Medieval Weddings

During the middle ages, there was a rise in marriage laws. In 1076 The Council of Westminster enforced the law that meant a priest must bless a marriage therefore contracts and legal documents started to be drawn up, similar to today’s marriage contracts and licenses.

The finest silks with gold or silver embroidery would be worn, brightly colored fabrics were popular and men would wear their finest court attire. Jewelry, furs and elaborate belts adorned every noble body.

White is now the symbol of purity, and most wedding dresses made in this hue. In the middle ages this wasn’t so. Bride’s would wear blue most often, as blue was the symbol of purity. If her gown were not blue, she would wear something else blue, like a ribbon in her hair. This is where today’s tradition of “something blue” comes from.

Today’s tiered wedding cakes actually stemmed from the middle Ages. Guests would bring little cakes and stack them on top of one another. The bride and groom would then try to kiss over the top of the cakes without knocking them to the ground.

Guests included inhabitants of the residence, other nobles and distant relatives and unlike today, Invitations were not sent out.

The noble wedding was rarely one filled with love – It was an arranged marriage. Peasants were a little different however, as they would often marry for love.


Elizabethan Weddings

A lot of the customs from the middle ages were still upheld during Elizabethan times. Religion still played a major role in weddings, and a priest would normally conduct ceremonies in a church. The cost of the wedding fell to the bride’s father, however in small villages; neighbours may prepare food for the feast, sort of like a potluck dinner.

Flowers played a bigger part. The bridesmaids would be in charge of making bouquets for guests, and to make the wedding garland, which was rosemary and roses. The bride would carry her garland until after the ceremony, where she would then place it on her head.


Victorian Weddings

Queen Victoria is often given credit for making the white wedding gown popular since she herself wore white to her wedding; however there have been many royal and non-royal brides after her that did not wear white.

Flowers became more and more important in a wedding; the church or chapel would be decorated with them. Men would wear a flower in the lapel of their frock coat or morning coat. In the country, a bride would walk to the chapel on a carpet of flower blossoms.

Queen vic

Wartime weddings

Romance continued to flourish even during wartime. The possibility of separation and the dangers of war caused many young lovers to ‘throw caution to the wind’.
It was often a hurried affair and not done in the style and manner that was previously possible. Before 1939, most couples would have opted for a traditional style wedding with a chapel or church ceremony, accompanying bridesmaids and guests, and a reception to follow. However, with the outbreak of war, there was no time for elaborate plans, so weddings were organised with less formality.

Instead of the traditional wedding dress most bridal outfits were made up of utility clothes. They were of simple design and made with the least amount of material possible and, since they could be worn again, made effective use of the clothing coupons.

Although many weddings that took place during the war could not follow all traditions, they were however, a source of pride and celebration as friends and family united to provide all the essentials. Help was given with the outfits and other aspects of the organisation. Enthusiastic amateurs took the photos, and neighbours and relatives contributed precious food rations to the wedding breakfast and ingredients for the cake.


I think it is clear to see that not much has really changed from even has far back at medieval times. Trends may come and go but the principal that weddings are a chance for families and friends to celebrate a couple’s love seems to never alter.


Miriam Burroughs

Skills For The Future Public Events Trainee


Lady Mary’s secret weapon for a porcelain complexion

This week’s blog comes from Sophie Towne and explores another exciting object found in the Collections Centre:

You are a refined and well-mannered lady quietly sewing by the fireside contemplating the latest family scandal, but you find your face is turning a rather un-dignified shade of pink because of the heat of the fire. So what do you need? A fire screen of course!

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We have many fire screens within Norfolk Museums Service and several excellent examples live at the Norfolk Museums Collection Centre. These objects are the quintessential showcase piece for domestic history. They are beautiful objects and it’s not hard to imagine the gentle lady of the house reclining in front of the fire with the screen to protect her delicate skin.
These objects are at once practical and decorative. They range from simple wicker screens to sumptuous embroidered spectacles. They sit proudly but quietly in every country house. So when you watch Downton Abbey next week take a moment to observe the surroundings of Lady Mary and Lord Grantham, I guarantee you’ll see a fire screen silently surveying the drama.
It is easy to picture a young lady taking an afternoon nap in the bedroom scene from Strangers’ Hall seen in the postcard below. Here the fire screen provides decoration but is also functional. In fact, we have this exact fire screen at The Norfolk Museums Collection Centre.


The screen is a cross stitched image of a finely dressed gentleman relaxing during a hunt, his rifle is propped against the bank and he and his dog share a moment of calm. The screen is mounted on an adjustable mahogany stand and it is positioned to face the viewer of the postcard. It is the cherry on top of an ornate room.

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We also have the fireplace seen in the postcard of Strangers’ Hall so we can almost recreate part of the postcard here at The Norfolk Museums Collection Centre. Even this useful object is embellished with floral and foliage motifs intertwined with ribbons swirling across the metal.


Although the bed dominates the room, the fireplace and fire screen are essential and important requirements for the space. They may not be as big a showstopper as the elaborate bed but Lady Mary couldn’t live without the fireplace or the fire screen.

Sophie Towne

Collections Management Trainee

Robert’s Halfway Blog

Welcome to my halfway blog, a slightly more interesting, updated blog for my traineeship. Being the heritage engineering trainee, I started out with comparatively little experience in the field. I can safely say that not only am I significantly more confident in my abilities but I feel I am more confident generally. I have in my time: ground, welded, made a handle for a broom, scraped gaskets and been soaked in 750 litre a minute water flows. As well as drilled holes for water-brackets, removed fire bars and swept out wheelbarrows of soot from smoke boxes and more. And I’ve enjoyed every minute of it!

Working on a boiler at North Norfolk Railway

Working on a boiler at North Norfolk Railway

Also in my time I’ve grown quite attached to many of the engines including “Black Prince” the B12, and the Almanco “hired man” at Gressenhall which is sadly poorly at the moment. Everything I’ve done and achieved has boosted my confidence and self esteem which in turn has improved my quality of life. I now regularly socialise and take an interest in my personal wellbeing, physically and mentally, which I did not do before and was quite reclusive. As an added bonus I’m enacting my hobbies as a career on top, which could not make me happier. Although I may be halfway through, I’m not sad at the thought of the end of my traineeship as, no matter what, I’ll know where I can continue to practice engineering in a voluntary or career setting and be in a better position now than I ever was before.

Rolling stock at North Norfolk Railway

Rolling stock at North Norfolk Railway

Robert Andrews
Heritage Engineering Trainee