Real Weddings

Rule-breaking Abingdon Abbey DIY Wedding

Laura, a marketing and communications manager and Olly, a sports writer married in a DIY wedding at Abingdon Abbey, Oxfordshire. They kept it real and true to their style with matching tattoos instead of wedding rings (their first!) and no stuffy formal seating plans or traditions. This super chilled bride even found her wedding shoes a few days before the wedding in a charity shop! Read on for more DIY wedding inspiration.  

Where did you get married and why did you choose your venue?

Neither of us are from Abingdon, but it’s where we’ve made our first home together and we love the town. Abingdon Abbey is unique – going back to the 7th century, it’s at the heart of the town’s history, and also still very much a part of Abingdon life. We’d been to various events there, including live music and film screenings, and when we found out it was available for weddings we jumped at the chance!

How did you ‘keep it real’ and true to you?

In general, we took the approach of only following traditions if they felt right to us. We wanted a relaxed and fun feel to the day, with everyone free to move around, enjoy the venue and enjoy spending time together.

Some examples of things we did differently…

  • Instead of engagement rings, we planted a tree in the National Forest.
  • Instead of wedding rings, we each got a tattoo (our first!)
  • We decorated the venue ourselves, with help from family and friends – especially Laura’s mum, who made lots of beautiful paper flowers.
paper flowers DIY wedding
  • As part of the programme for the day, the Abbey’s curator Tim led tours of the grounds, dressed as a medieval monk, so our guests could really explore the rich history – this was very popular!
  • Instead of a formal meal, we had a barbecue, with people free to eat wherever they fancied, indoors or out.
  • We stocked the bar ourselves, including locally brewed beer (Abingdon Bridge – aptly named as the venue is next to the bridge!) and gin (from the Oxford Artisan Distillery, just down the road).
red wine wedding
  • We also had locally made ice cream, from iScream Gelateria, based in Oxford – served up from a freezer on the back of a bike.
  • Speeches outdoors, including lots of jokes, rhyming, dressing up and general silliness…
  • Outdoor games available for people to play during the day.
  • We had a special flag made for the Abbey – showing the original crest of the Abbey, and a mini ceremony to hang this in the flagpole, which had been empty for some time.
  • Instead of a guest book, we asked guests to add their finger stamps and names as the leaves on a fingerprint tree – a creating a picture which we can hang up at home.

  • Instead of a traditional wedding dress, Laura bought a vintage-style dress online, with shoes and handbag from a charity shop. The groom, best men and best woman chose their own outfits – suits/dress they already owned – just with matching ties for the men.

Who was your photographer and how did you choose them?

Lee Dann was our photographer. We were looking for a photographer who specialised in documentary-style photos – informal, candid shots that would capture the relaxed and fun spirit of the day. We liked Lee’s portfolio and also liked the idea of working with a local photographer – based just around the corner from the venue. He did a fantastic job – fitted in really well on the day, and we absolutely love the photos. 

Tell us about your DIY team…

Laura’s mum made beautiful paper flower decorations in different styles for different parts of the venue (we also got family and friends involved in making these at Laura’s hen-do, which included friends of both genders and involved a crafternoon). Other family and friends also helped with decoration contributions:

  • Laura’s Auntie Denise brought the vines with her all the way from Texas.
paper flowers vines DIY wedding
  • Sister-in-law Lena made additional paper flowers for the tables.
  • One of the best men (Matt) contributed fairy lights and other decorations which had been used at his own wedding. Matt also did come excellent calligraphy for chalkboards showing the agenda for the day and the bar menu.
wedding decorations chalkboard
  • Reams of bunting borrowed from the parents of “best woman” Sally.
  • Balloons and gazebo from Laura’s Dad and his partner.

It was a big team effort – lots of people helped with set-up the day before, running everything smoothly on the day itself, and clearing up the following day… including washing and drying a LOT of glasses in a single small sink!

What about a cake?

Instead of cake we had locally made ice cream, which was absolutely delicious and fun for our guests to enjoy together outdoors. Served up outside from a freezer on a bike. Genuinely the best ice cream we’ve tasted!

Tell me about your hair and makeup…

No hair and make-up! Just a quick shower and blow-dry at home.

Tell me about your catering. Was it done in-house or did you bring outside caterers in?

We had a barbecue provided by some local caterers – a selection of hot food and tasty salads.

Who walked you down the aisle?

We got married on stage in the Unicorn Theatre – a part of the Abbey which is now used as a small theatre, complete with balcony and trap door. So no one walked down the aisle – instead we made an entrance from backstage one at a time, to applause from our guests!

What song played as you walked down the aisle?

We had a live fiddler playing a medley of traditional folk songs – a member of the band Bowreed, who did a fantastic ceilidh for us in the evening.

Did you write your own vows?

Yes – we wrote a shared promise, which we read out together, taking a line at a time.

What was your first dance?

A big, high-energy ceilidh dance which everyone joined in with – great fun!

Was your wedding done on a tight budget?

Not particularly, but we didn’t spend money on anything we didn’t genuinely want, and we tried to keep it all fairly simple – not just to save money but because we felt this was the best reflection of who we are and how we like to spend time with people. The focus was all on creating opportunities for our collected family and friends to meet and chat to each other and generally have a fun time. Around £10,000 in total – including venue, music, food, drink, photographer and all the “trimmings”.

Any tips for saving money?

  • Homemade paper flower decorations instead of fresh flowers.
  • BBQ/buffet instead of a more formal meal.
  • No expensive clothes. Olly wore a suit he already owned, as did his two best men; he just bought matching ties for the three of them (£10 each). Laura’s dress was £39.99 (ordered online), and she picked up some shoes (£3) and a handbag (£2) in a charity shop a few days before.
  • Free glass hire and money back on any unused wine.
  • No engagement/wedding rings – we planted a tree and got tattoos instead; not in order to save money but definitely cheaper than rings.

Would you do anything differently?

Not at all – we loved every minute.

REAL moments

  1. On the morning of the wedding, Laura went for her usual Saturday run (approx. 12 miles). All was going well, but it was a route she hadn’t done for some time, and she reached a large field in which the path had completely disappeared beneath chest-high grass, weeds, nettles, brambles and bitey things… She fought her way across and made it to the wedding on time but did end up cutting things a bit fine – plus spent the rest of the day smelling of Jungle Formula bite and sting cream! No cold feet, but very itchy legs…
  2. Doing the speeches outside in the garden beside the old mill stream… Relaxed and lovely to see everyone together in one place; lots of laughs but also plenty of (happy!) tears – this part of the day produced some of the strongest memories (and photos!)
  3. Seeing everyone come together to join in with the ceilidh dancing – it was brilliant to see everyone get involved, from the children to Olly’s great aunt. Followed by some good old nostalgic disco tunes.
  4. Walking out onto the stage at the start of the ceremony – this was fun and a bit of a surprise for most of the audience, who hadn’t been to the venue before and didn’t know what we had planned for the day. Set the tone for a fun, informal, happy celebration.

Anything you’d like to add?

The following day (after we’d finished cleaning up) we had a picnic and games by the river for friends and family still in the area. This was a lovely way for us to spend more time with people, especially those who live further away and that we don’t get to see as often. Plus a good way to use up leftover food!


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Photographer: Lee Dann | Venue: Abbingdon Abbey | Bride’s dress designer: Pretty Kitty Fashion Shoes: Barnardos | Rings: Tattoos instead of wedding rings | Groom’s suit: Burton (already owned) | Catering: ice cream cart – iScream Oxford BBQ – Pigging Perfect | Entertainment: Ceilidh – Bowreed | Favours: None – guests encourages to take paper flowers


Gaia Hudson

Written by gaia_bkir

Founder of Brides Keeping it Real and mum of two little ones, Leon & Ada. Passionate about providing a supportive online community for brides and grooms who want an achievable, uncomplicated wedding planning experience.