Langley Priory is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been: not just because it’s set in stunning countryside less than 20 minutes from Derby, or because the Grade II listed property is steeped in fascinating history dating back nearly 1000 years, or even because the secluded house is so enchanting it conjures up all sorts of clichés about fairy tales. Langley Priory is warm and intimate and inviting. What a romantic place to have a wedding, an inspiring place to take an arts retreat or a brilliant backdrop for outdoor theatre.
I met with owner Tim Wagstaff (and Labrador Rosie) who showed me the lakes and parklands surrounding the house, complete with grazing cattle, vintage bridges, cascading waterfalls and – as if it had been planned for my visit – even a curious country fox. With the view of rolling hills and willow trees, this setting will play host to two outdoor theatre shows this summer – Chapterhouse Theatre Company’s Twelfth Night (Thursday 27th June) and The Pantaloons’ Sherlock Holmes (Thursday 11th July).
I asked Tim – who lives with wife Terri-Lee and two boys at Langley Priory – why he’d decided to invite the public into his garden this summer.
“We really enjoy putting on interesting and fun events and sharing Langley with others so that they can appreciate it as we do which is how the outdoor theatre idea came about.
A mate of mine started doing outdoor theatre and it was really popular so I started calling round some theatre companies wondering whether we might be too small for them but they came and saw the place and all thought it was ideal, so we tested the water last year for the first time with A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
We had about 180 people and the general response was “what a gorgeous day, you jammy gits!” and “when’s the next one?!” So this year we’re trying to encourage everyone to get here early with seating, a picnic and a bottle. I know that people tend to bring their own food but I’ve been thinking that next year maybe they wouldn’t mind leaving their scotch eggs at home if we were to do a gourmet BBQ and champagne tent?
Even though we don’t have capacity for the event to be massive, the challenge we still have is raising awareness; even a lot of local people don’t know we’re here though we get a lot of wedding enquiries.
We like to keep the weddings we do small and intimate and we tailor the day around the couple, making everything bespoke for them. It’s great for people who don’t want to go to a large impersonal hotel so that’s a bit of a niche for us. As it’s my wife and I that manage them along with an external catering company, we only do a limited number of weddings each year. This helps us to keep them personal and couples often comment on how un-commercial we are as a result. There’s no manager saying those heels are too high for the lawn, or you have to be out by a certain time. We just want people to enjoy themselves with no one looking over their shoulders.
Unlike many places, you can hire the whole property for a wedding so you’re not limited to specific rooms. You can get married in the light and airy wedding room upstairs overlooking the grounds, have your reception in the ornate drawing room or have the whole thing in a marquee or on the terrace outside. We’re very flexible”
Tim explained that they genuinely enjoy putting on events for people and have fun with new ideas and the variety they can offer in their home – I even mentioned murder mystery events which seemed to go down well.
Showing me round the house, I learnt from Tim that the oldest parts date back to the 12th century Benedictine nunnery and the house even displays an old document confirming the sale of what was left of the old priory in the early 16th century, with Henry VIII’s original waxed seal.
There is also an atmospheric tapestry room, with wall-to-wall tapestries dating back to the 17th century. Tim tells me that this is where they will often have musicians or a quartet playing as people leave the wedding room next door. I can just imagine the music drifting down the hallway.
They have a beautiful bridal suite, complete with ornate four poster bed and Victorian ceramic roll-top bath; luxurious and romantic but all with a homely feel.
The whole place keeps its intimate feel throughout, with large spaces that still feel warm and welcoming. The rooms feel lived in and everything is so much more impressive than the website gives it credit.
“We want to keep Langley Priory small and niche and with plenty of variety for people to enjoy what the space has to offer.”
Tickets for the outdoor theatre productions are available on the door at each performance on the night or you can find details of how to buy in advance on the Langley Priory website.