Inspired by the television series Gentleman Jack, Jan Thomas-West and Emily Hayward invited 51 guests to celebrate their themed wedding day
How did you meet?
We met on 16th October 2019 at Holdsworth House Hotel in Halifax, while attending a talk about Anne Lister by local biographer and ‘diary decoder’ Helena Whitbread.
In 2019, Jan was single and living in Staffordshire, England. A retired police officer and animal welfare campaigner, Jan had lived an openly gay life for as long as she can remember.
Jan watched as Gentleman Jack launched to the US audience, gaining rave reviews. The true story revealed prolific diarist Anne Lister and her incredible character: strong-willed, entrepreneurial and intellectual. Importantly, Anne Lister was gay, and the series aired the complexity of living as a (secretly) gay woman in rural Britain in the 1800s. It was a story that certainly appealed to Jan.
In a quiet part of Lincolnshire, dog trainer Emily was one with whom the Gentleman Jack effect struck a resounding chord. Originally from Hertfordshire, Emily found the TV show incredibly poignant. She says: "I was 45 and I basically came out because of Gentleman Jack."
As if coming out wasn’t a big enough experience for Emily in 2019, it was the year she also met her wife. Because also sitting in the audience at Holdsworth House that drizzly October day, was Jan.
Tell us about the proposal
On our first Christmas together, Jan surprised Emily with a champagne breakfast and proposed as we exchanged Christmas gifts. Emily was wishing for a ring but thought it might be flight tickets to Canada. Thankfully Jan got it right with a diamond ring.
What was the theme for the day, and did you have a colour scheme?
It was an autumnal theme because of the time of year (October).
What venue did you choose and why did you choose it?
Emily: When Jan asked me to marry me, I said: "We’ve got to get married at Holdsworth House". That was always a given for both of us. We met because of Anne Lister and her history that intrigued us both, so we wanted to get married close to where Lister lived. It was so poignant that we’d met at Holdsworth House too; we fell in love with the place, its history and its beautiful architecture, so there really was nowhere else we considered. We just love Holdsworth House. The staff are amazing – the best.
Initially, we decided to marry two years to the day we met – 16th October, but there was a wedding already planned at Holdsworth House, so we chose Friday 15th October, 2021 instead.
What did you choose for your outfits?
We didn’t want a traditional wedding dress. We wanted our attire to be very relaxed and natural. We don’t wear skirts, but we didn’t want to look manly.
Jan bought her navy, patterned suit online and wore it with a mint cravat. Emily chose an ivory sequinned suit with a pink cravat and black waistcoat.
Originally, we were going to wear matching navy suits, which we ordered from a tailor. But as the date drew nearer they still hadn’t arrived. So, Emily bought her ivory suit, then at the last-minute the tailor said the suits had arrived. While Jan opted for the original suit, Emily stuck with her new purchase. It was all a bit of a worry, but we were both over the moon with our outfits.
Did you have bridesmaids or best men?
A good friend’s son and daughter took part in the ceremony, wearing a blue suit and an ivory dress respectively.
What did the mothers of the bride wear?
Jan’s mother wore a black chiffon trouser suit with a turquoise blouse. Emily’s surrogate mother wore black trousers and a turquoise and black patterned blouse.
Often the aspect that makes a wedding original to the couple is the detail – tell us about the details of the day
Emily’s young cousin and goddaughter Aimee is a whizz at design, so offered to create bespoke wedding invitations and table decorations. The autumnal theme included pumpkins, acorns, pine cones, berries, and leaves – all used to bring a colourful, seasonal vibe to the room, along with wood-crafted table numbers and place names.
We were able to access the reception room the day before the wedding, so Aimee could get in and begin setting up in plenty of time. It was important that our venue only allowed one wedding per day. As well as feeling like complete royalty, it helped to take the stress away for us.
A big shout out to Flowers by Jade of Halifax who were fantastic. The top table had a large floral display that included miniature pumpkins, acorns, cala lilies, and berries. The colours just popped against the white tablecloth.
Stefan’s Jewellers made our wedding rings. They actually made a lot of the jewellery for the Gentleman Jack television show including the black onyx ring made for Suranne Jones, the heart-shaped tie pin she wears, and the engagement ring that Anne gives to wife Ann at the end of the first series.
We had three photographer friends to fulfil the brief of taking natural photos. We got some cracking shots, including some of our friend’s pet dogs that played a special part in the wedding day.
How did you feel as you walked down the aisle?
Emily: I was emotional and had to take deep breaths to stop myself from crying. My surrogate mum, Maggie, walked me down the aisle.
Jan: I was excited and a little bit nervous, but delighted that my mother, Daphne, was able to walk me down the aisle.
How did you make the ceremony personal to you?
Jan’s best football buddy made a hilarious speech at the reception dinner and Aimee read a speech for Emily. We each made a speech too, with Jan’s including a moving quote lifted straight from Anne Lister’s diary:
With all my faults, Heaven grant me still the virtue of sincerity; and though I walk through many a darksome shade of folly and remorse, still let there be one light, the light of truth to guide me right at last.
Jan: That light led Anne Lister to her wife Ann Walker. It’s the same light that led me to Emily. If Anne Lister hadn’t written her diaries and Gentleman Jack hadn’t appeared on our screens, none of this would have happened.
The ceremony songs we chose were At Last by Celine Dion, So Natural by Lisa Stansfield, and Barry White’s You’re The First, The Last, My Everything.
What was your most memorable moment?
Jan: Looking back, the wedding is now incredibly memorable as my mum sadly passed away in February 2022.
Emily: As the ceremony started, the mobile phone of Jan’s mum’s friend went off. It was hilarious. I said: "There’s always one", to which the friend replied "Nobody ever calls me" – and it turned out to be a cold caller.
We’re not the nervous, worrying kind. We knew we could say our vows and we didn’t want to read them off a card. So, afterwards in the gardens while guests were having photos, we sat on the bench and said our own promises to each other and gave each other a gift.
The moment now seems unintentionally reminiscent of the final scene of Gentleman Jack, where Anne Lister and Ann Walker make their secret wedding vows to each other in church. Spending five minutes alone together on the day was so special. It worked well because by the time we walked into the reception, everyone was already seated.
What was the most challenging aspect of planning this wedding?
The restrictions of 2020 meant we couldn’t meet up with suppliers. Other than that, everything went swimmingly. It was like someone waved a wand over the hotel. The support we had from Holdsworth House was amazing. The day could not have gone better. The team made it so simple. None of our guests could find fault and a lot of have since said it was the best wedding they’ve been to. We wanted a no-stress wedding and that’s exactly what we got.
What was the most important investment for you?
Our main priority was that everyone had fun and enjoyed themselves. Food was important too. We had a wedding tasting at the hotel included within or package, so we were confident everyone would enjoy it. Booking a venue that had links to Shibden Hall and Anne Lister was the icing on the cake.
The wedding was a relaxed affair. It began the night prior, on the Thursday. Many of us arrived the afternoon and the evening before. We thought it a good idea as we were travelling from all over the south and the Midlands. Many of us stayed over and had a lovely meal together, I think it helped everyone to relax and to make the celebrations last longer.
What song did you choose for your first dance?
The first dance was to Heather Small’s What Do I Have. We chose this song because of the words. They were very poignant to us both.
Tell us about your wedding cake.
The wedding cake was created by a friend. The only worry was getting the cake to Halifax from Hertfordshire in one piece.
Emily: I’m a dog trainer and we both love dogs, so our cake had two fondant dogs included in the design. It was a three-tier cake with the bottom tier featuring a bark effect. It was adorned with autumnal coloured leaves, conkers and berries on stems. It really was stunning.
Where did you go on honeymoon?
In any other Covid-free year we would have honeymooned in Canada, and we still vow to visit one day. But two weeks in Scotland proved equally as scenic; one week on the Isle of Bute and another week in a glamping pod close to Loch Ness.
Do you have any advice for couples in the planning stages?
Start planning early, it’s surprising how fast time goes. If you’ve got friends that are very creative, then use them – they know you best and they can be a godsend. Having a get-together at the hotel the night before took a lot of stress away as everyone got chance to have a drink and chill out. Having the option to stay over on the night of the wedding too was also a blessing as no one was rushing off.
Steal their style: