A global wedding fairytale come true

28 Jul 2014

From Canada to Keele, Staffordshire 

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In the 1970s, an 11-year old girl from Canada discovered she was distantly related to the Sneyd family of Staffordshire, and made a promise to visit their ancestral home, Keele Hall.

Jane Sneyd found out about her family connection through her father, Neil. Fascinated by his family history, Neil traced his family tree to the 1400s and the original Sneyds who established the Keele estate and built Keele Hall, now at the centre of the Keele University campus, in 1580.

Neil spent hours researching the Sneyds’ history and in 1975, travelled from Canada to England with his father to visit the University grounds. The pair were given a tour of the estate by tour guide, Emmy Mitchell, who took the Canadian Sneyds under her wing and gave them a place to stay in her home. It was a gesture that resulted in a lifelong friendship. 

Almost 10 years later, Jane, then 20, backpacked through Europe and made the long awaited journey to Staffordshire. Although Emmy Mitchell had retired from her role at Keele, she had stayed in such close touch with the Canadian Sneyds and arranged a tour for Jane around Keele Hall.

Jane says: “It was such a memorable experience for me to finally visit Keele Hall. I remember when my dad visited and the first thing he said to me was that I had to go one day, so Staffordshire was top of my list when I decided to head to Europe one summer. Sneyd is such a rare name in Canada – no one knows how to pronounce it and we are always the only ones in the phone book – so to see our name throughout the Keele estate was just incredible.”

Jane never forgot about her visit to Keele and when she had two children in the 1990s, she made another promise to her family, that one day she would take them to England to visit.

Fast forward to 2012, when Jane fell in love with Englishman Alan Heseltine who moved to Canada in the 1980s. Although Jane’s dad had since died Jane shared her dreams with Alan to one day take her children to England to show them around Keele Hall. Visiting Keele’s website in search of a tour guide, Jane was surprised to discover the Grade-II listed building is also a professional wedding venue. She decided if she and Alan ever married, she wanted to tie the knot at her ancestral home.

Within a few months, Alan had proposed and the newly-engaged couple announced to the family their plans to marry at Keele Hall. With the wedding venue thousands of miles away, the pair didn’t expect many people would be enthusiastic, but they couldn’t have been more wrong.

Jane explains: “The reaction from my family was completely overwhelming. As the majority of them had never been to England before, they didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to come and see Keele Hall for themselves and 20 of my closest friends and family agreed to come to the wedding.”

Jane then set about preparing everything for the big day. Because Keele Hall has a dedicated events team, Jane was assigned a wedding planner, Jo Williams, to help her with every aspect of her planning, from which rooms in Keele Hall to use, through to advising and helping to book suppliers.

Jane explains: “Through email and the internet, it was really easy to research suppliers and make arrangements from Canada and Jo helped to make sure everything came together wonderfully. Every couple of weeks I’d send Jo a long list of questions and she would come back to me with all my answers and fantastic ideas to make our day special. The only thing I ended up buying in Canada was my dress.”

Waking on the morning of the wedding, the couple was met by John Easom of Forever Keele, who gave the guests a guided tour of the Keele Estate before the wedding ceremony in the afternoon. Jane and Alan chose to get married in the Great Hall as it provided the grandeur of a stately home, with the intimacy of a family wedding. The ceremony was followed by a close family dinner in the Old Library, surrounded by the Sneyd book collection and overlooking the manicured lawns and majestic lakes of the Keele estate – the same views the Sneyds would have seen in the 18th century.

Jane says: “People who live in the UK are used to seeing stately homes and old houses all the time, but in Canada, you are lucky to find a building more than 100 years old. So imagine how it feels to get married in such a grand house when you know that members of your own family used to live on the estate and designed and built the house hundreds of years ago. My mum said it was the highlight of her life and it was a huge tribute to my dad who loved Keele and would have been delighted to know I got married there. I was never much of a fairytale girl when I was younger, but safe to say, I had a fairytale wedding at Keele Hall.”

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