How I came to own a 500-acre estate and wedding venue
21 Aug 2019
Chris Vincent is the owner of Orchardleigh, a 500-acre luxury wedding venue near Frome in Somerset and here, he details his journey to success
People sometimes ask me, “Chris, how did all this come about?”. More often than not they don’t ask. They simply presume I inherited it. As much as I’d like that to have been the case (believe me, it would have been a damned sight easier), it simply isn’t.
Orchardleigh came about as the luxury wedding venue it is today via a somewhat circuitous route. Having hated school, I left at the age of 15 in the early 1960s. I nurtured the seeds of entrepreneurialism and these seeds, thankfully, grew into trees.
My early career
I started my business life selling logs at £4.50 a ton. Very profitable, but I spent it all in nightclubs living the high life. I then moved into the transport business at 17, operating a fleet of five lorries…before they all broke down.
Next came steel erection, erecting buildings and grain stores. Jackpot.
This saw me earning £2,000 a week in the '70s (more like £25,000) today. This funded some of the finer things in life: boats, aeroplanes, Aston Martins and more. The aeroplane, having given me a taste for flying, spurred me to enrol in the Oxford Air Training School and complete a commercial pilot’s licence.
Taking up a new career for a time, I worked flying Viscounts from Aberdeen to the Scottish islands. Great fun at first but, becoming bored, I left and flew the Fishery Protection Service for the Ministry of Agriculture and the Royal Navy.
The next stage in my business life saw me buy a farm of 81 acres at Winterslow near Salisbury in 1976 at auction for £49,000. A sum that I didn’t have and one that I hadn’t agreed with the bank manager. He hadn’t said yes, but he didn’t actually say no. That was a green light enough for me.
To fund it, and with great patience from the vendor, I sold my cars, boats and aeroplane over a painful two-month period. A worthwhile undertaking it turns out, as I sold Winterslow three years later at a profit which enabled me to buy a considerably larger, 340-acre farm at Collingbourne Ducis, near Andover.
Over the course of 20 years, I developed it into a first-class horse racing establishment, with 150 horses and five miles of gallops. From here, I sold the farm and the next step was Orchardleigh.
On to Orchardleigh
Derelict at the time, I immediately spotted the potential. Investing considerable resources, I worked to transform it into a luxury wedding venue.
Over another 20 years and with much cultivation and refinement, we created the high-end venue that it is today – with 500 acres of parkland, capacity for 180 overnight guests, 60 to 300 banqueting guests, a romantic island church, formal gardens, a castle and even its own airstrip. Orchardleigh has everything any couple would need. With my own Long Ranger helicopter, I’ve even been known to take the odd couple for a celebratory flight.
On Monday 19th August I, myself, got married at Orchardleigh to my wonderful wife Heather with 150 friends and family in attendance. It was the best day of my life. All the hard work over the past 20 years, transforming the house from a derelict ruin to a luxury, high-end venue, has led to this moment; finding my true love and happiness with my girl next door.
Images: Rebecca Faith Photo
My business advice
For any prospective wedding venue owner, operator or supplier looking to either enter the industry, or make the next business step, my advice is simply this: give it a go! Run the risk, give it your all and while lots of mistakes occur, as my life has evidenced, don’t look back; just go for it and make things happen.