Lifestyle editor Sheena Campbell steps inside one of Chichester’s most recognisable buildings to find a unique venue straight out of an historical romance novel.
Stepping into The Foyer at Edes House, I feel as though I should be curtseying to a frowning Mr Darcy rather than conducting an interview.
Most of us have probably walked past the building in West Street at one point or another, but when it comes to what lies inside, the house is still one of our area’s hidden treasures.
Built at the end of the 17th century, Edes House has gone through a variety of uses since being bought by West Sussex County Council in 1916.
Now, however the lovingly-restored grade-one listed building is being promoted as a unique wedding and function venue and the team behind it – Kim Wright and Keshira Aarabi – are keen to raise its profile.
“I used to think it was an extension of city hall,” said Kim.
“The number of people who walk past it every day and don’t realise what it is.
“We get a lot of people who say ‘We found you on the internet, we didn’t know you were here’.”
“I have lived in Chichester all my life and I didn’t even know it was here,” adds Keshira, who came on-board earlier this year when demand for events at Edes House started to grow.
“It is nice to be able to come in and show people how beautiful it is.”
Beautiful it may be, but its listed status also means the house is expensive to maintain. Kim and Keshira are hoping raising its profile as a destination venue will help preserve it for generations to come.
There are five rooms licensed for weddings and civil partnerships at Edes House.
“It’s a very comfortable, very relaxed, very intimate venue,” said Kim.
The largest rooms available for weddings are The Richmond Room and The Foyer – both holding up to 80 guests.
Then there is the Norfolk Room which can host 60, the Leconfield Room, holding 35, or, for a truly intimate setting, the Cowdray Room which holds eight.
Each of the different rooms has its own unique style and distinct period features, from the BBB tiles made by William De Morgan in The Foyer to the eggshell blue walls of the Goodwood Room – not yet licensed but my personal favourite.
The Richmond Room, with its strong links to the area’s racing history, has sunlight streaming through the windows and houses a grand piano, while the Leconfield has the feel of a more traditional stately home dining room.
For Kim, the unique feel of each room is key to the house’s appeal.
“For every couple that comes into a room and says ‘I love it’, there is another that will say ‘I don’t like it at all’,” she said.
“But we can normally find a way to make it work for people.
“We had one wedding at twilight with fairy lights coming up the stairs, there was a red carpet and everything was decorated for Christmas, it looked really lovely.”
Kim and Keshira’s excitement about the house is palatable and they are filled with anecdotes about weddings they have planned.
“I have been in weddings 23 years and they were so traditional before, everyone got married in a church then had the wedding breakfast,” said Kim.
“Now it is so much more flexible. I had one couple who came in with an iPod and everyone had a choice of ten songs.”
Keshira agreed, adding: “There are so many lovely couples coming in and everyone’s doing it differently which is really nice for us.
“It makes the job so exciting.”
Aside from weddings, the pair are brimming with ideas about how the venue can be used, including murder-mystery nights based around the history of the house, functions and historical tours.
While Mr Darcy himself will not be striding the halls, it looks as if a few new love stories may find their happy beginnings within the walls of this handsome house.
Edes House was built at the end of the 17th century for John Edes, a maltster, and his wife, Hannah.
The letters JHE are carved in the pediment above the main entrance. It was apparently nameless until 1841 when it was described as Westgate House in the will of Elizabeth Penfold.
The name continued until 1905 when the property was called West Street House, it was changed to Wren’s House by 1911 and in 1967 it was simplified to Wren House. In 1993, it was renamed Edes House in recognition of the fact it is unlikely the house was designed by Sir Christopher Wren. Bought by West Sussex County Council, it was used as its offices until the current county hall was built in 1936.
The house was used as the county library headquarters and county and diocesan record offices until the building of the new record offices in 1989 gave the opportunity for it to be restored.
Now, it provides a unique venue for weddings and functions alike, as well as still being used as a working council building.