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Stowford Manor Farm Wedding Photography : Tory & Jon

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Tory & Jon married in the tranquil, sunbathed summer hinterlands of West Wiltshire, celebrating at Stowford Manor Farm with the run of the estate’s grounds and a banquet and party in an old stone barn. A dream long in the creation, in the planning and organisation, a grand journey and a grand arrival celebrated with aplomb.

Theirs was more than just a fantastic wedding. It was an expression of all that’s best about community. A gathering of truly lovely people, I can’t say I’ve ever had quite so many conversations with such a range of different people on a wedding day, heart-warming ones at that. All interesting people; more than that again, all interested, in others. That alone makes a person one worthy of interest, of listening to.

This is the story of Tory & Jon’s day.

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Stowford Manor Farm is a working farm with a small array of interesting businesses occupying a number of its buildings; a stone mason, an art school and a glassmaking workshop amongst them. Tory & Jon kindly arranged for me to stay at the fantastic on-site B&B which meant that I had all of a 30 second commute to work at the start of the day (not including the bridal preparations and the church ceremony, but they weren’t particularly far off either) and all of 30 seconds back to my bed in the early hours of the following morning. If you’re looking for bed and breakfast accommodation in Wiltshire, I couldn’t recommend the Mill House B&B more enthusiastically. The hospitality is spot on and their breakfast warrants a wicker-basketful of superlatives. Some of that breakfast’s ingredients are sourced from the farm itself; perfect fare, though it did quite soon necessitate my making an internalised psychological division between that which I had eaten and at least one aspect of that which I found myself photographing :~)…

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It’s been a good while since I’ve been able to revisit one of my favourite personal motifs, that of the wedding day tractor, and this time it was in genuine context. Parked – I suspect permanently – in a lean-to tucked away behind the barn :~)…

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I was, in truth, deeply enamoured with the barn; its material and spatial composition, its surface texture. It’s the kind of place that I would have loved playing in as a child, the kind of place I did love playing in as a grown up; a place that I loved poring over every minute detail of with my eye.

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Including the period Wiltshire star-catcher :~)…

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And the formidable Guardian of the Dance-floor…

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While best men, Lawrence and Tom, puzzled their way around the bare bones of it all, both were at a slight disadvantage as usher, Rob, had after all been the British Army’s inter-battalion gazebo raising champion three years in a row…

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But it all boils down to teamwork in the end :~)…

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The barn and surrounding environs at Stowford Manor Farm are hired out for weddings as is, the perfect eclectic canvas – significantly to its credit, it certainly couldn’t be described as blank – upon which to add your vision for a wedding day. One could of course employ the services of a wedding coordination outfit to draw all the material requirements together but not so Tory & Jon. Absolutely everything had to be taken into account from the seats that everyone would sit upon to the tables that they would eat from, and pretty much everything in between, to the sides, above and below. I found their supplier spreadsheet fascinating reading, a little masterclass in wedding planning in its own right. There was even a separate company called upon just for hire of the metal pegs from which an array of lanterns would be hung…

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“This is not a photo-opportunity!” the muffled echo of Tom’s voice called out to me as I walked past. “Everything is a photo-opportunity,” I corrected him. After all, your two friends, getting married that day, are going to delight in seeing the lengths – or indeed depths – that you went to for them :~)…

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(Oh, and that was the B&B that I was staying at, just there in the background :~)

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Maid of honour – one of Tory’s two maids of honour as it happens – Ellie, was a core member of the rearguard of a small army of friends that had worked on site over previous days to bring everything together. I always find it deeply heartening to see such community of spirit at work, and what it can achieve…

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And one of the most exciting images that I took, on a day with plenty of exciting things to make images of. It even came with a knife and fork come time to eat later that day, but I’d have happily used my hands, so delighted was I with my name tag :~) And a big, big thanks to Tory & Jon for seating me as a guest for dinner, and at a table that offered truly splendid company to boot (though that would have been the case at any of the tables, such was the collective quality of personality embodied in Tory & Jon’s gathering of guests)…

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Jon arrived in characteristically timely manner (I just listened to all your friends, Jon :~)…

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Amongst numerous of those testimonies that I heard from Tory & Jon’s friends throughout that day and night (they are certainly much-loved characters amongst their peer group), Jon’s incredible attention to detail was a key attribute related to me in particular, by one…

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I always find fascination in encountering florists about their creative endeavours, so much of the effort that they put in typically hidden beneath the surface of a wedding day; the fruit of their labours oh so important upon that surface. Becky – proprietor of the evocatively named Flowers of the Hesperides – and her mum were busily at work throughout the morning. Her Web site makes for engaging philosophical reading…

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Becky had woven together the verdant table garlands with the assistance of Tory’s bridal party, a touch of everyone in every aspect of the day’s decor…

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A few wholesome slices of the morning’s preparations digested, it was time for me to move on to document something of Tory’s pre-ceremony preparations with her bridesmaids and bridesman, and something of a sub-plot adventure began. I only wish that there had been someone on hand to photographically relate the essence of that adventure, but words must suffice so that can always look back on it with… well I’m not sure with what; some amusement, I dare say :~) Tory & Jon had spent the eve of their wedding in the beautiful Wiltshire town of Bradford on Avon some ten minutes down the road from Stowford Manor Farm. As I drove across the town from the out on one side to the skirt on the other, I really wanted to photograph some of its architectural delights but couldn’t; I was driving, traffic was fairly busy and parking was at a great premium. I really must go back there some time.

My invariably trusty SatNav took me to the exact spot that the postcode entered in to it dictated. The only problem was that the exact spot wasn’t in exactly the right place. I was in a cul-de-sac, both literally and metaphorically. Somewhere that wasn’t… there. Two ‘phone calls to Tory’s bridesman, Stuart, did prove highly useful psychologically in that they afforded me an audible link to the world that I was orbiting but between the two of us, we exhausted Stuart’s knowledge of the locale. I then ‘phoned Tory, who was reassuringly calm about… everything :~) She knew where she was but wasn’t certain how she’d got there as she had arrived in darkness.

Tory sent me a number for Nina, one of her bridesmaids who was staying at a nearby B&B with the other bridesmaids who were shortly due to join her. Nina provided me with a fresh set of coordinates, for the B&B, from which point I should be able to more simply locate Tory. As I drove out of the cul-de-sac, Becky the florist drove in to the cul-de-sac with her mum. When you’re all in the wrong place together, then… well… somehow it feels safer. We decided to try independent routes back out in order to double the chances of our finding exactly where we needed to be.

I found the B&B just as the bridesmaids were setting out to meet up with Tory. They offered to wait for me while I searched for a parking spot but as they were able to point me towards the road, leading up a hill, half way up which Tory was to be found, I told them to carry on ahead of me (the hill atop which, by the way, the cul-de-sac I’d earlier found myself in was located :~) I then reversed my way into the B&B’s small car park.

A man appeared and guided me in to a spot safely. As I thanked him, he introduced himself as the owner of the B&B. I mentioned, out of deference, that I wasn’t actually a guest at the B&B but was following the bridesmaids that were guests up the hill to meet with the bride. “You’re not a guest?” he replied. “In that case, you shouldn’t park here.” “Oh!” I responded, I couldn’t think of anything else to say. I think my face was saying whatever needed saying anyway. ‘Please! I’m begging you!’ Reading my face fluently, he quickly followed up, “Oh, you’re welcome to park here but it’s just that I think you shouldn’t. I have some new guests arriving in a short while and you’ll likely get parked in for the rest of the day.” That wouldn’t have helped any with my getting to the church on the next leg of my day’s journey, so he was quite right. He then directed me to a safe parking spot an easy-going stone’s throw back up the road and all was good.

So I’m going to make my second accommodation related recommendation of the day. If you’re looking for a B&B in Bradford on Avon, look no further than the Priory Steps because as far as I’m concerned, if the proprietor is that considerate and helpful to a complete stranger who has just landed out of nowhere in his car park and isn’t a paying guest, then those that are actually staying in his establishment are certainly going to be well looked after. That and the bridesmaids rated the place highly as well :~) It’s a good thing that he happened to be there as I was parking, too, though I’d have abandoned my car and taken a taxi in the blink of an eye had I needed to. Cars can always be retrieved the following day.

Once half-way up the hill and on the right track, I realised why my SatNav had left me short of my goal. Tory’s accommodation wasn’t accessible by road. I spied Becky the florist and her mum and did wonder how they had got there, but never had time to ask. As I approached, I wondered further why they were lingering so long on the doorstep, evidently talking to Tory through an open window.

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And… why they were passing bouquets through the window. It was an especially lovely day to be outdoors, I suppose :~)

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“Do you have Jon’s number?” Tory enquired of me.

“I do,” I replied.

“Could you call him and ask if he knows where the key to our door is?” she requested.

So I called Jon.

“Do you know where the key to your and Tory’s door is?” I asked him.

“Oh!” he responded, “That will be… the key… that’s in……. my pocket.”

And thus plans were set in motion to sort that all out. In the meantime, Tory’s bridesmaids arrived. I was curious to know though how they had set off from their B&B some time ahead of me, yet had arrived after I had. “Oh, we got lost,” I was told :~)

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The fantastic thing in all of this was just how calm and clear headed Tory remained, a refreshingly take it in her stride kind of person, something that friends concurred upon as one of her key and consistent characteristics when I related some of the tale later into the day. She locked in to her accommodation. Everyone else locked out. Well let’s get this party on the road anyway. Or into the garden at least :~)

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Champagne came out…

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More bouquets went in…

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Or maybe the champagne bottle had been going in rather than coming out because then champagne came out in a glass. I’m just working with the angles of delivery here :~)…

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Then a teapot… came… went?… no, definitely came out…

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Then, of course, a bread knife. I’m certain that must have been coming out, despite the angle possibly suggesting it was going in. That’s all down to safe bread knife transferring practice…

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And then, Rapunzel like but with hair not quite long enough to attempt the feat from a higher storey…

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All was as it needed to be. Bar getting dressed and all that stuff :~)

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So, having photographed something of the most exciting form of bridal preparations that I have yet encountered, I retrieved my safely un-parked in car and returned to Stowford Manor Farm to join everyone on the bus journey to the church (where parking was at even more of a premium than it had been in Bradford on Avon).

Jon’s expression. One that I empathised with completely :~)…

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If you’re ever in need of a coach company that can highly skilfully, with commensurate comfort and ever so safely get you through a set of very narrow, winding, undulating Wiltshire country roads then Hatts Travel are the company for you. I dare say they’re great on the wide open road, too.

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All Saints Church in Tellisford is highly visible from above when using Google Maps satellite view and being on the corner of a cross-roads, I imagined it would be highly visible from the road too. I check this kind of thing out in the lead up to a wedding. I was however a little puzzled as to why I couldn’t locate it using street view. I worked my way up and down the road for ages, during my virtual reconnaissance, not a church in sight. Back to satellite view; it’s there, clear as day. Back to street view; it’s gone. And that’s just how it is in reality. A large as life church that’s completely invisible, until you find it. This somehow seemed to fit a theme that had emerged earlier :~)

I had though tracked it down, on foot, the evening before and travelling on the same coach as the groom come the day made getting there a safer bet again. That or we’d all have been lost, together, but got there we all did (though there was still the question of a locked in, locked out bride!)

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All of the paper based design associated with the day had been beautifully produced by Tory, with Jon’s assistance…

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Becky the florist and her mum had found the church, too :~)…

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With a few minutes to go before Tory was due to arrive at the church, I made my way back out to the road…

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And 40 minutes later, I’d started to develop a nice sun tan :~)

At breakfast the following morning, one of their friends told me how apt all the lateness and delay had been as it fitted Tory & Jon’s demeanour to a tee; both would almost always be late for social gatherings and almost invariably, it was due to the fact that Tory had concocted some culinary masterpiece the making of which would delay their departure from home and the presentation and sharing of which would delight all of her and Jon’s friends. The same friend stated that Tory having been described in the speeches as something of a Nigella Lawson had been something, in turn, of an understatement.

To me, witnessing all that was going on, things that might make many a bride or groom crumble with stress, seeing how Tory & Jon responded to everything simply cast a magnifying lens on the depth and strength of their combined character. Seeing how their friends took it all on board evidenced the strength of the social dynamic that bonded them all together. It really was something exceptionally heart-warming to see in play.

Anyway… game on :~)…

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Parking was at a premium in the church too but the vicar kindly directed me to a space that I could reverse into.

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A voice that brings pause to time’s breath. Tory’s sister, Betsy, sang My Lagan Love…

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A single, rolling tear…

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And maid of honour Julia sang enchantingly, too…

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Load…

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I’ve been labouring an age to summon the quintessential onomatopoeic expression that evokes the essence of a single, perfectly deployed plume of confetti…

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(Clearly, I’m still working on it :~)

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Good technique there :~)…

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And back on the bus to Stowford Manor Farm we all went…

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Exquisite brownies made by maid of honour Julia’s sister, Alice, of Alice’s Cakes in Bath

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Just marvellous :~)…

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Tory’s mum, Jane, made such a beautiful cake…

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Marshmallows on a stick were wrapped for each guest, for toasting later on in a fire pit…

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A whole host of delightful vintage furnishings were supplied by Virginia’s Vintage Hire, including these large rustic trestle tables, a wooden bar, old benches, a vintage coat rack, candlesticks, urns, a large metal wine rack, the cream easel used to hold Tory & Jon’s table plan and wooden garden skittles used out on the lawn.

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To my eye, there’s never been a more beautiful setting for a banquet…

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A sumptuous feast was laid on by Dolmans Catering, a family that started farming in Wiltshire over a hundred years ago before relocating to Gloucestershire in the 1950’s, from where they continue to conduct their trade. Looking at their Web site is making me feel hungry again and I have a blog post to write, so have had to close it for now! :~) I’ll need to close my eyes and skip over the ensuing images too…

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One guest at each table was assigned the duty of carver, each rewarded with a delightful hand crafted pinafore to keep, made by Tory using tea towels she’d bought from Primark :~)…

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The spirit of sharing permeated the afternoon. There’s something quite simple, quite pure, really rather resonant about the serving of food in such a manner.

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I sat to eat, to drink. Good company. Exquisite food. As my body responded to fresh sustenance, as water rehydrated my brain, as the conversation flowed and as the melodic strains of harp and of wooden flute danced their way down across the tables from the balcony at the foot of the barn, a peaceful, soulful clarity of mind settled upon me. A drawn out moment, in the moment. A pause for breath. I was party to a medieval banquet, in a very real sense. This was just how people would have gathered to celebrate rites of passage and the passage of life’s cycles for centuries and for millennia gone by. It was just how everything should be. Just… just perfect

Then time for a short post-dinner stroll.

“You must be Andy?” I volunteered a guess.

“Ah, but am I? Or maybe I’m… a spy!” :~)…

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“Sorry!”…

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“Sor-ryyyy!”…

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“{{{I’m sorrrrry!}}}”…

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Not at all! :~) Thank you. Thank you.

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A smörgåsbord of heartening speeches followed a banquet of hearty food; a joint bride & groom’s speech from Tory & Jon, best men’s speeches from Tom and Lawrence, a maid of honour’s speech from Julia and a father of the groom’s speech from Jon’s father, John…

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Later that evening, in conversation with Tory and with the following image, in particular, in mind, I told her how enthralled I was with the setting for her and Jon’s wedding celebration, how each time I looked on at their top table and saw how beautiful its display was, then the backdrop, representative of a place I could picture full of hay bales or sheltering animals; there was something deeply resonant in the juxtaposition, for me. “It’s transient,” she declared; “It represents transience.” At the same time there was a great sense of continuity in all of it, for me; a sense of continuity however that in no way contradicted the notion of things coming to be and things passing on. The latter constitutes the rhythmic beat, the pulse at the heart of the former. All things have a pattern, a richness to them.

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As is more often the case than not for a best man, Tom had spent much of the day dwelling in a place of mild terror at the prospect of delivering a speech. As is absolutely always the case, he delivered it with aplomb…

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I had felt certain at the time that I’d worked out what was in the jar that Lawrence had presented from his box but then, sat editing the images from the day, the labelling on that box somehow squared a circle that I imagine hadn’t been intended to represent either shape at all :~)…

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Jon’s dad, John, took several turns on guitar with his musical friends Peter Barnes and band

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Peter himself is a great character, the commensurate barn dance caller (he also makes, repairs and refurbishes harpsichords!)…

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Those four blankets in particular were put to particularly good use come the early hours of the morning as four stalwart party-goers – not quite ready to see the day end – discovered that all the local taxi companies had gone to bed for the night! :~)…

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Best man Lawrence had accepted the challenge of photographing each and every guest at the wedding in the mould of Tory & Jon :~)…

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I’d be hard pressed to make a call on which one is which and which one is Jon, myself…

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The centrifugal force was escalating on the dance floor…

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Worn to work on Monday morning, too :~)…

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One of my very favourite things to do when photographing a barn dance or céilidh is to stand smack bang in the middle during those bits where everyone forms a circle then rushes to the centre, and in so doing test my faith in the innate goodness of people. I’ve not been (severely) injured yet :~)…
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The official spontaneous second first dance…

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And they all danced with gusto into the night…

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A (previously) long lost custom…

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After-party glasses of port and usher, Samma, singing and playing guitar; the perfectly mellow conclusion to a splendidly energetic day…

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No juxtapositional inference was intended in the making of this image! It was all about the light. And the colours. Who’d have thought that the light from a lavatory would work so well? :~)…

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Tory & Jon… What can I say? You made something of such epic proportions, something that amidst all of that was so simple and so pure, something that I’m oh so grateful to have been able to experience and relate the story of. You were fantastic and your families and friends very much likewise. Big, big congratulations!

Contact Stowford Manor Farm Wiltshire Wedding Photographer Phillip Allen : phill@misterphill.com : 07870 696248

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