Dalmeny Kirk display shows off dresses and more from weddings over the decades

St Cuthberts Parish church
St Cuthberts Parish church
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Having stood for more than 900 years, Dalmeny Kirk has been the starting point for thousands of couples taking the plunge into matrimony.

While parish records can tell us a little about some of those who have walked down that particular aisle, there is one thing they can’t show us – some would argue the most important thing at any wedding – the dress.

However, wedding enthusiasts and history buff alike are in luck, as Dalmeny Kirk’s Jubilee of Wedding Dresses event will be showcasing more than 70 years’ worth of frills and fashion from the local area and beyond.

Sandra Mackay, 63, an elder in the church, tells the Evening News: “We have been given dresses and wedding memorabilia dating back about 
73 years.

“There are a lot of people who were born here and have never moved, so in the end we got a total of 21 dresses, plus much more besides.”

Joyce Slee, 61, a helper in the kirk, adds: “We started organising things in March, putting an advert in a local paper and a magazine asking for 
anyone with wedding dresses and other memorabilia who had got married in Dalmeny Kirk to get in touch with us.

“I have lived here all my life so I had a rough idea of people we could approach. Unfortunately it turned out a lot of them hadn’t actually kept their wedding dresses, but luckily some of the older members of the church were able to suggest other people to us.

“We also tried to get in touch with Terri Dywer, who is probably best known as one of the original Hollyoaks cast members. She got married in the church in 2004. We contacted her agent, but never heard anything back. I wonder if the request was even passed on. We would have loved to have her.

“The exhibition has been a lot of work, and has taken quite a feat of organisation, but it’s all been worth it. It’s really got people in the area excited about local history.

“Everyone has been talking about it and we hope it brings back a lot of good memories. I’ve certainly loved going through the old pictures and seeing so many familiar faces. Plus, the dresses are just gorgeous.

“It’s been so exciting to unzip the bags and see another beautiful 
creation inside.”

If this exhibition can teach ladies today anything, it’s that beauty doesn’t always have to equate big bucks.

Though nowadays anyone organising a wedding could find bedecking the bride hitting their pocket 
harder than the honeymoon, in decades gone by many took a more DIY attitude.

Sandra said the exhibition had brought to light one particular case of a bride taking matters into her own hands after her gown of choice proved a little too steep.

“An interesting one is a gown that Jean Tulloch made for her wedding to Norrie Black in 1967,” she says. “She had based her design on an advert she had seen for a dress in Harrods, and we have a copy of the advert 

The jubilee of wedding dresses has certainly sparked the interest of locals, with organisers saying that they had been inundated with stories and exhibits.

As word began to spread of the project, more local people within the close-knit community began digging out their romantic relics and some interesting generational links began to emerge.

Joyce says: “We have two dresses worn by the same person.

“Not someone who got married twice – Wilma Orr was a flower girl at her Aunt Netts’s wedding to Harry Dalrymple in 1939, then she got married to Robert Browning in 1956 in a dress she had made herself.

“One astonishing thing I’ve noticed is the great condition so many of the dresses are in. You could put Wilma’s 1939 dress on a little girl today and people would think it was brand new.

“We also have Wilma’s sister 
Barbara’s wedding dress. She got married in 1965 and her wedding dress was actually a short dress, which was probably quite fashionable in the 60s.

“Another two sisters donated their dresses – Elizabeth and Roma Peace. Roma was married on July 23, 1965 and Elizabeth became a Mrs on March 12, 1966.”

The family links don’t end there, with one coming in particularly close to home.

Joyce continues: “On May 20, 1972 I married my husband Ian in Dalmeny Kirk, wearing a long white dress with daisies round the neckline and on the train.

“On September 8, 2001 my 
daughter Frances married Ed Ibbetson in the exact same church. Her dress had sheaves of corn on the bodice, so both our dresses had a nature theme.

“Another mother and daughter pairing we have, where the mother is sadly no longer with us, is the wedding of Joyce Shand on June 2, 1973 to James Grant. Then their daughter Clare Grant married Leslie Brown in Dalmeny Kirk on May 10, 2008.

“Clare’s dress is modern, it’s a very heavy strapless dress, embossed with tiny red flowers. Her mother’s dress had long puffy sleeves and a round neck, it was very simple.

“It’s interesting how different they are, and how much fashions had changed over the different eras.

“Another thing I’ve noticed is how small a lot of the older dresses seem. Perhaps it’s true that people are 
gradually getting bigger as time goes on.”

As well as the hand-made and the hand-me-down there are also one or two fabulous fashion dresses which have graced the historic chapel over the years. One dress at the exhibit that can’t fail to set fashionistas foaming at the mouth is the 2001 design by the late Catherine Walker, style guru to Diana, Princess of Wales.

Joyce says: “I didn’t ask the bride how much she paid for it but I imagine it would be worth even more now.

“One of our sponsors, Maxwells Florists, is going to remake the bouquet that goes with it. They will also be remaking my bouquet, Williamsons Florist is remaking one of the Peace sister’s bouquets and a florist in Queensferry is making up the flowers to go with the oldest wedding dress we have, from the wedding of Jenny Black and George Thomson on June 12, 1948.”

Of course it is not just the fashion that the exhibition has been shedding light on – it has also uncovered some extraordinary snapshots of the history of the area, and in particular the changes that had to be made to accommodate the war effort in the region.

“Though we don’t have actual physical relics from all the weddings, some of the photographs we have been given are fascinating,” said Joyce.

“During the war there were very few white wedding due to rationing, so people would often be married in suits and coats. In one picture, a couple – Miss C Gray and Lance Corporal McNaught, who were married on October 22, 1939 – are dressed quite simply.

“If you look closely at the picture you can also see a zeppelin in the sky behind the bride and groom. They 
actually got married during an air raid warning, though the all clear had been sounded by the end of the 

Dalmeny Kirk’s Jubilee of Wedding Dresses is being held in the church from Friday until Sunday.

• Medieval marvel

Dalmeny Kirk is the oldest Romanesque church in Scotland, built in the 12th century.

It is often referred to as the finest Norman/Romanesque parish church still in use in Scotland, and one of the most complete in the United Kingdom.

The tower fell down through dilapidation and was rebuilt in 1937. Other notable features include large “beast-head” corbels, supporting the weight of the dome. The rare sarcophagus outside the south doorway also features carvings of the signs of the zodiac and thirteen figures representing Jesus and the Apostles.

It is speculated that the church was built on top of a preexisting graveyard, as it seems to rise above local topography.

A second mound of a similar size can be found on the east road out of the village.