What is a pole tent?

Traditional marquees or more accurately, “pole tents” have been around for hundreds of years. There are few things that more strongly evoke a summer wedding but .. exactly what is a pole tent and are they all the same?  By going into a little more detail, we hope this short article will help explain.


No-one seems to know when the first pole tents came into use but the English word marquee comes from the French marquise (nobleman) and during the 16 and 17 centuries was a word associated with a variety of other particularly elegant or pleasing objects, not just tents!


All pole tents have the same basic design ..

A fabric roof canopy is stretched into shape using ropes (called guy ropes). The canopy is supported in the middle by tall poles (called king poles) and at the sides by shorter poles (called side poles or wall poles).

But not all pole tents look the same ..

What makes one pole tent different from another is the interpretation of the design along with the quality of materials used and the workmanship that go into the making of it.



Traditionally pole tents are made from just three main elements, wood, canvas and rope, so using top quality components is vital.

The very best marquees are handmade using artisan skills passed down the generations.  In the last few decades modern design tools and fabric engineering have allowed pole tents to have rounded ends and swooping, curved roof lines but at their heart they are the same structures our grandparents and their parents used for their weddings.


The original sailcloth, allows sunlight to pass through to the inside giving a bright but soft and airy feel during the day and at night the interior lighting radiates through the canopy creating the effect of a giant magic lantern.

Pole tents made with heavy duty, creamy cotton rich canvas look and feel different to pole tents imported to the UK which are made using polyester material developed for use as sails in the leisure marine industry or PVC, neither of which are breathable.


Although some marquee makers have moved to aluminium poles, we believe the appearance of real wood, hand worked and varnished has a special quality and can’t be improved.


Sadly most marquee makers have lost the art of hand splicing traditional three strand rope and have replaced guy ropes with ratchet straps to tension the canopy and elsewhere. We believe white rope and oak fixings look and work best.



True skill is always evident in the detail and the details combine to create a harmonious whole.

Every Wills marquee is made by hand to the highest possible standards, so there is a very limited output of tents. Our aim is always to achieve a perfect marriage of form and function.

We have no production targets and we never compromise on quality,  this way you can be sure that by choosing a Wills for your wedding (or to mark any of life’s milestones), you are getting the best that money can buy.

The final piece of the jigsaw is the care and attention to detail of the team putting up your tent and this is why Wills are only available either from us or through a network of Certified Providers who share our values and our passion.



Q – so what is a Sperry tent?

A – a pole tent made in America by an American company called Sperry.

Q – what is sailcloth?

A – traditionally it was a cotton canvas but most companies now use polyester sailcloth developed for the leisure marine industry. We believe the very best tents are made with real canvas.

Q – All pole tents look very similar in photos, what’s the difference?

A – it’s a big subject!  For us the main point is canvas versus polyester but in the end, perhaps the best way to sum it up is to say Wills are as quintessentially British as a country garden whilst Sperrys have an unmistakably American feel.


A final thought

Hiring a marquee for your wedding isn’t cheap, so it’s worth investing time to make sure you get the right one for you. We strongly recommend viewing all the tents on your shortlist before committing to one; there really is no substitute for seeing them up close.

If you’d like to come and see a marquee being made and meet the team we’d love to show you round or just to find out a bit more give us a call on 01423 339 915.

If you’re looking to hire a marquee in Yorkshire, Teesside, County Durham or Northumberland please get in touch or have a look at A Guide to Planning A Marquee Wedding for more wedding marquee hire info.

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