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UK’s Finest Hotels of Great Historical Importance

Is it a matter of time before the venerable country house hotel rules supreme for the cultural comforts for kids of Generation Z? Since the 1940’s, exceptional architectural styles and estates with rich histories have been protected for future generations by listing status and conversion into hotels.  It’s not just the exterior fabric of the buildings themselves, but also interiors, fixtures, fittings, statues, portraits and often other objects within. Let alone the stories the buildings tell: – political upsets, exiled royals, treason, celebrity architects and garden designers, love triangles, scandals, call girls, war triumphs and deceit, car crashes, be-headings and suicides…it’s captivating.

Without preservation it would be hair-raising to imagine present and future generations only real experience of architectural beauties and important artefacts might just have come from an urban sprawl of neo-classical new builds, books, or as exhibits in museums.

Here we reflect on the UK’s finest hotels with great historical importance bringing a sense of timelessness and heritage you can enjoy everyday for dining, afternoon tea, stay over, entertain, leisure activities, or just have drinks.

Great Fosters (Grade I)

Great Fosters, Stroude Road, Egham, Surrey TW20 9UR  www.greatfosters.co.uk  

Great Fosters has a long and celebrated history. It is documented that Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth used the house as a hunting lodge and indeed there is an original crest of Elizabeth I, dated 1598, above the main porch. Be warned though, if you need a reminder of how tall the Tudors were, the front door is 1.50m or 4 ft 9, so remember to duck, although this is one of the only spots where that sense of scale literally hits you. Then, back to the royal connections, these are compounded by the ornate ceiling decorations, particularly in The Anne Boleyn Room, encompassing Anne Boleyn’s personal crests.

In 1604 the house was sold to Sir John Denham, a judge, and the building was greatly re-modelled and became the house it is today. The stables were added later by Thomas Bennett in 1635 during his short ownership of the house after which it was sold to Robert Foster, Sergeant at Law who was knighted in 1640.

The house continued to pass through the hands of various owners until 1818 when it was sold to a Dr Furnivall. His fellow surgeon, Sir John Chapman, was one of “the modern thinkers”, who believed that mental illness was not solely related to physical illness.  No doubt his methods of treatment for mental illness were therefore quite revolutionary. Great Fosters thus became a lunatic asylum and it is believed, although not confirmed, that Great Fosters was where King George III was housed when he was being treated for his insanity.

The Hon. Gerald Samuel Montagu bought Great Fosters in 1918 and commissioned Romaine-Walker to refurbish and restore the house into a luxury private home. Having started his practice in the 1880’s his experience with restoration and pastiche Elizabethan design was extensive. He was also renowned for his contemporary garden designs.

Sir Harold Sutcliffe bought Great Fosters in 1930 and with careful restoration the house became a hotel. With no large area for dining, the Elizabethan Tithe Barn was re-erected at Great Fosters having been moved from Ewell Manor at a cost of £4,000.

The Italian Room at Great Fosters – Stay and relax in rooms formerly graced by the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles

The Sutcliffe family still own the hotel and have owned the house for longer than any other family in its history. They are most concerned that the hotel should remain within the family for many years to come. It is one of two Michelin starred Grade I listed eateries in the UK (alongside Gravetye Manor in Sussex).

Enjoy privileges at Great Fosters with the Luxury Restaurant Club and The Great Fosters members club. Bookings call 01784 433822.

Luton Hoo (Grade I)

Luton Hoo Hotel, Golf & Spa, The Mansion House, Luton, Bedfordshire LU1 3TQ  www.lutonhoo.co.uk

There has been a house on the present site of Luton Hoo since at least 1601 when Robert Napier bought the estate. Today’s mansion house dates from the late 18th century when it was the seat of the 3rd Earl of Bute, then Prime Minister to George III. The famous landscape designer, Capability Brown, was engaged to redesign the surrounding parkland and gardens which now extend to 1,065 acres.

In 1903 Luton Hoo was bought by Sir Julius Wernher, a leading diamond dealer who commissioned Charles Mewes and Arthur Davis, the architects of the Ritz Hotel in London, to redesign the interior of Luton Hoo in a lavish Edwardian ‘Belle Époque’ style. After the death of Sir Julius, Harold Wernher inherited the estate from his father.

During the Second World War, the estate and mansion house was commissioned by Eastern Command and played an important role in wartime operations testing tanks before they were taken off to depots for war service. On 26th June 1948, Sir Harold Wernher and his wife Lady Zia, Countess Anastasia Mikhailovna de Torby, hosted a memorable visit by Sir Winston Churchill when 110,000 people gathered to hear him address the crowd and thank them for their support during the Second World War.

Luton Hoo’s white marble stair hall with statue of Bergonzoli “Cupid and Psyche”

Sir Harold and Lady Zia decided to exhibit Sir Julius’s art collection within the house in 1951 including several items of the now famous Fabergé collection. They also bred several well known race horses including Brown Jack, who won twenty five races in his ten year racing career and Charlottown, who won The Derby in 1966.

Sir Harold died in 1973 followed by Lady Zia in 1977 with the estate passing to their elder grandson, Nicholas Phillips, who together with his wife developed the living accommodation into facilities for corporate functions and filming, to support the maintenance of the art collection.

The house has been a very popular location with television and film makers, being used for films such as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Enigma, Eyes Wide Shut, Inspector Morse, Nicholas Nickleby, Vanity Fair and Bleak House to name but a few.

In the 1980’s Nicholas Phillips embarked on developing the nearby business park ‘Capability Green’ on land he owned. Considerable debt was charged against the Luton Hoo estate to build the park, and during the subsequent property crash, in early March 1991 Nicholas committed suicide. Following his death in 1991 the estate was put up for sale in 1997 and was finally purchased by Elite Hotels in 1999. The Hotel opened in October 2007 following an investment of more than £60 million and a painstaking restoration programme.

Enjoy privileges at Luton Hoo with the Luxury Restaurant Club and the Elite Privileges Club. Bookings call 01582 734437.

Cliveden (Grade I)

Cliveden, Taplow, Berkshire SL6 0JF  www.clivedenhouse.co.uk

Enjoying a commanding position on a chalk cliff, the name Cliff-dene was given to the estate in the 1660’s when the first house was built by the 2nd Duke of Buckingham. It’s thought the Duke built Cliveden for his mistress, the Countess of Shrewsbury. In 1668, on hearing of the affair, her husband challenged Buckingham to a duel and was fatally injured.

Successive owners sculpted the gardens and landscape, sparing no expense to create a magnificent summer retreat. The current house owes its elegant architecture to Sir Charles Barry, famous for designing the Palace of Westminster. His decadent masterpiece, created for the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland in the 1850’s, is the third house here, the other two having burned down.

Cliveden has always been at the centre of political and social life. However, it was while Nancy and Waldorf Astor lived here during the first half of the twentieth century that Cliveden became famous for its lavish hospitality and glamorous guests.

The Astors entertained a diverse mix of people from Lloyd George and Winston Churchill to George Bernard Shaw, Ghandi and Henry Ford. Well documented and heated exchanges took place here between Nancy Astor and Winston Churchill. One, famously at Cliveden, where Lady Astor said to Churchill, “If you were my husband, I’d poison your tea,” to which he responded, “Madam, if you were my wife, I’d drink it.”

Cliveden hit the headlines in 1963 when it became known that John Profumo, Secretary of State for War, had met call girl – Christine Keeler – by the swimming pool (pictured). Profumo’s affair caused concern for national security as Keeler was also involved with a Soviet naval attaché. It was the end of Profumo’s career, led to the suicide by overdose of society osteopath Stephen Ward implicated in the call girl scandal for introducing the main players, and nearly brought down the government. The Astors ceased to live at Cliveden in 1968, shortly after the Profumo Affair and Bill Astor’s death.

The house, interiors, temples, pavilions, follies, clock-tower, themed gardens, sculptures, paddocks, parterre and woodlands are now part of the National Trust and one of the UK’s finest hotels. For further details and facts, we recommend reading its Wikipedia page and there is simply too much to say, as in the words of the hotel’s own motto,”Nothing ordinary ever happened here, nor could it.”

Enjoy privileges at Cliveden with the Luxury Restaurant Club. Bookings call 01628 607107.

Hartwell House (Grade I)

Hartwell House, Oxford Road, Vale of Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire HP17 8NR  www.hartwell-house.com
Hartwell House Front with life-size equestrian statue of Frederick Prince of Wales rescued from the shrubbery

Hartwell House has a remarkable history, stretching back almost a thousand years to the reign of Edward the Confessor. It has been the seat of William Peveral the natural son of William the Conqueror; of John Earl of Mortaigne who succeeded his brother Richard the Lion Heart as King of England in 1199; and of Louis XVIII, the exiled King of France who held court there from 1809 to 1814. Louis was joined at Hartwell by his Queen, Marie Josephine de Savoie, his niece the Duchesse D’Angoulême, daughter of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, his brother the Comte d’Artois, later Charles X, and Gustavus IV the exiled King of Sweden.

Moving  to 1830, Hartwell became the target of a Luddite conspiracy. Several disgruntled farm workers plotted to burn the house but were rounded up by the local Constabulary. A hundred years later the estate took on the appearance of a giant auction house as hordes of collectors and dealers descended on Hartwell for the 1938 sale of its contents. Those who came to view included Queen Mary and the Dukes and Duchesses of Gloucester and Kent. They brought with them a picnic lunch, which was served in the Dining Room by a body of liveried footmen. After the sale, the house was purchased by millionaire recluse Ernest Cook, grandson and co-heir of the Victorian travel tycoon Thomas Cook.

For the duration of the Second World, War Hartwell served as an Army billet and later in 1956, as a finishing school and secretarial college until 1983. A fire in 1963 caused extensive damage, and destruction of much of the architectural detail inside the house, and was reconstruced to the requirements of the school.

Hartwell Rooms DNG 6.9.16
Hartwell House – Drawing Room – home to royalty

If Hartwell is remarkable for its history, it is also remarkable for its architecture. True to the English tradition it has evolved in sympathy with changing tastes. On the north front the compass and oriel windows are remarkable examples of early 17th century design, but the carved decoration was simplified and the original gables removed in the middle of the 18th century. The south and east fronts were built around 1760 and are characteristic of their period, with projecting eaves, canted bays, skirted windows and Ionic colonettes set within relieving arches. The Great Hall is a masterpiece of English baroque design, and with the exception of the floor which was originally flagged with Portland stone, remains virtually unchanged since its completion in around 1740. The principal staircase with its extraordinary carved figures is partly Jacobean, but partly modern. Two of the balusters are carved to represent Winston Churchill and G K Chesterton. The house has fine Georgian interiors, dating from around 1760. The Morning Room and the Library are decorated in the Rococo style, with curvilinear marble chimney pieces and fluid plasterwork, and joinery ornamented with garlands, masks, animals and volutes. The bookcases in the Library are fitted with some of the finest surviving gilt-brass wirework in the country.

The landscaping of the park dates from the second half of the 18th century. The park boasts a fine collection of 18th century pavilions and monuments. Some of these date from the 1730’s when a magnificent topiary garden-planted in 1690 was finally brought to completion. There is the Gothic Tower, a romantic crenellated turret; the Ionic Temple, an elegant exercise in Italianate classicism, flanked by four terms, figures from classical- mythology, now returned to their original position after 200 years in another part of the garden. There is the statue of Hercules, a fine copy after a famous antique original, the obelisk in Park meadow and the statues of Zeus and Juno in the gardens behind the arch. The present bridge over the lake was erected at the end of the 19th century and is the central span of old Kew Bridge, built in the 18th century by James Paine, but dismantled in 1898 and divided up into lots and sold at auction. The Old Dairy is a relic of the 18th century, as is the Gothic bridge. The avenue of trees that crosses the Old Court Garden was planted around 1830, while the estate wall was completed in 1855, encrusted with fossils and rare stones from the grounds. Four years earlier an Egyptian style pavilion had been erected over the spring in Weir Lane. In 1900 a forecourt was created in front of the entrance, ringed by a ha-ha to the north.

The Church was built in 1753-6 and is generally recognised as one of the most important buildings of the Gothic Revival. Unfortunately it was allowed to collapse shortly after the last war but the West Tower and roof have recently been reinstated.

Coming to the present time, Historic House Hotels have undertaken a complete restoration to the highest standards of the house and grounds, opening as a hotel in July 1989. The gardens and park have been extensively restored and some garden buildings and ornaments have been moved to their original, or found more suitable, positions. A dramatic new entrance sweep has been constructed, centered not only on the house, but also on the life-size equestrian statue of Frederick Prince of Wales, rescued from obscurity in a shrubbery. Thus entering a new phase of its long and distinguished history.

Enjoy privileges at Hartwell House with the Luxury Restaurant Club. Bookings call 01296 747444.

Stapleford Park (Grade I)

Stapleford, Melton Mowbray LE14 2EF  www.staplefordpark.com

Stapleford Park is one of the great country house estates in England with what are considered to be the finest Jacobean features in Leicestershire, and has no less than thirteen grade I and II listed features; from the 19th century thatched North Lodge, to the Victorian stables, the house itself and everything in-between.

One of the earliest mentions of Stapleford is in the Norman survey of 1086 when it was held under the King by Henry de Ferrers who fought at the battle of Hastings and later became Domesday Commissioner. During the middle ages, Stapleford was a village and formed part of the great estates of John O’Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster, fourth son of King Edward III and of the house of Plantagenet.

In 1402 the house was acquired by Robert Sherard, a descendant of one Sherard who came with William the Conqueror during the Norman conquest and obtained lands in Chester and Lancaster. For the next 484 years Stapleford remained in the possession of his family. In 1633, under William and Abigail Sherard the hall was rebuilt and the Old Wing restored. Abigail was said to have had a greater part in the restoration of this section, so perhaps her name should be carved in the stone and not her husband’s! The house was further enlarged in 1670, and the park created. Perhaps it was around this time that Stapleford’s reputation as a place for great hospitality began to emerge, with one guest of 1701 commending the entertainment, food and drink. The third Baron Leitrim, Bennet Sherard, became the Earl of Harborough in 1714. Around 1770, Lancelot “Capability” Brown was commissioned to turn the 16th century deer park into the idyllic landscape of today. The, now dining room, as well as other parts of the house, exhibits the wonderful works of Grinling Gibbons (4 Apr 1645 – 3 Aug 1721) and it now bears his name. He was widely regarded as the finest wood carver working in England from his decorative Baroque garlands which adorn the walls, sadly painted over. Other works include Windsor Castle, Hampton Court Palace and Petworth House.

Grinling Gibbons Restaurant
Grinling Gibbons Restaurant

A change of ownership came in 1894 when the house was purchased by John Gretton, a wealthy brewer of the firm Bass, Ratcliffe and Gretton. John Gretton is said to have wanted to establish his place in society and purchased Stapleford for its connections with the fashionable hunting circles of Melton Mowbray. The house was enlarged, and he added a series of reception rooms and further bedrooms as well as a Victorian Stable Block designed in a Baroque revival style. John Gretton’s death in 1899 meant that the Long Gallery (south side of the house where there are now nine bedrooms) had not been fitted out. His son who subsequently became Lord Gretton, did not share his father’s social ambitions. When his grandson the third Lord Gretton, succeeded in 1982, he was faced with a house designed for entertaining on an Edwardian scale but without the brewing fortune to support it. He decided to sell the house but kept the estate.

The American restaurant entrepreneur (The Chicago Pizza Pie Factory) Bob Payton bought the house and, in April 1988, after extensive work and investment, Stapleford Park opened its doors to the public as a country house hotel. On 13th July 1994, Bob Payton tragically died in a car accident aged 50. Today Stapleford Park is owned by the ex-wife of the Sultan of Brunei who, like its past owners, fell in love with the house as a very special place for entertainment, for relaxation but also as a sanctuary from the bustle of everyday life.

Enjoy privileges at Stapleford Park with the Luxury Restaurant Club and the Stapleford Park Members Club. Bookings call 01572 787000.

The Lygon Arms (Grade II)

Lygon Arms Hotel High St, Broadway WR12 7DU  www.lygonarmshotel.co.uk

Lygon Arms Hotel

Picture perfect, this is a hotel where roaring log-burning open fireplaces hint at its roots dating from the 1300’s, and a Great Hall with vaulted ceilings and original wood panelling from the seventeenth century. It offers great historical importance, full of colourful characters and plots.

A predominately Tudor coaching inn, it was a key connection between Wales, Worcester and London in Elizabethan times. Owners have changed, names have altered, but visitors have always flocked to The Lygon Arms, a charming hotel enshrouded in history.

The hotel’s name has changed throughout history, and the first written record refers to it as The White Hart, in 1377. The hart, a mature stag, was a personal symbol of King Richard II (1367 – 1400). The hotel’s name would change several times, reflecting the political changes of each era, showing how much history would shape the enchanting hotel.

The coaching inn would come into its own when it would serve as a touch-stone for both sides of the English Civil War in 1649. The English Civil War pit Queen Elizabeth’s cousin Charles I against the forces of the English Parliament, and some of that played out within the very walls of The Lygon Arms itself.

The suite now known as the impressive King Charles I Suite was where King Charles I and his supporters would assemble – which you can stay in. The King’s coat of arms stands regally over one of its fireplaces today. Visitors will also notice that the face of the royal lion is missing, presumably hacked off by Parliamentarians.

Charles I Suite
Charles I Suite complete with secret passage through which Charles I is supposed to have tried to escape the Roundheads

The other side of the English Civil War, the Parliamentary army, also stayed at The Lygon Arms, then known as the White Hart Inn, in 1651. The bedroom now known as The Cromwell Room was where Oliver Cromwell slept the night before the Battle of Worcester. This battle would finally destroy the royalist cause. A copy of his ‘warts and all’ portrait hangs next to a huge seventeenth century fireplace in The Cromwell Room today.

The Cotswold coaching inn would continue to act as a staging post for mail coaches between London and Wales throughout the eighteenth century, offering a change of horses and even providing coach-and-four for guests who needed onward transport. It remained an important stop-off on the trading routes.

By the 1900’s, the hotel was owned by Sydney Bolton Russell whose son began to restore antique furniture for the hotel in a loft over the Lygon’s coach house. Gordon Russell would become one of England’s leading designers in the 1930’s, creating the iconic Murphy Radio Cabinet and the seating for Coventry Cathedral. Some of his pieces sit in the hotel still today. As the 1900’s progressed, inventions such as the motorcar and charabanc would elevate the hotel into a destination in its own right rather than a staging post.

King Edward VII motored to the hotel in 1905 and in 1913, as did his grandson, the playboy prince and future King Edward VIII. The hotel became synonymous with the English middle classes who followed suit, and in the interwar years and beyond The Lygon Arms remained a popular choice for celebrities.

Big names were drawn to the hotel for its historic prestige and The Lygon Arms boasts one of the most glamorous guest books in the world. Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor stayed here in 1963 at the height of the scandal surrounding their affair. Today the hotel’s guest book is still in use and counts not just actors and movie stars, but politicians, prime ministers and even Prince Phillip. It has most recently been purchased by the owners of Cliveden and Chewton Glen who have undertaken a multi-million pound refurbishment programme establishing the property to full glory.

Enjoy privileges at The Lygon Arms Hotel with the Luxury Restaurant Club. Bookings call 1386 852255.

Greywalls (Grade A from Historical Scotland)

Greywalls, Muirfield, Gullane EH31 2EG  www.greywalls.co.uk

Greywalls was designed in 1901 for the Hon. Alfred Lyttelton by Sir Edwin Lutyens, Architect of New Delhi, the Cenotaph in Whitehall and the British Embassy in Washington. Originally the house was comparatively small, ending on the West side at the main gable to the left of the front door, over which may be seen the motto of the Lyttelton family. The garden was designed by Gertrude Jekyll, who collaborated with Lutyens in many of his country houses. The house had indeed been built as a ‘holiday home’ by a keen golfer who wanted to be within a mashie niblick shot of the 18th green at Muirfleld.

Mr. William James bought Greywalls in 1905 and, finding that the house was not big enough for his family, had the lodges at the gate built on in 1908 to accommodate staff and asked Sir Robert Lorimer, the leading Scottish Architect, to build on the ‘Nursery’ wing to the West in 1911.

Consequently Greywalls is now not only the single remaining Lutyens house in Scotland, and believed to be the only house to boast examples of the work of the two leading architects of their day.

As a friend of Mrs Willy James’s, King Edward VII stayed at Greywalls several times and there is a nice anecdote, probably apochryphal, told about him here. He was playing cards, late at night in what is now the bar, and took his lady partner to task for her play. She replied to him ‘ To tell you the truth, Sir, I am so tired that I can’t tell the difference between a king and a knave!” The only remaining memorial here to His Late Majesty is the staff accommodation hidden in the garden which, because it used to be, is still called the Kings Loo.

The James ’s never lived in Greywalls after the first war and the house was let to various people. North Berwick was very fashionable at that time and many houses were let to summer visitors. Amongst those who took it was the then Lord Derby. He used to complain that he could not sit more than eight people in the dining room (which is now the small dining room). But, as he had a footman behind each chair, space was bound to be restricted. Also the buildings now known as North and South Lodge, near the front gate, were in those days footmens bothies. The two rooms in each had a partition down the centre, giving accommodation for eight manservants. They were lit by gas and had no sanitation other than a basin and cold tap in the porch. But then again Greywalls originally had only one bathroom!

In 1924 Lt. Col. Sir James Horlick, grand-father-in-law to the current owner, bought the house and he and his family used it as their summer holiday house until the beginning of World War Two. Then it was requisitioned as a place for rest and relaxation for the fighter pilots at Drem airfield, two miles away. Wild parties were the order of the day in the sunken garden at the back of the house. Many were invited and enormous quantities of alcohol were consumed for who knew which of the pilots would be there tomorrow? Later in the war it was derequisitioned and let to Polish forces, who converted it into a hospital and finally a maternity hospital. There were rows of nappies hanging along the edge of Muirfield golf course!

During the war the house passed into the hands of the parents of the present owner, who by 1947, decided its best use was as a hotel, so the idea of Greywalls as an hotel was born. There have been many alterations and additions to the house since then, including a new wing, dining rooms, bathrooms for each room (of course). In planning these additions the owners have done their utmost to preserve the character of the original Lutyens design by continuing to use Rattlebags stone from a local quarry worked by monks, and tiles made specially in Holland. Indeed Lutyens when he was staying with the grand-father-in-law of the owner today (in those days there were flowers beds on the front lawns) remarked “What are these flowers beds doing drawing the eye off the beautiful lines of my favourite house?” They were grassed in at once and have remained so!

Greywalls illustrious neighbour is Muirfield golf course, home to The Honourable Club of Edinburgh Golfers. Muirfield has hosted The Open Championship 16 times and is consistently ranked amongst the top fifty courses in the world. Over the years many a winner has stayed at Greywalls including Sir Nick Faldo in 1992 and Ernie Els in 2002.

Enjoy privileges at Greywalls with the Luxury Restaurant Club and the ICMI Collection Club. Bookings call 01620 842144.

Gravetye Manor (Grade I)

Gravetye Manor, Vowels Lane, West Hoathly, Sussex, RH19 4LJ  www.gravetyemanor.co.uk

Richard Infield built Gravetye Manor in 1598 for his bride, Katharine Compton. The Infield family were natives of this part of Sussex. The initials ‘R’ and ‘K’ may be seen in the stone over the main entrance door from the formal garden, and the portraits of Richard and Katharine are carved in oak over the fireplace in one of the bedrooms.

Peace, still the prevailing atmosphere at Gravetye, has dominated its history, although at one time the Manor was used as a Smugglers’ hideout and store. The Gravetye furnace supplied 12-pounder guns to Woolwich until 1769, but otherwise the tranquillity of the estate seems to have been undisturbed.

Gravetye’s most notable owner, William Robinson one of the greatest gardeners of all time, bought the Manor and the one thousand acres in which it stands in 1884, and it was his home until he died well into his nineties in 1935. It was at Gravetye that he realised many of his ideas for the creation of the English natural garden, the style of which is now admired and copied all over the world, but of which Robinson in the nineteenth century was a pioneer.

He had worked in many formal gardens in England and France but in his planning, planting and landscaping he sought always to enhance the natural beauty of the gardens and woods. The variety and charm of the arrangements of trees and shrubs and the layout of the different types of garden at Gravetye is still his creation and memorial. Even when very old and partly crippled he would go out in his wheelchair and scatter bulbs and seeds from a bag on his lap; the garden room he built at the end of the formal garden provided him with a shelter (pictured) from which he could watch his beloved flowers and trees from a fresh viewpoint.

Robinson’s simple good taste, unusual in one who might be described as late Victorian, extended to his improvements in the Manor. He panelled the interior of the house in wood from the estate and enriched the rooms with chimney-pieces and fireplace furnishings entirely in keeping.

Peter Herbert arrived at Gravetye in 1958. Captivated by Robinson’s house and its setting he had the revolutionary idea of injecting his own exceptional hotel keeping and restaurant standards into this rural spot.  For nearly 50 years (until his retirement in 2004) Peter Herbert established Gravetye Manor as one of the leading establishments in its class, recognised throughout the world.

The hotel came under the ownership of fund manager Jeremy Hosking in February 2010, a long standing patron of the hotel, who has set about restoring its glory. Major structural and infrastructure works have ensured the house will remain standing for generations to come. The hotels facilities internally have also been updated. His intention has always been to remain faithful to William Robinson’s own vision of Gravetye, so changes were very sympathetically done. The gardens are also receiving some much needed attention. Projects such as the restoration of the kitchen garden are already underway. The focus will be not only on conserving and re-creating Robinson’s work but also on progressing the garden in homage to his experimental style of gardening ultimately to continue the philosophy of great country house hospitality and to maintain and nurture this historically important garden. The hotel is one of the only two Michelin starred Grade I listed eateries in the UK (alongside Great Fosters in Surrey).

Enjoy privileges at Gravetye Manor with the Luxury Restaurant Club. For bookings call 01342 810567.

Lucknam Park (Grade II)

Lucknam Park , Colerne, Chippenham, Wiltshire, SN14 8AZ  www.lucknampark.co.uk

It is not known exactly when Lucknam began, but the –ham ending to its name, ‘Luckenham’ suggests that it was a Saxon settlement dating from before the Norman invasion in 1066.

From as far back as 1199 to 1688 there was a farmhouse on the current site of the main house.  For over five centuries the land was farmed until 1688 when the last of that family died leaving all the estate to nine cousins who decided to sell…where we pick up the story:

James Wallis, a wealthy Bristol cloth merchant, bought Lucknam and its 100 country acres for just £500. James Wallis owned two ships and traded various cargoes to Europe and America. In 1680 he imported 7000 lb of tobacco from Virginia, making a large fortune – which funded his purchase of Lucknam. It is probable that James Wallis built the centre part of the house, with the pillared portico and bowed wings being added at a later stage. He died in 1708 and his son Ezekiel inherited Lucknam at the age of 14. In 1728 he married Cecilia Selfe, the following year he served as Sheriff of Wiltshire. He died in 1735 and Cecilia remarried, she survived her husband and as she had no children the estate passed to her nephew Paul Methuen.

Like the Wallis’s the Methuens made a fortune as clothiers, but two members of the family, John and his son Sir Paul, were distinguished as envoys to the King of Portugal during the war of Spanish Succession. When Sir Paul’s son, Paul Cobb Methuen married in 1776, his father gave him Lucknam Park. Nearly 20 years later Paul Cobb Methuen inherited nearby Corsham Court and Lucknam Park was again sold for £7,750.

William Norris Tonge, the new owner lived there for only 8 years before selling in 1827 to the very wealthy Andreas Christian Boode, with family wealth from coffee plantations in Demerara. Andreas came to England, married the daughter of the rector of Liverpool, and on her death bought Lucknam Park where he lived with his two children Phebe and John. It is at this time that he added the pillared portico and bowed wings to the house. Country land was also added to the estate.

His son proved to be a great traveller and after university he set off for Italy, Russia, Palestine, Egypt and Turkey. He married Clemetina in 1834 and a few days after the marriage there were celebrations at Lucknam. Eight hundred people sat down at tables to the side of the house and a cannon signalled the start of the feast (an artist impression of the occasion can be seen in Reception). However, unusual for the time, Clementina left John and they divorced, with John remaining at Lucknam Park with his daughters.

The interior of the house was much altered at this time. The Hall was panelled in dark oak, with carved beams, and coats of arms on the ceiling. There was a large Library which is now the Drawing Room. The present hotel’s restaurant was a conservatory. Upstairs the boudoir was a very heavily furnished room, with Jacobean panelling, and stained glass windows. Soon after John’s death in 1870 the estate (now 1,100 acres) was sold.

The new owner was Richard Walmesley and later passed to his son, Johnnie. Both were typical Victorian squires, helping the poor, entering into the life of the county and funding building in the district. Johnnie’s only son was killed in the Great War and he was so affected by the loss that he sold Lucknam in 1918 to Sir Alfred Read, a shipowner and Director of Home Trade Services. He stayed for 10 years before selling to the Merry family of Glasgow descent.

In 1928 Archie Merry bought Lucknam Park estate for his only son Eion Merry as a hunting box. When Eion married in 1932 he and his wife Jean moved from Scotland to Lucknam. They made many alterations to the inside and outside of the house. In 1933 the blacksmith from the nearby village of Crudwell made wrought iron gates for the walled garden that are still at the hotel today.

The drawing room was decorated in blue flock paper (silk finished paper overlaid with velvet designs). The family was given a green and white marble fireplace for the drawing room from the father of Davina’s aunt, Alice Crichton. He had bought it from the Crichtons home in Dublin in exchange for a bottle of whisky (must have been good whisky). In the library, the red flock paper was removed and the current panelling was installed by the great decorators of that era, Lenygon.

Lucknam Park driveway where Spitfires were hidden

For a short time at the start of the war, the house was home to hundreds of evacuees before being transformed into a bustling informal headquarters for airmen from the neighbouring aerodrome. They used Lucknam Park’s beech and lime tree lined driveway to park their Spitfires and Hurricanes – the huge trees providing camouflage.

The main hotel dining room (then used as a billiard room/junk room) had side cupboards filled with tinned food, a billiard table and a large dolls house (now displayed at Longleat House). All its windows were covered with brown paper to block out light and netting to catch splinters of shattered glass. The entire house was heated by just three fires in the hall, library and drawing room. During an air raid, everyone in the house raced to the dining room and hid under the billiard table.

When Eion Merry died in 1966 at 63 years, the family could no longer afford the upkeep of the country house. Faced with the option of either demolishing both wings of the historic house to scale down the size they decided to sell to neighbour, Mr. Stevens.

Lucknam Park was bought in 1987 by a joint venture trading as Lucknam Park Hotels Limited and then again in 1994 by a Greek shipping magnate who operates Lucknam Park as a single private hotel property with Michelin rated restaurant.

Enjoy privileges at Lucknam Park with the Luxury Restaurant Club. For bookings call 01225 742777.

Thornbury Castle (Grade I)

Thornbury Castle, Castle Street, Thornbury, Gloucestershire BS35 1HH  www.thornburycastle.co.uk 

The manor of Thornbury dates back to the 10th century and the time of the Domesday Book. In a disastrous ancient love triangle, Brictric – one of the manor’s earliest recorded owners – lost possession when he spurned the advances of Matilda of Flanders. Matilda later married William the Conqueror, who seized Thornbury, awarded it to his Queen and imprisoned her one time love.

Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, built the castle during the reign of Henry VIII, one of the most magnificent building projects of its time, though he wasn’t able to enjoy it for long. When, in 1510, Henry VIII granted the Duke a licence to castelle his manor (the Duke used as symbols of status rather than defence) the King envisaged no challenge to his crown. After being betrayed to the king by a disgruntled servant – Cardinal Wolsey, Stafford was arrested for high treason and executed on Tower Hill. Henry claimed the castle for himself, spending ten days here while on his honeymoon tour with Anne Boleyn. It remained royal property until the death of his daughter Mary I, when it was returned to the Duke’s descendants.

For two centuries (from 1550 to the mid-nineteenth century), the castle was unoccupied, virtually neglected and fell into ruin. This was mainly due to the lack of ability to upkeep such a magnificent home thus it remained a picturesque ruin and well known to admirers of ancient architecture. In the 1850s, it was saved and turned into a family home by Henry Howard who inherited the property in 1824 where he undertook the major restoration work by commissioning Anthony Salvin. He re-roofed the state apartments and restored the interior to his own designs. The work was completed in 1854. For the first time since the sixteenth century the Castle became, in part, what Buckingham has intended: a splendid and comfortable residency worth of its illustrious founder.

From the Howards, the last in the lineage being Sir Algar Howard KCB, sold it to the Clifford family in 1959. They in turn sold it in 1966 to Kenneth Bell MBE (fortunes made from frozen seafood empire) and sold again in 1986 to Maurice C.R Taylor of Portlethen (The Baron of Portlethen) who first developed it as a hotel before selling to von Essen Collection in 2000. The von Essen empire purchased 33 of the UK’s finest hotels before falling into administration, owing Barclays an eye-watering £250 million as reported. The property was then purchased by its current owners, Luxury Family Hotels.

Enjoy privileges at Thornbury Castle with the Luxury Restaurant Club. For bookings call 01454 281182.

Lords of the Manor (Grade II)

Lords of the Manor, Upper Slaughter, Gloucestershire GL54 2JD  www.lordsofthemanor.com

Lords Of The Manor_ariel (1)

Lords of the Manor dates back to around 1649 and was originally a much smaller house which has been added to and altered over the years. The Slaughter family (originally Sclostre meaning “a slough or muddy place”), purchased the Manor from Henry VIII. It was later occupied by Ferdinando Tracy Travell, whose portrait hangs on the first floor landing, and a coat-of-arms is incorporated into the decoration of the Drawing Room fireplace.

In 1808, the house passed to his nephew, the Reverend Francis Edward Witts. The Witts family were the first Rectors, and then Lords of Upper Slaughter. When the Reverend E. F. Witts died, he was succeeded by his son, the Reverend Canon Francis Edward Broome Witts. “Broome” is a minor corruption of “broom”, the plant (Latin “planta genista”) which gave its name to the Plantagenet Kings of England. They wore a sprig of broom in their helmets in battle and its association with the Witts and Upper Slaughter is commemorated in the family crest over the porch by the sprig of broom in the eagle’s beak.

In 1913, F.E. Broome Witts was succeeded by his son, Major Edward Francis Broome Witts D.S.O., who served in the First World War. Throughout the Second World War, the property was occupied by the Army. During this time, the front porch was damaged by an army vehicle, evidence of which can still be seen.

In 1972, the Manor was converted into a hotel, by Major General Witts’ son, Francis Witts, who still lives in Upper Slaughter. Privately managed by Francis Witts and his cousins until 1985, the hotel was then sold to James Gulliver and the Gulliver family then sold the hotel in February 1997.

The Lords of the Manor remains a privately owned hotel and has been a “second home” to the Munir family since 1997 who continue to invest substantially in the House and Gardens, restoring it to the beautiful condition you can enjoy today.

Enjoy privileges at Lords of the Manor with the Luxury Restaurant Club. For bookings call 01451 820243.

History brought to life…

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