Custodians of history
The dynamics of the past century put many country houses at the mercy of developers. A significant number still around today owe their continued existence to the hospitality sector.
In the 20th century an estimated 1,200 country houses were destroyed in England and nearly 400 in Scotland, more than half of these since 1945. Many such properties can be seen today only in black & white films of the day.
In post-war Britain the upkeep of many large properties became impractical to maintain and many were razed to the ground to make way for new roads or smaller dwellings.
One demolition firm, Charles Brand of Dundee, demolished at least 56 country houses in Scotland between 1945 and 1965. In England, it has been estimated that one in six of all country houses were demolished during the 20th century. Many of those that remain are unpractical for families to run and have been kept in use as guest houses, B&Bs or hotels.
Ocklynge Manor in Eastbourne, for example, was once a monastery for the Knights of St John of Jerusalem and has been the site for a dwelling for the past 1,000 years, the current property having been built in the 18th century.
Standing in three acres of landscaped gardens in Halford, near Stratford on Avon, stands the Old Manor House, dating from the 16th century with tennis courts.
Another example of restored properties used by the B&B sector is the award-winning luxury estate Chatton Park House &B, an award-winning luxury five-star B&B in the heart of the Northumberland countryside. In 2009 it was named AA Guest Accommodation of the Year.
Hospitality to the rescue
In many cases landmark historic properties were sold off by families and went through subsequent roles. In North Gloucestershire in the late 15th century one such property, now a five-star hotel, Ellenborough Park, was built to become guest accommodation some five hundred years later.
Its survival during the latter part of the 20th century was due in no small part to having been awarded the status of a Grade II listed building in 1960.
De la Bere
After the Battle of Stoke In 1487, Henry VII honoured Richard de la Bere with a baronetcy. The family settled down at the bannerette of Southam where he built a manor house, at the foot of Cleeve Hill in a fertile valley surrounded by forest next to the village of Southam, and named it Southam House.
At that time de la Bere was Sheriff of Gloucestershire. In 1609, he bought the manor house. He died without an heir and left his property to Kinnair de la Bere, who also did not have any male children, and the property was thus inherited by his nephew Thomas le da Bagott, who appropriately was known for his kindness and hospitality.
During its time as a stately home, eminent guests included King George III. It was the seat of the Earl of Ellenbourough in the 1830s, from where it takes its current name, when it was still known as Southam House.
Renovations and additions to the old manor house were made in Gothic and neo-Norman architectural style between 1833 and 1871 by Baron Ellenborough, who was formerly the Governor General of India.
The renovations covered the ancient baronial hall, restoration of the tracery and other architectural features. At this time, it was adorned with antique decorations, and a few years later, it had a collection of old portraits.
In the 20th century the property functioned as a private girls’ school, Oriel School, which closed in 1972, and for several years it was the premises of a horse-riding school.
The Tudor property then served as a three-star guesthouse known as Hotel De La Bere, until it was purchased in 2008 and converted in a luxury hotel. A path connects the grounds to the nearby Cheltenham Racecourse, so it is at its busiest during Gold Cup week every March.
Court House Manor B&B
Great stories often sit behind stunning country properties, and many of these owe their existence to having been rescued by the hospitality market. In the small Gloucestershire town of Painswick, which established its wealth in the wool trade and is known for its parish yew trees, is the luxury Court House Manor Bed & Breakfast.
Before being refurbished the property over many years had been used as many things, including a school and residence of many lords of Painswick. The Lloyd family have owned court house manor for 10 years, although the family has 10 generations who have lived in Painswick and are buried in the local parish church.
The B&B has 11 guest rooms as well as a converted barn used today as a fully self-catered property
King Charles I famously stayed at the property while battling through the town prior to the Siege of Gloucester in 1643, and it is believed he used the court itself to administer justice. Fittingly for the era, the rooms and suites are respectfully named as the Tempest, Othello, Hamlet, Cleopatra, King Arthur, King Charles, Romeo & Juliet, Julius Caesar, Sir Lancelot and Magical Merlin.
Jared Mein tells Luxury Bed & Breakfast: “During this time Shakespeare was around, and it felt fitting to name rooms after him.”
One of the selling points of the Court House Manor B&B is that every few months the king’s ghost can supposedly be seen walking round the property.
Two years ago, the B&B opened a restaurant exclusively for the use of guests, accommodating up to 24 diners. Guests can book a room rate that includes dinner for a fixed extra cost of £30 – with steak charged at a further £5.
For both breakfast and dinner menus the B&B chef uses local produce wherever possible. Mein says: “Our sausages and bacon are from a local butcher in Gloucester, the fish comes from our local coasts and is delivered very fresh. We support local produce and guests really appreciate it.”
He adds: “We keep the menu seasonal and change it regularly as we have a lot of returning guests. We try to keep our food British traditional with European twists,” he adds.
Over dinner or in the bar guests can have a choice of French white wine including Champagne, or Chilean, South African or Spanish red. Many guests appreciate being greeted on their arrival with a glass of cava.
Larger than most luxury B&B properties for obvious reasons, the Court House Manor B&B is able to use existing areas as attractions for guests. For example, the library has a selection of books collected by the owners. It also has a fully covered outdoor pool that can be enjoyed throughout the year. Foe its exclusive hire guests the B&B also has a jacuzzi. This is in addition to a snooker room on the top floor that provides a games hideaway with its own bar.
Court House Manor B&B accommodates wedding receptions, and conveniently has a church yard gate connecting it to the churchyard.
Two of the rooms at the property accommodate family bookings with sofa beds, although Jared says the most popular room for families is the barn.
Lords of the manor
The earliest recorded Lord of the Manor at the Court House Manor was Ernisi in 1050, when the then village of Painswick was known as Wyke. Over many centuries local life was dominated by the Manor and its lordship, and the lord from 1121 – 1137, Pain FitzJohn, is thought to have given his name to the town, hence ‘Pain’s-wyke’.
The original Manor was demolished in 1445, but it was re-established soon after, and was fully functioning as a court until 1931. Minor and serious offences were punishable by methods such as the stocks and gallows. The original stocks can be seen outside the gates to Court House Manor.
Court House Manor is situated in the heart of the Cotswold town, with views across the Slad Valley to the east and plenty to explore in the town and beyond.
A minimum stay at the B&B is two nights, and the owners cunningly offer a discount rate on Sundays to entice those who are travelling to Painswick for perhaps a wedding and who wish to continue to indulge themselves in the charm of the property and its surroundings to take the Monday off and treat themselves to another night’s stay.
The owners also discourage late arrivals by applying a £25 surcharge for guests arriving after 10pm.
Painswick itself is located at the top of a valley with stunning views. It is a tourist attraction with has a range of enticing local shops. It has a local gallery that stages a range of exhibitions throughout the year, hosting the Art Couture festival in July in St Mary’s Church yard.
The B&B’s bedrooms receive two hours of housekeeping every day to refresh the rooms, the timing of which can be organised with us in advance to suit the needs of guests.
All rooms come with free wi-fi and a TV, hairdryer, toiletries an iron and ironing board and tea and coffee-making facilities.
The court house is set in landscaped grounds, which are lend themselves well to outdoor activities including badminton, croquet and lawn sports. Outdoors too guests can relax on the various sun terraces and patio areas within the property.
The B&B also has a number of rooms in which guests can relax and feel at home. These include the Family Room, which offers a cosy environment to settle down to watch a movie on comfortable sofas with the fire roaring, and The Court Room itself.