Readers I have an admission...when I was young, foolish and fuelled by booze, I snuck into The Great Bed of Ware for forty winks. It happened at a drinks party at a certain museum, and quite rightly I was ejected, minutes later, as I was dozing. In my defence anyone that has entered a museum (and wanted to stay after hours) or a visited a stately home (and longed to stay overnight) will understand the urge! Do you want to hear something completely thrilling? With Country House Hotels it's possible!
Country House Hotels are pioneers in the conservation of empty and oversized houses, they do this by converting them into grand hotels, which retain all the best facets of country house life an Hartwell House is a case in point. This Grade 1 listed country house is nestled in the vale of Buckinghamshire, stands in ninety acres of landscaped park, and is crucially filled to the rafters with fantastic art.
The present house was built for the Hamden family, one member Sir John Hamden MP for Aylesbury, became a national figure in 1635 by refusing to pay ship money, the tax levied by King Charles 1st without parliamentary approval. The present house retains a number of its Jacobean features, with the later addition of Georgian facades and garden buildings, by the likes of James Gibbs, Henry Keene and James Wyatt. It really is a lovely spot, where guests enter by the Great Hall redesigned by James Gibbs between 1739 and 1740, which retains its early seventeenth century dimensions (pictured above)
In 1809 Hartwell House was leased to the exiled King Louis XVIII of France and his court, where they stayed until 1814. His wife Marie Josephine of Savoy died at Hrtwell in 1810 and is the only french Queen to have died on English soil. The church above is St Marys a remarkable little octagonal church which was rebuilt in 1753-5 by Henry Keene, its one of the finest examples of the early Gothic Revival style and undoubtedly Keene's masterpiece in this manner. It now serves as a picturesque garden folly under the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, and as I write restoration is ongoing.
Hartwell has thirty bedrooms and suites on three floors in the main house. Mine (pictured below) was particularly charming and decorated in the country house style, think deep comfortable armchairs, floral drapes, botanical watercolours..oh and a tin of shortbread for late night snacking! All the best aspects of country house life without grumbling plumbing, hounds that honk or the need to wear gloves to bed in winter.
Personally its the art at Hartnell that excites. I mean who wouldn't want to rub shoulders with Prince Rupert of the Rhine at breakfast? Or have a nightcap in the company of Beechey and Reynolds?
By Nick Cox.
To visit Hartwell House, Oxford Road, Near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. Telephone: 01296747444