“It has all been most interesting.” - Lady Mary Wortley-Montagu’s final words
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the stately homes of Great Britain began to feel the pressure of increased death duties and changing social landscapes. Combined with the impact of two World Wars, nearly a third of the UK’s grandest houses have perished over the years.
These stately homes were status symbols for the upper-class families of Great Britain, usually filled with fantastic collections of arts and antiquities.
After the second world war, planning restrictions and the National Trust meant that many of the houses were saved. A large portion of these homes are now accessible to the public and the contents within them can be enjoyed by all.
In recent years costume dramas such as Downton Abbey have depicted the life in imaginary aristocratic households. There has been a renewed interest in these homes and the reality behind the fiction of life upstairs and downstairs. The nation has a keen interest in the grand residences, especially the families and staff who occupied them.
Middlethorpe Hall in York is one such property. An elegant country house hotel built 300 years ago by Thomas Barlow in the “William and Mary-style”. Thomas was a prosperous master cutler who bought the estate in a bid to establish himself as a country gentleman. Donated to the National Trust in 2008, it still has the look and feel of a well-kept manor house rather than a 29 bedroom hotel.
“What is a weekend?”
- Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith), Downton Abbey
I visited a couple of weeks ago for a weekend break away with the girls. Our friend Joey was bidding us farewell as she’s off on an around-the-world adventure. It seemed only fitting that we gave her a celebratory send-off, and what better setting than Middlethorpe.
Sitting in 20 acres of beautiful manicured gardens and parkland, it even has it’s own lake and helipad. I decided to leave the chopper at home and took my trusty VW instead so I could nip into the city of York, which is a ten minute drive away.
The hotel’s exceptional customer service began even before we’d arrived. A few days before our stay, I received an email with directions to the hotel from my home, as well as providing me with the weather forecast. I was also introduced to the hotel’s concierge service, who can book theatre tickets for guests, make restaurant reservations or arrange chauffeur driven services. Suitably impressed, it set the tone for the rest of our stay.
Since there were three of us, we were accommodated in a courtyard suite, off the main house in the old stables. Following a laborious drive in the miserable British weather, I arrived to find our little sanctuary for the weekend. Our cute cottage had an open fire which was warming the room for our arrival.
There was a plate of homemade fudge and macarons to welcome us as well as a little note from Lionel Chatard, Director & General Manager of the hotel. Lionel worked at Claridge’s before moving to Middlethorpe, he leaves a hand-written note to every guest in the hotel’s 29 rooms.
The cottage had it’s own kitchen, a lounge and dining area, a bathroom and three bedrooms. It was surprisingly spacious which is ideal when staying in a group. The decor is traditional, in parts it’s like stepping 300 years back in time.
The hotel is quite rightly unapologetic about this, “guests should not expect the hotel to be modern like new built establishments in town or country.” That being said, we noticed a few mod cons here and there, including Roberts radios, a Nespresso coffee machine and free Wi-Fi for all guest.
As darkness fell we spruced ourselves up before heading over to the main hotel for our evening meal. The interior is olde-world grandeur, with an ornate oak staircase leading up to the luxury bedrooms.
The staircase still bears some markings of Thomas Barlow’s grandsons, who carved their initials and the date into the oak “IN 1764 & SB”.
A large painting of Lady Mary Wortley-Montagu greets guests in the hall. Lady Mary is best known for introducing her knowledge of inoculation against smallpox to the UK.
She moved into Middlethorpe in 1713 when Thomas Barlow and his son went on the grand tour and let the house in their absence.
We were shown through to the regal sitting room for a pre-dinner cocktail. This room has billowing curtains and Georgian oil paintings. The hotel is so peaceful, the only sounds being the creaking floorboards and grandfather clocks tick-tocking away.
The food was delicious, as were the cocktails. Understandably Middlethorpe’s oak-panelled dining room comes out on top for fine-dining in York. The à la carte menu draws from the local area with vegetables straight from the hotel’s own gardens.
After our meal we returned to the cottage to get warm and cosy by the fire while watching our favourite festive film, The Holiday.
After a hearty Yorkshire breakfast we made our way to the hotel spa for some pampering.
The spa is located in a charming cottage opposite the hotel. It has a 40’ heated swimming pool, a spa bath, whirlpool, steam room, sauna and gym. There are three massage and treatment rooms in the spa offering a whole host of treatments.
I’d recommend booking in advance as the spa can become very busy. We opted to have our nails done in preparation for an evening sampling York's array of cocktail bars.
The next morning we awoke with sore heads and, feeling extremely lazy, had breakfast delivered to us in the cottage.
Well on the road to recovery, we packed our bags and waved Joey off on her adventure. I took a walk around the hotel grounds before tackling the drive home.
Apparently early risers often glimpse deer in the gardens. I wasn’t lucky on this occasion but I was happy enough walking in the fresh air and enjoying my peaceful surroundings. Middlethorpe is the perfect location for a luxurious Yorkshire escape.
01904 641 241
*Cocktail Saturdays was a guest of Middlethorpe Hall