In the 21st century, we have Mindfulness Apps to find calmness and tranquillity. So, Stanbrook Abbey Hotel is a reminder of the simplicity with which people once found their contentment in beauty and peace.
Why journey to an Indian Ashram to escape from 21st Century Bedlam, when you can take the M5 to find inner calm along with fine dining and luxury? Enjoy an utterly unique location where High Church meets Haute Cuisine.
Based on 26 acres of serenity in Worcestershire, the hotel gently exudes the calm cloistered spirituality of different times. A time, dating back to 1838, when nuns lived a life of prayer and contemplation, following their vows of obedience, chastity and poverty. In the Abbey, search for grooves worn in the timber by decades of kneeling prayer in the pews.
After a £4.2m renovation by Hand Picked Hotels, Stanford Abbey Hotel is far removed from the simple, stark routines of the original abbey. The makeover of the calefactory, the warming room, exemplifies the transition. Once it was the only heated room in a Victorian construction that housed up to 188 nuns. Now it has been redesigned into three luxurious feature rooms, not just with original beams and stained glass windows – but also motion-sensitive low-level lighting, touch button climate control, flat-screens with USB connectors and enough plugs to charge a PC World of devices.
Ashlin, with a balcony overlooking the drive and paddock, celebrates the Irish architect who contributed to the design of this Gothic Revival masterpiece. Black-and-white photos in the Boulton room feature the intricate carvings of the master stone-mason. Check-out mice carved into the oak pulpit in The Terrace dining room to see why Robert “Mouseman” Thompson had a room named after his carpentry. The Gothic Revival brought such artisan creativity and individuality back into fashion.
Pride of place goes to the Pugin Suite, honouring the vision of a family of architects who decided to stand-up to the squalid functionality of the Industrial Revolution with the spiritual beauty of pointed arches, lancet windows and vaulted ceilings. They made for a wistful romantic return to the spiritual architecture of the Medieval world. If you think you see hints of the Houses of Parliament then you are right, although it was Edward Pugin who largely designed Stanbrook, his father Augustus who worked on Westminster’s plans.
More than a hotel, Stanbrook Abbey Hotel has the spirit of a museum. Down in the basement, along from the Games Room and Wine Cellar, there’s a detailed restoration of the Nuns’ bakery.
Alternatively, you can ascend towards the heavens by taking the 145 tightly spiralling steps up the square Bell Tower for views towards the Malvern Hills. Until 2009, when the Benedictine nuns departed for a quieter life in North Yorkshire, the bell had rung frequently in memory of those nuns who had died back in Huguenot France before the order had fled to England. Back down at ground level walk through the Lavender Garden to a willow-draped lake.
Maybe The Refectory, as a name for the restaurant, recalls austere images of the nuns listening to biblical passages, read from the pulpit, as they ate their simple meals. Fortunately, a decor of autumnal plum and chocolate tones, with plush semi-circular banquette leather seating softens the long lines of the dining hall. Large windows look out over lambs frolicking in the paddock.
David Humphreys’ modern British Cuisine menu makes the most of local sourcing. Although Humphrey’s training included molecular cuisine he also focuses on the quality and taste of every ingredient. Seasonality is a priority but Humphrey’s recalls days before freezers when pears were pickled to preserve them and fruits became a chutney to accompany the cheeses.
Though it is largely a menu that the nuns would recognise, even if beef, duck, lamb, salmon, scallops and wood pigeon were the rarest of treats reserved for the most exalted of festivals.
In many ways, the contemporary extension, towering stone pillars and vast expanses of glass, a sort of New Classicism, sums up Stanbrook Abbey’s coalition of ancient and modern, secular and worshipful. It doesn’t just work, it gives new meaning and finds a new purpose for a building that may just have crumbled away once the nuns had departed.
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Stanbrook Abbey Hotel, Jennet Tree Lane, Callow End, Worcester WR2 4TY
T: 01905 832940 or 0845 0727 502*