Usually when you leave a National Trust property, there is a feeling that you would like to stay a little longer. To sleep in that four-poster bed, to have breakfast served in that wood-panelled dining room, to aristocratically recline on a chaise langue, to live the peaceful life of yesteryear.
At Middlethorpe Hall Hotel and Spa, on the outskirts of York, you can step back into the early 18th century and stay for as long as you like. Although the elegant mellow brick work of Middlethorpe Hall, with architectural echoes of Hampton Court, is a National Trust property, ownership and day to day running have been handed over to Historic House Hotels. Alongside Bodysgallen Hall in North Wales and Hartwell House Hotel near Aylesbury, guests can stay at Middlethorpe in Historic House Hotels that have been restored and preserved for posterity.
But don’t worry these handsome properties are not open for viewings by the public. You will not be a roped off exhibit as you take coffee in Middlethorpe’s bright morning room, afternoon tea on the flagstone terrace or head for the shower in your en-suite bathroom.
In the quaintest of spas – two converted cottages housing treatment rooms, pool and jacuzzi – a lady is swimming and reminiscing over Middlethorpe Hall’s more recent history.
“Back in the 1970s, Brummel’s nightclub was on the ground floor and the upstairs had been converted into flats. The nightclub was meant to be for sophisticated twenty-somethings though to be honest it looked a bit shabby. I was only a teenager, but my older sister sneaked me in.”
Four decades on, Middlethorpe has been restored to its former grandeur. In fact, it is like living in an episode of The Antiques Roadshow, surrounded by serious portraits of ramrod-backed ancestors.
Over the restoration, antique furniture has been acquired in the spirit of 1699 when Thomas Butler first moved into his new home.
Butler, who had made his fortune as a master cutler in Sheffield, aimed to escape the grimy city and establish himself as a cultured gentleman in faraway York. He had taken the Grand Tour of Europe, to educate himself in the arts, but he aimed to create the quintessential English country house. With his grand vision even the dovecote is larger than some of today’s starter homes.
Intriguingly, there is a strong link to 2021 in the house’s history. Butler fell ill and died on a second Grand Tour. Subsequently, the house was rented to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu who was a strong advocate of … vaccination. Whilst in Turkey she had seen the locals vaccinating themselves against smallpox. For all her persuasive passion, vaccination was not taken seriously for more than a century.
Butler had built with an eye to establishing his family’s status, shrugging off “new money” jibes. An imperial eagle sits on the house’s roofline. Later owners added to the sense of permanence with a carefully curated arboretum. A map, provided by the National Trust, allows guests to identify specimen trees as they stroll through Middlethorpe Hall’s 20 acres. Amongst the trees are a Cedar of Lebanon, a Northern Red Oak and a Judas Tree.
A walk round the grounds, should take in the lake with its weeping willows, a visit to the croquet lawn to see how the balls are flowing and a glance to see if the cherries are ripening in the walled garden. Here, there are varieties of pears so ancient that over the centuries their names have been lost, though every autumn those trees provide pear jellies for the menu. Apples, apricots, cherries and vegetables from this fertile suntrap of a garden also appear on the menus of the AA two rosette restaurant. After the pandemic’s disruption of food supplies, both chefs and gardeners are looking for more home-grown produce.
With a bus stop by the hotel’s entrance, York’s attractions are easy to access: York Minster, the National Railway Museum, the Jorvik Viking Centre and the Shambles. Even closer lies York’s racecourse and it is but a short drive to the many shops of York’s Designer Outlet.
For all the allure of York, many guests are content to slow down and enjoy the old-fashioned charms of this symmetrically elegant house. It is a place to linger on a window seat looking out over the South Lawn, for coffee and the morning paper in the Morning Room. A place where even the grandfather clock seems to tick-tock more slowly.
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