Coombe Abbey

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July, 2017

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Culture / Sightseeing

This was a first visit to Coombe Abbey, and hopefully one which will be repeated.

Not only has it some interesting history, mingled with royalty and the Gunpowder Plot, but has tales of hauntings as well.

Coombe Abbey, formerly known as The Abbey of Coombe’, was founded by Cistercian monks in 1150. It remained a monastery until the Dissolution of the Monasteries ordered by King Henry VIII between 1536-1541. It then became a Royal property and for 300 years it was owned by the Craven family until 1923. It is surrounded by well kept, stunning gardens.

In September 2011, the Park Priory Bedroom Annexe was opened, adding a further 39 rooms to the hotel. We couldn’t understand why we had to pay an extra £5 for parking? It seems to be an additional fee as parking is limited and the site is joined to Coombe Country Park which has a huge car park. However, we were very lucky and managed to get a spot on site.

We were allocated room 47, on the ground floor in the Priory Annexe. It was large, and equipped for all your needs. The bathroom was a good size, with large, fluffy towels and a few toiletries. The TV was built into the wall and a huge chest resting on it’s side provided a wardrobe. Tea and filtered coffee and biscuits were available as was WIFI.

The Garden Room Restaurant is very elegant with fine classical dishes cooked, locally sourced. Exclusive dining is available in the Walnut Room, and the Harrington Room. The Garden Room Bar is open till late.

Spend some time having a good look around the hotel itself, as there is much to see inside with its stone walls, nooks and crannies and old staircases. We decided to do this after eating our evening meal.

Catering for weddings seems very popular. These can take place outside in a large marquee in the large grounds surrounding the hotel. They have rather a good idea whereby you pay for the marquee hire then organise the rest yourself. On the day of our arrival there had been a large Indian wedding and we were privy to seeing some beautiful dresses which had adorned the occasion.

After a comfortable night, we enjoyed a great breakfast which certainly had a wide range to choose from.

As to some of the history, after the surrendering and possession by King Henry, it was acquired by John Harrington in 1581, when he built a new house, incorporating part of the Abbey buildings. In 1603, Princess Elizabeth, daughter of James I came to live and be educated at Coombe Abbey. Then, in 1605, Guy Fawke’s famous Gunpowder Plot failed in November, as also did an attempt to seize the Princess and make her Queen of England.

In 1622 Coombe Abbey was purchased by Elizabeth Craven, widow of Sir William Craven (Lord Mayor of London in 1610-1611). He was one of the richest men in his day and the Craven family remained owners of the place for the following 300 years.

William, son of Sir William in 1634, obtained a licence from Charles I to enclose 650 acres of land to make a Park (thought to be the origin of Coombe Country Park).

A West Wing which overlooks the garden today was added to the house in 1682. Captain William Winde was the architect who also designed Buckingham House, later converted to Buckingham Palace. Then in 1771, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was employed to re-design the garden and surrounding land at Coombe.

Later, in 1849, William Nesfield made alterations to the house in ‘Gothic Revival’ style. The east wing and part of the north wing were demolished and rebuilt in the new style. At the time, servants accommodation, a new coach house and stable block was built. A moat and canal leading to the lake was constructed.

The introduction of electric lighting was introduced to Coombe by Countess Comelia Craven in 1907. In July, 1921, Lord craven took his yacht Sylvia’ to Cowes for the yachting regatta. After spending an evening with friends on 9th July, he returned to his yacht where he usually remained on deck before retiring. Only, he was never seen again! He was thought to have fallen overboard and his body was found 2 days later, two miles from his yacht.

John Gray, a Coventry builder then bought Coombe in 1923 and demolished the top 3 storeys of Nesfield’s est wing and sold most of the interior fittings and architecture features. He used the land for breeding Gray’s Red Poll cattle, known as The Abbeycoombe Herd.

In the 50’s, Gray leased the place to the General Electric Company as a residential training centre. John Gray died in 1963 and the GEC, concerned about structural safety, did not renew the lease. The estate then passed into the hands of John Gray’s daughter who married Edward Walpole-Brown. Costs of renovation were going to be so great, the house was put up for sale. 1964 saw Coventry City Council make a purchase which included ownership of 250 acres of Coombe land. So their vision of a ‘Park’ could be established on the eastern side of Coventry. And opened in 1966 to the public.

In 1992, work began to restore Coombe Abbey into a ‘No ordinary Hotel.’ A new Visitor Centre facility arose, children’s adventure playground and themed dining venue. Abbeygate, the new venue for Medieval Banquets opened following the Centre opening in 1993. ‘No Ordinary Hotel’ opened with 63 bedrooms, cloisters restaurant, Chapter House, private Dining Rooms, Conference and Banqueting facilities on 17th February 1999.

In 2005 came the addition of an elegant conservatory to be known as The Garden restaurant and Conservatory Bar. The Cloisters restaurant was returned to the grand state room of days gone by for weddings and other exclusive functions.
The additional 39 bedroom extension called Park Priory was started in 2007 and completed in 2008.

I mentioned hauntings and apparently there were quite a few of these going on throughout the years. One is a hooded monk who is said to be the ghost of Abbott Geoffrey who was brutally murdered in 1345. His cloaked figure can be seen wandering the castle grounds. People also believe he is the culprit behind poltergeist activity in the kitchens.

Matilda, a young green-eyed girl, known to have been a stable-hand , caught the eye of the master of the house who took a shining for her. However, after becoming pregnant by him, he refused to accept he was the father. Matilda gave birth to a stillborn child and then laid down a curse on the house, pronouncing that any young child born there, would die young and under terrible circumstances. It would appear to be true as many young children in the Craven family have died throughout the years. Matilda is also thought to walk across the cobbles and doors slam shut without explanation. Sometimes guests don’t feel alone in their rooms and some have been so spooked they have flown their rooms in the middle of the night.

So, perhaps, I have convinced you that this is indeed a place which certainly is a place like on other!

Caroline Hutchings

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