The Elvetham – Country House Hotel

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July, 2021

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One shouldn’t be surprised, I guess, to expect an elegant country house to have a rather impressive entrance. Elvetham can certainly boast this as you drive up to its large white gates which open automatically as you approach.

The drive is flanked by broad grassed verges with trees and shrubbery leading to outbuildings on the east side before you skirt round to the Water Tower and the north walls of the kitchen garden.

The present entrance has a grassed turning circle which was established between 1822 and 1939 when the length of the A323 road was re-routed south from its former course.

We arrived late afternoon having celebrated some friends’ special birthday celebrations in the nearby area. We were met with a friendly welcome at reception and assigned to a room which we understood to be a King sized Executive Room with a sofa, chair and table and with views over the grounds and fields.

The Room was located on the third floor (no lift – and it was a very hot day). It did have a large bed but not much room, rather dark and only a chair and a table! As you can imagine, we were not very happy and went back to reception. There was an apology that the room shown online may have been misleading as all the rooms were somewhat different!

We were then given Room 208 on the same floor level which, although no sofa, was lighter and larger with a King sized bed, 2 windows, 2 chairs and a table. We had a promise that they would try to find another room for the second night, but they were so busy we ended up staying in room 208. At least they did try to change the room for us and because it was so hot we were glad of having 2 windows to get a cross current of air. The bed was very comfortable and we had tea and coffee facilities as well as toiletries, iron and ironing board, fridge, a large TV, bottled water, hair dryer and high speed WI-FI. There was room service and laundry service should you require it.
No problems with parking.

Prior to arrival, all the rooms are deep cleaned and sanitised following a detailed plan. To minimise the number of people entering your room, a mid-stay housekeeping service has been removed but is available upon request. Any fresh towels, linen or extra tea and coffee can be asked for at reception and they will be placed outside your room to collect.

The Sylvanus Restaurant where we ate was named after the Roman god of woods and uncultivated lands. This is a lovely, light and airy place to eat with nice views overlooking the gardens. Breakfast was served to the tables with plenty to choose from. Lunch and evening meals also served here with a variety of menu choices. The food was very good and the waiting staff very polite, friendly and helpful.

Dating back to the 1200s, Elvetham estate includes 35 acres of landscaped grounds and has 21 meeting spaces, and 10 separate buildings. Plans are to significantly invest in the Main House and surrounding buildings and refurbishments are on going.
Outside there are various sections of roof, topped by tall chimney stacks. There are Mansard roofs which maximise space (roof which has two slopes on all the four sides where the lower slope becomes steeper than the upper one).

Close to the Main House stands St Mary’s Church, modelled in 1840 and designed by Sir Henry Roberts to resemble a 12th century Norman church. In 1860 Samuel Sanders Teulon added the flying buttresses and the angels at the four corners. A yew tree stands in the churchyard which is said to be over 800 years old. The church is currently de-consecrated and used for storage but I understand it is hoped it will be eventually used for weddings? What were once stables and some servant quarters are hoped to be revamped for additional hospitality rooms.

The S.E. garden front, with its attached camellia house was in restored in 1998 and opens onto a large square terrace, designed by Teulon in the early 1860s. The terrace is enclosed from the churchyard on the north-east side by a wall and a bank of shrubbery, and on the S.W. and S.E. sides by a brick retaining wall surmounted by a pierced terracotta balustrade.

The terrace is laid to lawn and surrounded and quartered by gravelled paths, centred on a circular shrub bed. There is a small brick and tile-roofed summerhouse with pebbled paving, added by 1911. From the S.E. side of the terrace, steps centred on the axial path lead down onto a second, lower terrace which is half the width of the upper one, whereupon there is then a lawn and some square rose beds with a rectangular pool circled by clipped yew hedging.

I like delving into the history of places and, certainly, there is a lot which surrounds Elvetham, located close to the village of Hartley Whitney on the A30.

The first time we hear of Elvetham is in 1066 in the Doomsday Book which tells us that the yearly rent for the property was 30 shillings and the manor included three ‘ploughs’, a plough being roughly an area of land workable by a team of eight oxen; four acres of meadow and enough woodland for 10 swine. It was originally a Saxon settlement and was believed to have been in existence as early as the 800s AD. The name Elvetham is a mix of two Saxon words; Elve – a spirit or swan, and Ham – a dwelling or dwellings. In Saxon England, Elvetham was part of the Eversley Forest; a small settlement founded in a clearing of level ground near the River Hart.

In the late 800s AD King Alfred the Great fought many battles in the local area from invading forces. In 871 AD he fought off an army of Viking invaders in Basing, nine miles west of Elvetham and 5 years later battled with Norsemen at Aldershot. Alfred had many campaigns and would therefore have had to recruit many loyal local men to bolster his forces and he is believed to have even camped near the settlement of Elvetham before the ensuing battles.

The area has many ancient oaks and parklands and is also where Eadric the Wild plotted against William the Conqueror in the 11th Century and where King John gathered his nobles in readiness for war with France in 1205.

Wild Eadric was an Anglo-Saxon earl from Shropshire a wealthy man and the lord of fifty-six manors. It is said he was a great huntsman and although he was a real person, many myths and legends became attached to him. It’s worth reading about how he, his wife Lady Godda and his fighters were imprisoned in lead mines in a rocky hill in Shropshire called Stiperstones and a curse placed upon them.

In 1426, Elvetham became home to the Seymour family. Edward Seymour, in 1535 entertained King Henry V111 and this is where he met and later married Jane Seymour. Edward Seymour’s son, the Earl of Hertford married Lady Jane Grey’s younger sister, Catherine. Queen Elizabeth 1 only heard of this marriage when Catherine became pregnant, and, upon hearing the news, Elizabeth sent them both to the Tower of London. In 1567 and 1572 respectively, Catherine and Edward were released. In order to repay the favour of Queen Elizabeth and have his children legitimised, the Earl of Hertford entertained her at Elvetham in 1591.

Four days of lavish entertainment took place and a range of pavilions were built to accommodate the Queen’s large entourage.

Elizabeth planted an oak tree while she was there which still stands today and is more than 33 feet in circumference. Upon the death of the Earl of Hertford, the house passed to his grandson, William Seymour who became the Marquis of Hertford and Duke of Somerset. William sold Elvetham in 1649 to Sir Robert Reynolds, Solicitor General of the Commonwealth, whose daughter married her first cousin Reynolds Calthorpe. Following her death, Reynolds married Barbara, the daughter of his second marriage, married Sir Henry Gough, Director of the East India Trading Company.

The original house, visited by Queen Elizabeth1, no longer exists because it burned down in 1840. In 1860, Frederick, 4th Baron Calthorpe built a new house on the same site and Samuel Sanders Teulon (a 19th century English Gothic Revival architect noted for his use of polychrome brickwork) was commissioned to interpret quite a few of his ideas. In 1901 the carriage porch was built. The Library and Oak rooms were built a decade later in 1911.

In 1953 Sir Richard Cawthorpe sold the house to ICI and they subsequently sold it in 1965 to Lansing Bagnall an engineering company who were based in Basingstoke. We then move forward to 2001 when the house was acquired by the Dare family who became the principal owners for 18 years. Within this time period, many improvements took place and Elvetham became one of the leading business, wedding and private event venues in the South East.

Elvetham was sold in November 2019 to Jastar Capital, a real estate and private equity business operated by the children (Taran, jay and Sindri) of one of the Mataru brothers who founded Grange Hotels. The Dare family sold the freehold of the 72 bedroom country house hotel for an undisclosed sum.

While only parts of the medieval house remain, it is fair to say that the ancient spirit of the place has been woven into the modern trappings of a luxury hotel. It does have a ‘haunting’ look about it in appearance, As to ghosts, I have no knowledge!

Despite the climbing of stairs on a hot July day and room booking confusion, we would certainly visit again.

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