To The Manor Born | Hearts and Crafts | Strawberry Fields
Somewhere between London to Brighton, anywhere lost in rural Sussex, deep in the midst of nowhere lies Ockenden Manor. A Grade II* Elizabethan house, it’s now a privately owned hotel (that’ll be Pontus and Miranda Carminger) with a Michelin baubled restaurant. Screech of breaks. Jerk of handbrake. Afternoon tea emergency. It’s been a long morning. Lady Diana Cooper couldn’t resist swinging by a pair of open gates in the country. Neither can we. So it was impossible not to zoom up the drive of Saint Hill Manor, the wedding venue and Scientology HQ, with the subtlety of a Wagner opera. Georgian splendour with a Monkey Room painted by Winston Churchill’s nephew and an ostentatious orangery all overlooking rolling parkland? We’re down with that. Saint Hill Manor is enough to make anyone begin to think Kirstie Alley and John Travolta may have a point.
Next pit stop, neighbouring Standen House. Philip Webb’s swansong to the Arts and Crafts movement. A symphony in (Horsham and Keyner) brick. And sandstone. And oak weatherboarding. And clay tiles. And mustard coloured roughcast. The servants’ wing is as big as the family’s. It’s one L of a house. Now National Trust, the original 19th century owners must have had a pretty high staff-to-Jacques-croquet-player ratio. The William Morris pimped interior is a veritable forest of timber panelling and leafy wallpaper. Fortunately we know our Strawberry Thief from our Willow Bough thanks to an Irish Georgian Society London Chapter study day at the William Morris Museum in Walthamstow.
Back at the last manor of the day, after a 22 minute whiz through the South Downs from Standen, the voice of a waiter announcing the arrival of the sugared strawberry appetiser is music to our ears. Afternoon tea at Ockenden Manor is on its way. Sussex cheddar sandwiches zhuzhed up with homemade piccalilli compete with smoked salmon to hit the high (crust free) note. Homemade scones with clotted cream and raspberry slash redcurrant (not strawberry!) jam contribute to a mellow-day. A harmony of sweets follows. Lemon drizzle cake, chocolate éclairs, strawberry shortcake and petit fours: all of Mrs Beeton’s boxes are ticked. At Lavender’s Blue, we pride ourselves on originality of word, image and thought. Mostly. This one is plagiarised. Below is an adapted cut and paste job from our favourite hotelier-turned-MD-soon-to-be-restaurateur’s review of a lively supper last summer at The Ivy Chelsea Garden.
- Doorwoman: warm, welcoming and gregariously friendly
- Reception: great welcome, big smiles and efficient
- Bar: it might not be a school night but it’s our chauffeur’s day off (return visit required)
- Room: perfect layout and comfortable seating areas, spacious, adequate (not too bright) lighting – and still in essence a country house – phew!
- Waiters: just utterly divine – in looks, style, knowledge and personality
- Loos: lovely design and everything worked (not us, the area!)
- Food: good choice, perfectly cooked, baked and presented, adequate timing between servings – and did we mention this is still in essence a country house? – double phew!
- Wine: see entry for ‘bar’ above
- Could be our new (country) favourite!
There’s so much more to Ockenden but we’re as stuffed as the taxidermy at Standen, as full as Saint Hill’s bookshelves. For architecture devotees, the building is a bubbling laboratory of samples through the centuries, well worth analysing. And what about the cutesy chocolate box village of Cuckfield beyond those open gates? But even an indoor | outdoor swimming pool – the laps of luxury – tucked into the walled kitchen garden can wait. Designed by John Cooper Associates, the contemporary spa pavilion is a rhapsody in (copper coloured) steel. And Parklex 1000 Natural Boak. And glazed curtain walling.