Thursday, February 26, 2009

Thoresby Hall's final days as a Stately Home.

Above: A final family visit to Thoresby Hall, as a "stately home open to the public". 1979.

Thoresby Hall the "Stately Home", as opposed to the successful hotel it is today, opened its doors to the general public on 29th March, 1957 (see THIS LINK). It was an event largely organised by Major Beattie, both Lady Rozelle and Countess Manvers being on holiday in the Mediterranean on that day. Chris Stanley, originally appointed as Estate Accountant, would then take over in subsequent years as the main organiser for such Open Days. Typically, the Hall would be open on weekends, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Bank Holidays. To see the Souvenir Brochure which the general public would have purchased in the 1950s see THIS LINK.

During the late 1950s / 1960s, when visits to stately homes were a favoured pastime with the British public, Thoresby Hall was a great success. It’s charm originated from the authenticity of the place, combined with such “novelty attractions” as a the model railway which operated for there for a time, and even a late 60s attempt at a small "zoo" inside right of the gates and organised by Perlethorpe resident Mr Dewhurst. Standing inside Thoresby Hall one sensed that this was indeed a Home; an atmosphere Countess Manvers’ paintings made even more tangible.

It is a sad irony that the coal mining beneath Thoresby Estate, responsible for much of its wealth, would one day help provoke the downfall of the Hall itself as the 1970s drew to a close. I remember visiting Thoresby Hall in 1979. Countess Manvers was standing by the piano in the Main Inner Hall, and spent some time chatting to my parents, especially my father with whom she’d had a lot of contact during his years on the Estate. Amidst the nearby boxes of souvenir pencils and brochures, there was a sense of things coming to an end.

In 1980, whilst still permitting Thoresby Hall to remain the home of Countess Manvers, the National Coal Board purchased the building. Their motivation for doing so made sound business sense: The coal mining which had already caused considerable damage to Thoresby Lake, was still active in the region and a risk of further structural damage in the region could not be ignored. Lady Manvers was still allowed to open the Hall to the public if and when she so desired, but I have no precise date for when Thoresby Hall, as a “stately home” closed its doors to that practice. Lady Manvers passed away in 1984.

According to the Telegraph colour supplement (27 November, 1988), the subsequent sale of Thoresby Hall to the Australian-based Roo Management, would it seem prove controversial: Roo were apparently clear about their intention to strip the five main Victorian State Rooms of their contents, converting them to part of a hotel. In opposition to their proposal was local developer Geoffrey Whittaker, who vowed to preserve intact the unique contents of these State Rooms as a part of his own plans also to convert Thoresby Hall into a luxury hotel. Not only that, but Whittaker is said to have outbid Roo in a written offer of £1.6 million as opposed to Roo’s £1.5. However, and for whatever reason, the National Coal Board seemed intent on selling to Roo, “in spite of strong opposition and protests from the heritage lobby and at least 15 Mps” *. As a consequence, in May / June 1989, Sotheby’s auctioned off much of the original and unique contents of Thoresby Hall soon after Roo had acquired the property. Roo would then own the Hall for approximately only one year, before putting it back on the market with an estimated price of £3 - £4 million. This time Geoffrey Whittaker was successful in buying it, but only six months later the developers went bankrupt and the Official Receiver had to take over.
Above: A picture from the Sotheby's auction catalog.

In the 1990s the building fell into such a state of disrepair it was deemed a suitable location for the filming of "Great Expectations" by the BBC. So for a moment in time Thoresby Hall became Miss haversham's "Satis House"! (See THIS LINK). The 1990s were surely the Hall’s darkest decade. I remember having a conversation with retired Perlethorpe teacher C. Allan Bollans (see sidebar credits), during this time, when he was working at the Art Gallery in the courtyard there. The threat of looting had been a problem and, perhaps understandably, repairs such as those made by the National Coal Board to the Lake in 1992 (see THIS LINK) were based on finances rather than historical restoration. But there was to be a happy ending.

In 2000 Warners successfully took over Thoresby Hall and opened a luxury hotel on the site. Not only that, but their policy towards an adult clientele, was surely a positive influence on the re-opening of scenic walkways through the estate to be enjoyed by hotel guests and visitors alike, some pathways of which had not been accessible for years. (See THIS LINK and THIS LINK for Thoresby Estate Permitted Walks videos). The success of Warners Hotel, combined with the quality of the Art Gallery, restaurant, and craft shops based in the Courtyard, once again make a visit to Thoresby Hall an attractive proposition.

(*Quotes and details regarding the sale of Thoresby Hall in 1988 / 89 taken from Telegraph Magazine, November 27th., 1988. The details and machinations of this sale have no links to subsequent sales of the Hall).
 Above: The Inner Hall photographed 2008, now used by the hotel guests.

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