The Editor’s List: Bailiffscourt Hotel & Spa
On a recent excursion to England, looking for what’s new and what’s old, we found a delightful and unusual combination of both in the southern reaches of Sussex County – Bailiffscourt Hotel &Spa. We so thoroughly enjoyed our stay that we created a new stand-alone feature that will debut shortly on Architectural Holidays. We’re still working on a catchy name for it but simply put, this is our hot list – an ongoing rotation of “hits” that we think offer unique expressions of architecture, design, and hospitality.
We admit that Bailiffscourt Hotel & Spa has been under our radar for many years before we finally walked through its doors. And we’re so glad we did, as it is so much more than it appears to be. One of three members of the Historic Sussex Hotels collection, Bailiffscourt is primarily a re-enactment and thus a celebration of history, and that automatically gets our attention.
As we kick off the debut of our hand picked hotel hits, we invite you to join us along the journey that is Bailiffscourt.
In the Beginning … Back in 1927
At face value, Bailiffscourt may resemble the quintessential medieval manor house – and that’s precisely the point. The opening photo at the top – the Bailiffscourt Reception building and hotel’s main entrance – exhibits many of the features that can be found in early English manor houses: rubble stone walls, irregularly placed leaded windows of varying shape and tracery, and steep pitched roofs clad in slate.
Ah, but Bailiffscourt is different. It is a 20th century reproduction and it was built almost entirely of salvaged materials that are in most instances of medieval origin. What began as a private family estate is now a thoroughly luxurious and atmospheric destination by the sea, thanks to the enthusiasm for history that we share with original owners Lord and Lady Moyne.
It Takes a Village
Not bad for a weekend retreat! Lord Moyne, aka Walter Guinness of the iconic brewing company and a former Member of Parliament, along with his wife Evelyn wanted an estate of multiple houses for their family and guests. Not to mention, to display their growing collection of period antique furniture and art. A 750-acre site in the Village of Climping, near Arundel, proved to be the perfect setting for the Lord and Lady to start their own history. The present hotel site encompasses about 30 acres.
We say the extraordinary undertaking was the extent to which Lord Moyne went, to rescue and relocate older buildings and to reconstruct them using salvaged materials from those and other derelict buildings that might otherwise have gone under the demolition wrecking ball. In modern times, we call this sustainable design – the recycling and repurposing of existing building components. It is evident throughout the hotel.
There is one true historic gem on the property which may have been the deal maker for the Lord and Lady. Shown in the overall photo above (far right) and below, this is a 12th century Norman chapel that was re-constructed on the site in the 13th century. After the Norman Conquest, this lovely little chapel was overseen by a French monk serving as its bailiff, hence the name Bailiffscourt.
A Look Inside
To pass through the gigantic, heavy timbered entrance door is to step back into history but also to experience the lap of luxury that did not exist quite like this in the Middle Ages. This is the staple of Historic Sussex Hotels (HSH) – an independent, family-owned hospitality group since 1957. Bailiffscourt was already a hotel when HSH acquired it in 1993 , having formerly been known as Birers Hotel back in 1952. Bailiffscourt now has a total of 39 rooms, located in several buildings on the site, as well as a full spa and fitness center, plus specially designed rooms geared more toward the contemporary-minded guest.
The main hotel building, Bailiffscourt Reception, features several cozy lounges and salons each offering intimate seating arrangements, stone floors drenched in antique rugs, and wood burning fireplaces. We are told the interiors were designed by a family member, and each room is literally filled with a mix and match of period appropriate furnishings, antique or reproduction seating with luxe upholstery, and rich wall tapestries and countless eye-catching accessories. Medieval times never had it so good.
The Guest Rooms
As much as we would have enjoyed seeing every guest room at Bailiffscourt, we did see enough to conclude that the rooms are typically spacious and very well appointed, right down to the coffee making tray. We have to say that the extent to which antiques are placed throughout the hotel is remarkable. These are the real deal – very early pieces, mostly oak and dating to the 16th and 17th centuries if not earlier. They are everywhere, even in the bathrooms. It is quite a collection and this is what sells the medieval style so brilliantly when paired against leaded gothic windows, exposed beamed ceilings, and ornately carved bed frames.
Drinks, Dinner, and a Little Night Magic
The Bailiffscourt Reception building is host to drinks, dining and whatever else you have in mind, with a choice of dining and private event spaces. The photo above, the Tapestry Restaurant, offers a upscale medieval-inspired setting for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Yes, walls are covered in tapestries and daylight fills the room through diamond leaded glass windows framed in heavy textured drapes. Informal dining and snacks can also be served in the lounges, outdoor patios, and of course your room.
Add a Little Imagination to your Meeting Agenda
Bailiffscourt offers several meeting and event spaces of varying sizes and appointments. The photo above, the Board Room, features a zodiac painting on the ceiling. Perhaps it is there for added inspiration, brainstorming, or simply to lighten up the meeting agenda.
The Music Room, shown below, can be transformed from corporate retreat to rehearsal dinner.
Anyone For a Swim?
The Bailiffscourt Spa is a recent installment and we found it particularly appealing at night. Constructed as a modern timber frame, with well-insulated walls and glass windows, the Spa garnered an award for in efforts in sustainable design. The lobby, shown below, is a contemporary yet soothing setting, with smooth plastered walls and sleek modern furnishings. The Spa is open to non-guests and it’s signature product line, Temple Spa, is available for purchase and is featured in the guest rooms.
The Little Things
Whenever we tour a hotel or event venue, we look at the details, the things that really add up to an exceptional experience. We found so much of this at Bailiffscourt and if you look for yourselves, you will likely see totally different things, and that is part of the treat.
The photo above highlights the doors that are throughout the hotel, including the guest rooms. Made from old wood, perhaps some with a little extra “battering,” and forged hardware that is simply never the same on any door. This also applies to the window hardware, one example shown below. Whether or not these are antique or are recreated, they are representative of the period when artistry in ironwork was avidly expressed.
We saw many examples of “window dressing” like the one shown below. Thick exterior walls offer great built-in shelves and we loved how thoughtfully these were fitted with florals, antique accessories, and in this case, a display of locally made champagne, which by the way was quite impressive.
What could be better than a tunnel to connect the Bailiffscourt Reception and nearby Thatched House building? Yes, it’s relatively modern (a little trompe l’oeil on the wall in lieu of real stone) but it’s definitely a great plus in inclement weather, not to mention fun for the kids. And yes, there are antiques even in the tunnel.
If we could imagine what would have topped our trip to Bailiffscourt it would have to be if it were during the Holidays. Bailiffscourt gets magical during this festive season, with special events, not the least of which is the “carols by candlelight” in the Norman chapel. For all the upcoming holiday activities, click here. Who knows, maybe we’ll make it there after all.
Rates from GBP 219
[Photos courtesy of Bailiffscourt and by Architectural Holidays]