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Kedleston Country House Hotel - bringing a Georgian building back to life

PUBLISHED: 10:29 05 May 2015 | UPDATED: 10:29 05 May 2015

Georgian grandeur at The Kedleston Country House

Georgian grandeur at The Kedleston Country House

Ashley Franklin Photography

Once an acclaimed local watering hole, the Kedleston Hotel has lain empty since 2010. As it prepares for its impressive re-emergence as the Kedleston Country House, we take a look around...

The Kedleston Country HouseThe Kedleston Country House

‘The pub,’ declared George Orwell in 1943, ‘is one of the basic institutions of English life.’ It seems times have changed little, with the current CAMRA website stating that: ‘The vast majority of our pubs contribute significantly to our nation’s happiness.’

Writing recently in Esquire, Tom Parker Bowles goes even further: ‘Pubs are Britain’s secular church, their wobbling stools and battered bars the pews and altars of our one true religion.’

This is all very romantic and impassioned, but the unquenchable truth is that we have spent the last decade presiding over the demise of the local. In 2006, a year before the smoking ban, Britain had over 58,000 pubs. In 2009 52 pubs were closing every week. They now number 48,000, with 28 still closing each week. Nearly 800 pubs have closed in Derbyshire alone.

However, let’s not drown in our sorrows. Some enterprising souls have bucked the trend and re-opened pubs. Derby can raise a glass to a brewing business that has re-opened three pubs and is soon to restore a fourth venue – its grandest project yet. The Derby Brewing Company, which has just celebrated its tenth anniversary, has cause for celebration with its £1 million restoration of the much-loved Kedleston Hotel, now renamed Kedleston Country House.

Artist's impression of the new OrangeryArtist's impression of the new Orangery

Two famous names are associated with the building: Robert Adam designed it; Brian Clough frequented it. Let’s add a third: Trevor Harris, the godfather of brewing in Derby. It’s arguably because of Trevor that there are more brewers in Derbyshire than any other county and that Derby was recently named the real ale capital of the world.

The story goes back to 1981 when Trevor and wife Kes bought their first pub in Herefordshire. They started as they meant to carry on, renovating and reviving the tavern. Flushed with two years of success, they returned home to Derby, managing a number of pubs before making their name and reputation by restoring Derby’s last remaining railway tavern, the Brunswick Inn, in 1987. This became the first brewery of the modern era in the city as CAMRA enthusiasts gathered to sample its 17 hand-pulled beers. Weighed down by awards, Trevor and Kes sold up in 2002 and retired... for two years. In 2004, Trevor and Kes founded the Derby Brewing Company which became a family concern with son Paul and his wife Leanne joining the business. Together they restored The Tap on Derwent Street, which went on to win Derby CAMRA Pub of the Year, then brought back to life both the Greyhound in Derby and The Queen’s Head in Little Eaton.

The Kedleston Hotel restoration is the company’s most ambitious makeover, yet few would bet against the Derby Brewing Company’s apparent Midas touch. I meet a very upbeat Paul Harris in the shell of the building where the tin shutters will soon come down and the sun’s rays will light up the parquet flooring. Paul is ‘anxious but massively excited.’ He’s waited a long time for the building work to start. Four years, in fact.

‘I live around the corner from the Kedleston Hotel,’ Paul reveals, ‘and it was sad to see it sitting by the side of the road, tinned up and forgotten. It seemed such a waste of a beautiful Georgian building – next to Kedleston Hall, it’s still one of the best examples of Robert Adam’s work still standing today – so when I read in the news that the previous tenant was leaving, I rang the Kedleston Estate Office that same day to express our interest.’

Paul Harris at the old entrance of the Kedleston Country HousePaul Harris at the old entrance of the Kedleston Country House

With the Estate obliged to place the venue on the open market, the Derby Brewing Company had to pitch for the lease with three other interested bodies. ‘It was a bit like The X Factor,’ Paul recalls, except the panel was considerably more upmarket than Cowell and Cole, including as it did members of the Curzon family.

With its track record of lovingly restoring listed buildings and, as Paul terms it, ‘an unwavering belief in what the Kedleston could be once again,’ the Derby Brewing Company was awarded the lease. What also impressed the Curzons was that ‘they saw a company which cared about the building and understood the local market.’

Paul explains: ‘Every venue we have re-opened had previously been closed but now all three have become successful in their own right, and that’s down to looking at the location and surrounding population and creating a venue that suits both the building and the environment. The problem with the Kedleston latterly was that it was a grand building in an affluent area yet it had become low budget and run-down. What we have come up with will hopefully tick all the boxes in terms of what people are looking for in this vicinity.’

One of the reasons the planning has taken four years is that numerous regulations had to be adhered to owing to the Kedleston being such a historic building. As part of the renovation, Paul says they have sought to put the Georgian style back into the building wherever possible. For instance, some of the openings in the building had curves – ‘very 1970s’ remarks Paul – so these have been squared off in the Georgian tradition. There will also be Adam-styled cornices and ‘proper, thick’ Georgian skirting boards, along with wooden panelling and wooden floorboards in burnt oak.

Studying plans in the restaurantStudying plans in the restaurant

‘Sadly, the interior has been messed about with through the years and there aren’t as many Georgian features as we would have liked,’ says Paul. ‘However, where we have had the opportunity, we have brought aspects of the interior back to how it used to look. We are working with the building and it will be a tasteful blend of old and new.’

If you frequented the old Kedleston Hotel, you will know of its traditional hotel layout, complete with entrance lobby. That reception area has been ripped out as it will become the bar area, complete with table service. There is also a snug which contains an original fireplace, brought here previously from Kedleston Hall. As well as those two drinking areas, there will be a Study Room, so-called to encourage drinkers to use this more private, hidden-away space as a quiet area... to read a book or newspaper, perhaps?

Walking further on, Paul ushered me into the rooms which reflect the real daring of this enterprise. This brings me back to Tom Parker Bowles who stated: ‘The pub is not dead. It’s just had to evolve to survive.’

Many of the pubs which emerged from the dark days of mass closures either served food already or else moved to introduce it. Food has figured in the Derby Brewing Company’s evolution – its mantra being ‘locally-sourced homemade food’ – whilst still staying true to the belief that the pub comes first, as a place for drinkers.

The Snug with a fireplace previously relocated from Kedleston HallThe Snug with a fireplace previously relocated from Kedleston Hall

However, although the bar space here looks to be substantial, away from that area the emphasis is firmly on food, with two dining areas: a restaurant and an orangery, together providing 135 covers.

‘Yes, this is something new for us,’ admits Paul, ‘but there will be the fantastic selection of drinks that people have come to expect from us with award-winning real ales, craft beers and an extensive wine selection with the addition of a fantastic range of cocktails. The notable thing for us is that it’s large enough to have separate dining and bar areas, unlike a pub that has to fit every occasion. So, in a sense, yes, we are entering the restaurant business.’

It seems a natural move in that the Derby Brewing Company has built a good reputation for its food. Their aim was true from the start, says Paul: ‘As a company brewing handcrafted beers, there was no way we were going to serve food that comes out of a freezer, into a fryer and then onto a plate. Some pubs do that and we feel it’s not right for us.’

A so-far-unnamed top chef from London is coming to run the restaurant with the promise of ‘modern British cuisine with international twists, served in a grand yet relaxed restaurant space.’

The restaurant coming to lifeThe restaurant coming to life

I noticed lots of windows in this room, so once the tin shutters are peeled off light will pour in. There is to be parquet flooring, too, and when I returned to take a few more photographs of the gradual renovation, I noticed light cream Farrow & Ball colours on the walls. All this, together with the oak flooring and wood panelling is intended, says Paul, to create the atmosphere of a modern country house.

‘We hope people will see us as a place to visit both as an everyday treat and for a special occasion, letting the grandeur of the building do the talking,’ said Paul.

The Orangery promises to be a bright, light, elegant space with a central skylight, slate floors and large, grand sash windows. The Orangery is the one new addition to the existing building and will form an L shape. As I looked out onto the shell of the Orangery, Paul pointed beyond to the fields which will be landscaped. Here, there will be enough room for a large marquee, a croquet lawn, and a formal garden with fruit trees, a herb and salad garden and chicken coop. All the produce from the garden will be utilised by the kitchen.

Mention of a marquee points to the Kedleston Country House being promoted as a wedding venue. A wedding licence registration is already in and enquiries have been made. There is accommodation, too, in five boutique bedrooms which will occupy the first floor. Although the previous operation had 14 bedrooms, the second floor will remain undeveloped. ‘We’re going to open and then get a feel for what the demand will be,’ explains Paul; ‘there might be a call for more bedrooms or maybe meeting rooms for businesses.’

Foundations for the new Orangery, enjoying fantastic views of the estateFoundations for the new Orangery, enjoying fantastic views of the estate

Whatever the next few months bring, the Kedleston Country House is sure to have its own singular appeal.

This is something the Derby Brewing Company strives to attain, according to Trevor Harris. ‘We believe all our venues are unique and individual and we like to think that we refurbish our venues in the same way that we make our beer – “using only the finest ingredients.”’

Certainly the Derby Brewing Company has its finger on the pulse as all its pubs are thriving. ‘The industry has changed,’ states Paul. ‘It’s no longer cheap to enjoy a drink and eat out so people’s demands are higher. What was acceptable ten years ago isn’t acceptable now. To be successful you have to evolve and raise your game. You need to offer what people are looking for; and we believe they are tiring of the big chains, largely because everything is all the same. We think it’s important that venues are individual and have their own look and feel but that they also belong to the local community and meet the demands of that community. The Kedleston Country House will be something really special. We feel delighted and privileged to be able to bring this incredible building back to life and hopefully to create something that the people of Derby will be really excited about. We are thrilled to have saved this building for generations to come and now just can’t wait to open the doors and share our vision with everyone.’

An early illustration with a bowls game in progress  With permission of Curzon Papers, Kedleston HallAn early illustration with a bowls game in progress With permission of Curzon Papers, Kedleston Hall

The History of Kedleston Country House

The Kedleston Country House is the latest incarnation of a building which began life in 1762 as The New Inn. It was designed by Robert Adam while he was working on his grandest design, Kedleston Hall, which was Adam’s first major building commission. At the time he was Architect of the King’s Works and he went on to become one of the most successful, fashionable and inspirational architects in the country.

Originally the Kedleston Hotel served as a coaching inn, with an open central passage, a porte-cochère – a porch large enough to allow carriages to pass through into the rear courtyard. It also attracted visitors who came to take the waters at Quarndon and the sulphur baths in Kedleston Park.

Distinguished visitors included Admiral Rodney, Britain’s most famous admiral of the 18th century, and Dr Samuel Johnson.

The creation of a Georgian garden at the renovated hotel will echo the early building as the inn is thought to have had a walled kitchen garden at either side of the building. As the William Ault illustration above shows, the land over the road was used as a bowling green and also, as OS plans show, a tennis court.

In 1887, rival spas in Buxton, Matlock and beyond brought a decline in visits to Kedleston so the inn was closed and became a farmhouse known as Bath Farm.

The farm remained in place until 1970 when the tenant farmer, Frank Morley, began to find the building was becoming too large. It was also in need of costly repair so it was sold to local businessman David Cox who re-opened it as a 17-bedroom hotel, with a new farm built opposite.

Distinguished visitors in this new era included Brian Clough who lived locally. His autobiography mentioned it as a ‘favourite eating place for me and my family’ as well as a favourite meeting place for players. Famously, the Hotel was where the Rams players met Brian Clough and Peter Taylor on 22nd October 1973, just after the players had asked the Derby County board to reinstate Clough and Taylor following their surprise resignation.

Clough frequented the Kedleston for three decades but even that pales into insignificance compared with William Gallimore. If you end up at the new Kedleston Country House at Christmas, you might see him or, rather, his ghost. According to Richard Felix, Gallimore was the son of a landlord who died of pneumonia on Boxing Day 1854, aged 27. His spirt is usually seen around the Christmas period though it’s not known why he still haunts the hotel.

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