At the start of the 19th century, Hartwell House sitting elegantly in Buckinghamshire’s quintessential English parkland, was the home to three kings. Not a single one of them British.
Louis XVlll had fled from the French Revolution and Napoleon. For Louis after the 700 rooms of Versailles, Hartwell may have seemed like downsizing. The future Charles X, Louis’ successor, and Gustavus IV the exiled King of Sweden, were also European royal migrants at Hartwell.
But for today’s guests, Hartwell House, with its mile-long avenue of 234 trees – lime, walnut, giant sequoia, beech and many more – is a precious reminder of an era of more gracious proportions. There are 90 tranquil acres of landscaped parkland, pavilions, croquet lawn and artfully positioned ornamental Lake.
Within the house, now a 30 bedroom and suite hotel, interior wood-panelling, ornate stuccoed ceilings, grandfather clocks, gilded mirrors and antique furnishings provide the decor for royal living. Every room is worthy of its own Antiques Roadshow. This is such a significant stately house that Historic Hotels, who manage Hartwell House, gave ownership of the property to the National Trust to better serve its long-term preservation.
On the grandest of hand-carved staircases, given a Gothic tweak in the latest restoration, even Sir Winston Churchill is relegated to a mere gargoyle-like baluster, just one of dozens of figures, supporting the main balustrade. In the grand millennium sweep of Hartwell House’s history, beginning from the Domesday Book, through Civil War opposition to the King, one Prime Minister, however famous, is mere small fry.
Royal Rooms, in the main house, are designed on an epic, palatial scale. In the Hampden room, named in honour of the family who built the current house in the 17th century, above a seven feet wide bed, is a Bayeux Tapestry-like pastoral scene. Then there are huge green drapes with a drop of three fathoms or more.
Attracted by Hartwell House’s rich heritage, many visitors call in for lunch or afternoon tea served in the Drawing Room, Library, Morning Room or Great Hall. Admire the four seasons / four elements stucco ceiling in the Morning Room and remember the historic legacy of the library; Louis XVlll signed the document agreeing on his return to the French throne in 1814 whilst the Meteorological Society was founded there in 1850.
Designed in the style of a room at 11, Downing Street, the Soane Restaurant has been awarded 2 AA Rosettes for the quality of food provided by local chef Daniel Richardson. For dinner, smartly tailed waiting staff, serve from either the Bill of Fare or the Seasonal Menu. The elegant setting, with a pianist playing in the background, and imaginative menus attract many non-residents too.
Richardson’s vision, minimising food miles with local sourcing from his network of farmers, creates new takes on old favourites. A squid ink wafer brings a crunchy textural contrast to pan-seared scallops which rest in a subtle curry sauce and mango chutney. From the Bill of Fare there is a choice of main course from brill, monkfish, duck, mushroom tagliatelle, quail and steak. Quail are rarely plump, so a stuffing of chicken and bacon, served with a smooth beetroot risotto, reinvents the classic dish.
Looking back into history, times had been tough for Marie Josephine, Louis XVlll’s wife, and the emigres who had followed them to first Russia, then Prussia and finally Hartwell. How they would have enjoyed the Hartwell Spa – relaxing in either the Roman style swimming pool or one of the four treatment rooms. Perhaps taking an Environ facial to ease away the worry-lines of fleeing from Napoleon’s armies. Or an Aromatherapy Associates body-wrap to soothe muscles aching from tending caged birds and animals on the house’s roof. These were hungry courtiers not used to the hard labour of keeping livestock and growing crops.
Looking back at the house and church from the bridge over the lake, and even that is the relocated central section of historic Kew Bridge, it is easy to understand Lord Byron’s final question to Louis XVlll, as he packed to return to France, “Why wouldst thou leave calm Hartwell’s green abode?”
For more information on dining and staying at Hartwell House, using the Spa or Hartwell’s regular programme of events visit https://www.hartwell-house.com/Last modified: April 7, 2021