After staying at Billesley Manor in 1599, rumour has it that Shakespeare began writing As You Like It. His happy ending romcom for a new millennium.
Billesley Manor Hotel and Spa celebrates this literary legend with the As You Like it lounge. Though, there is a touch of Alice in Wonderland to a room where quirky interior design has books flying up from the bookshelves to adhere themselves, open paged, to the ceiling.
Heading along the drive, looking across the 11 acres of parkland, there is in an imposing grandeur to the classical symmetry of the facade. Yet, as soon as guests walk into Billesley they discover a hotel that has a sense of humour and quirky style. Almost inevitably for a country house, there are dark portraits of sombre, stern ancestors. Though splodges of bright primary colours across the canvasses suggest Billesley does not take its heritage over-seriously.
Billesley Manor is a luxury hotel, promising indulgence, whose spa and health club sit firmly in the 21st century with treatment rooms offering therapies by ESPA. When the previous wooden Manor House was rebuilt in stone in 1603, just as Shakespeare was completing Othello, no one would even have thought of an indoor swimming pool, well-equipped gym, yoga / exercise studio, steam and sauna rooms.
Management took advantage of lockdown to invest in a multi-million-pound refurbishment. Our room has plush deep pile carpet smoothing over the undulations of the centuries. The midnight-blue paint of an alcove hosting the king size bed contrasts with the remaining cream walls. Two vibrantly floral and comfortably upholstered armchairs look out across the courtyard to green parkland beyond. A plate of chocolates helps guests to settle in.
Treading the fine line between respecting tradition and providing contemporary comfort, both the bar and Stuart Restaurant are panelled in dark wood. Shakespeare was yet to write King Lear when the panels were first used in the house’s bedrooms. Later seen as too dark for bedrooms, the panels were rehoused during a Victorian era makeover. Heraldic crests on the panels add to the cascade of history.
Billesley tells the story of the estate too. A map shows the remains of a village whose population was decimated by the Black Death. Centuries ago, the villagers’ wooden houses rotted away, leaving only the Manor House and the 11th century stone-built church, which is open to visitors. Like many Warwickshire churches, All Saints has rumours that it is where Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway. There is more compelling evidence that Shakespeare’s granddaughter married there.
Heading into Stratford, Shakespeare’s Schoolroom and the Guild Hall presents the Renaissance world where Shakespeare grew up. In a 1420 oak-timbered, wattle and daub building, there was one class of 50 or 60 boys aged 7 – 14 who in summer studied from 6am to 5pm. For 6 days a week. Winter lessons began at 7am.
An actor playing the part of the schoolteacher, explained how for his £20 a year he had to brew weak ale for the boys, as the water was undrinkable. He was also responsible for supplying the boys with quills for writing. As paper was expensive, most of their learning was tested orally.
Shakespeare’s ambitious father intended young William to become a lawyer. History records 12 travelling troupes of players visiting the Guild Hall, during Shakespeare’s schooldays, which shaped his career choice. Visits to Shakespeare’s birthplace, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and the RSC Theatre all contribute to understanding Shakespeare’s times.
Back at Billesley Manor Hotel and Spa it is time for dinner, lighter and more imaginative fare than served in Shakespeare’s time. Amongst the options for starters are a rabbit terrine, duck leg confit and scallops. Another change since Shakespeare’s day has been the growth of vegan options, represented by scorched pumpkin, truffle emulsion and crunchy pumpkin seeds.
Basing the menu on the principle of local sourcing, there is a Modern British cuisine theme to duck breast and blackberries, pan seared chicken supreme, a trio of leeks served with halibut, Cotswold lamb, wild mushroom risotto and a quinoa cake.
After a day of exploring Shakespeare’s Country, indulging and relaxing in the spa and health club, dinner in the Stuart Restaurant really is a case of All’s Well That Ends Well.
Billesley Manor Hotel and Spa fact file
Billesley Manor Hotel & Spa rates start from £139 per night B&B based on two people sharing, subject to availability. For more information about Billesley Manor Hotel and to book a stay, please visit bespokehotels.com, billesleymanor.com or call 01789 279955.
Billesley Manor Hotel, Billesley, Alcester, Warwickshire, B49 6NF.
Learn more about the Shakespeare’s Schoolroom and The Guild Hall at
If you enjoyed Michael’s Billesley Manor review, you’ll find more of his ramblings around the UK sampling short breaks at boutique hotels on our Travel channel.Tags: Billesley Manor, Shakespeare, Stratford Upon Avon Last modified: January 17, 2023