My very sniffly, poorly sister turned to me a few hours into our stay at Hope House in the historic town of Woodstock and said ‘this is the ideal place if you’re feeling under the weather.’ I told her, a little rudely, that her inane comments were not helpful to my notes which, at that point, looked a little like this: ‘beds: heavenly – Beltrami Italian linen, Mulberry tree silk hand-made duvets and pillows; toiletries: Bvlgari and locally-sourced bath salts – nice sizes, luxe; bathroom: well thought-out – underfloor heated Italian marble floors, TV in wall by freestanding bath, surround sound, mountains of towels.’
As it turned out, she had, in her own idiosyncratic way, done a far better job of summarising Hope House than my notes ever could: it is less homogenous hotel, more series of private suites in owner Paul Hageman’s house. Paul is the 11th generation owner of the grade II listed property and, on refurbishing, decided that he ‘wanted people to feel that they were staying in my ancestral home.’ Bravo, Paul – mission accomplished; the version of Hope House that opened in 2009 is both a homely experience and one in which you can take a look at some of the rather extraordinary history in which the property is steeped.
A scion of the Money family, Paul’s ancestors counted themselves as friends of the Spencer-Churchill clan who resided up the road in Blenheim Palace (evidence of this friendship abounds around Hope House from the notes sent between the families that hang in the reception area to the footprints belonging to both families carved into the rare original lead roof). The Money family were also were involved in Woodstock’s noteworthy glove trade which received a royal warrant during Queen Victoria’s reign – visitors to Woodstock can see the warrant and examples of glove-making machinery in the Oxfordshire Museum on nearby Park Street.
The Money’s Hope House is itself inextricably linked with the Churchill-Spencer’s Blenheim Palace: built in 1708 for local councillor (and Mayor of Woodstock between 1711-1715) Miles Parker, the stone and railings bear a remarkable resemblance to those of Blenheim’s and are rumoured to have been from the same source. One of only two grand houses in Woodstock (the other is Bishop’s House on Rectory Lane), it is also suspected to be, like Blenheim, Vanbrughian.
Whether made of the very same bricks that were once home to Winston Churchill or not, we certainly felt enormously privileged during our stay but, as with most experiences this good, it does come at a price. A pretty hefty one at that – the Marlborough suite we occupied comes in at between £295-£495 per night.
So what do you get for that money? An experience of true British hospitality coupled with real luxury – of all the hotels I’ve been to, Hope House is the first place in which I’ve stayed where the sense of tacit Britishness prevails without the quality slipping. Let me explain. Britain now does five star marvellously. We have adapted to the demands of travellers who expect ice at 5am, designer shower gels and service at the click of a finger. What most these five star places fail spectacularly at, though, is retaining the quintessential English touches that are at the heart of their charm. Hope House has this in spades due to Paul’s unique vision – that of welcoming a visitor into his home, rather than treating them as a customer.
On arrival, we were greeted by Paul. A small touch, but one which nonetheless added to the sense of being at a home – Paul does, after all, live in Hope House and preside over the property. The Marlborough Suite is one of three suites and two apartments and is located at the top of Hope House – no lift to be found here (see – British), so up we trundled, Paul leading the charge. Once within, we gasped a-plenty. Muted golds and greens comprised the sitting room which was bathed in afternoon sunlight. It was opulent and inviting. Paul pointed out our welcome drink and the Smeg fridge full of goodies (all free, Paul doesn’t believe guests should have to pay through the nose when thirsty during the night).
The first of the two bedrooms in the suite is traditional with low ceilings, exposed beams and a mirrored dressing table. The second is a twin room with a view of picturesque Oxford Street. Throughout the suite, we noticed the thought that had gone into making it comfortable – motion sensitive lights, heatings, magazines and drinks left out. My sister piped up with another of her observations: ‘I wish this were my flat.’ A trifling comment, you may feel, but another that on consideration seemed to me to sum up Hope House – if we stumbled upon a pot of money, we both would’ve happily lived there to see out the winter months in its comfortable arms.
If you’ve by now googled Hope House, you may notice the B&B classification. This also threw me. Hope House has this classification due to a preference: as Woodstock is so dense with restaurants, and Hope House a detail-orientated place, they’ve chosen to stick with serving up only a mighty breakfast. Reading from the breakfast menu, I was spoiled for choice: freshly-baked croissants, locally-sourced organic cheese and meats, jam made by Sarah Doidge from wild strawberries and blackberries foraged in Woodstock, honeys made by Apiarist Geoffrey Burroghs from bees on Blenheim Palace estate, or eggs laid by Hope House’s Lavender Blue chickens Lily, Clementine, Sarah and Henrietta? I went for the eggs and croissants, dolloping a plop of jam or honey wherever I could.
Though given little cause to venture outside Hope House during our two night stay, we did managed to look around Woodstock. It’s a traditional series of inns and boutique shops watched over by the magnificent Blenheim Palace. Visit Blenheim if you can and take a tour (I’d recommend taking some walking boots to traverse the grounds comfortably).
On our first evening, we ate at the local King’s Arms (one of 14 eateries within 500 meters of Hope House) and were impressed. Hope House, however, won out on the second night. After a round of Blenheim’s grounds and cream tea, we couldn’t resist the lure of the sitting room and chose to bathe and settle for a night on the sofa. The evening was so very cosy and our experience so homely that, on check-out, my sister came out with another cracker: ‘we should spend Christmas here.’ Surely the greatest compliment a host could ever receive.