Middlethorpe Hall Hotel and Spa stylishly presents three centuries of history with impeccable taste. Its story begins in 1699, when Thomas Barlow moved from smoky industrial Sheffield, where he had made his fortune manufacturing knives, to fashionable York, to establish himself as a country gentleman.
As Middlethorpe Hall rose on York’s outskirts, Thomas Barlow’s aspirational new house grandly announced the man he was becoming. Mellow red-brick and limestone framed windows echoed the long-established stability of regal Hampton Court. An imposing stone eagle on the roofline, taken from Barlow’s recently purchased coat of arms, spoke of his power. Whilst the Italianate horizontal roof illustrated that Barlow had acquired a taste for classic architecture on his Grand Tour of Europe.
Middlethorpe Hall strayed from its original and current grandeur during a difficult twentieth century. It endured a St Trinians phase as a girls’ boarding school, then in the hair and flares 1970s became Brummells, a nightclub that optimistically claimed to bring the spirit of The Regency to York’s nightlife – but with a disco soundtrack.
In 1980, Historic House Hotels purchased the handsome William and Mary mansion and began the long process of restoring Middlethorpe Hall to a glory beyond that of the 18th century. Now, Middlethorpe Hall Hotel and Spa with 20 acres of immaculate lawns, bucolic parkland, lake and walled garden pays tribute to the great tradition of the English country house.
Within the original house there are ten feature rooms. South-facing rooms look down on the flagstone terrace, the lawns, a ha-ha and towering specimen trees planted over the last three centuries. Flower arrangements of agapanthus, dahlias, giant daisies and roses – freshly cut from the garden – insert notes of vibrant colour.
Every room has its own unique decor. Some feature lordly-wide four poster beds with traditional sheets, blankets and eiderdown, as classy as a showroom curated by Christie’s or Sotheby’s.
Dark-wood antique furniture, acquired over the last four decades, is typical of the mahogany so fashionable in the 18th century. Tables, particularly hinged and drop leaf were popular too. Sit at a writing bureau to send postcards from the 18th century to family and friends.
There is an authenticity to a property run by Historic House Hotels but owned by the National Trust to best ensure the house’s survival. Staying in a perfectly preserved National Trust house is like stepping into the 18th century but with wi-fi, television and rainfall shower.
Levels of impeccable service belong to a bygone age. Before Covid – 19, the hotel encouraged guests to have early morning tea delivered by a maid. Hopefully, social distancing will be short lived, the tradition of service will return and the Nespresso machine will only be used occasionally.
Beyond the main house, in the 18th courtyard cottages, there are a further 19 rooms decorated in the spirit of the mansion.
To take pre-dinner drinks and canapés – perhaps a delicate slice of sausage roll or wild mushroom on panacotta – on Middlethorpe’s terrace, as shadows deepen on the lawn and deer flit through the parkland, is one of life’s most civilised pleasures.
Ashley Binder, head chef of the AA two rosette restaurant, has established strong relationships with local suppliers of game, meat and fish but increasingly he looks to the walled garden for produce. Damson jam accompanies a starter of pressing of chicken and leek and cherries contribute to a dessert of a chocolate rocky road. An appropriate choice, as Sir Frank Terry the chocolate magnate, once owned Middlethorpe.
In fact, it has been such a good year for cherries, that the kitchen are looking to introduce cherry sauces with a savoury dish or two. A glut of pears, so established that their names are long forgotten, will also feature in autumnal menus.
After this year’s disruption, Middlethorpe Hall Hotel, plans to become a little more self-sufficient: a potager bed of flowers, fruit and vegetable is planned, in the romantic French tradition.
Just yards along the lane from the entrance to the hotel sit two quaint cottages which have been converted into a spa with a warm indoor pool and hot tub. For sun-worshippers there are sun-loungers in the gardens around the cottages, which offer a private escape for visitors and a selection of treatments using Decleor products are available to guests.
It is less than two miles from the centre of York with its Minster, National Railway Museum, the narrow streets of the Shambles and the Jorvik Viking Centre. The hotel is adjacent to York Racecourse and just a 10-minute drive from York’s designer outlet.
Yet, many guests tend to spend their days around the hotel. Taking the National Trust leaflet and map to identify the specimen trees in the grounds, looking for perch and roach in the lake, taking in a game of croquet, before relaxing with afternoon tea on the lawn.
Located to the south-west of York there is easy access from the A64 and then the A1036. Middlethorpe Hall has a huge car park. Alternatively it is a short taxi-ride from York Railway Station.
In a nutshell
Why just visit a country home when you can stay and relax at the magnificent Middlethorpe Hall Hotel and Spa? Grand lordly-living in a William and Mary country house lovingly cared for by Historic House Hotels and The National Trust.
Rooms can be booked from £109 pppn
Address: Bishopthorpe Road, York YO23 2GB
Phone: 01904 641241