For Mother’s Day the Friend family took a trip to Heythrop Park near Chipping Norton for a special afternoon tea.
Heythrop Park is an early 18th century country house designed by architect Thomas Archer with a distinct Baroque flavour for Charles Talbot, 1st Duke of Shrewsbury. Inspiration for the front of Heythrop Park came from Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s design for the French Louvre, which was never executed. And so the house remained in the Talbot family for best part of two centuries.
In 1831 a huge fire swept through the house destroying much of the inside and it remained uninhabited until railway man, Thomas Brassey, bought the Park for his son, Albert Brassey, as a wedding present. Albert commissioned Alfred Waterhouse to rebuild the interior to mimic a courtyard of a Renaissance palazzo and that’s where me and Mama Friend had our picture taken (which was a nice little surprise especially laid on for Mother’s Day and even better, my chum, Becky from Vine House Studios, was the photographer of the day!)
Heythrop Park Hotel, Golf & Country Club (to give it its full name) had a full refurbishment in 2010 and is now part of the wider Crowne Plaza franchise. The layout of the grounds can be quite confusing as there are a number of other organisations also occupying the grounds (including the Centre for Homeland Security – who knew?!)
Winding through the country estate, I don’t think there’s much left of the Talbot and Brassey era as the golf course spreads its way across the park, but once you arrive at the main house it still leaves an imposing impression. In fact, on this cold Sunday, there didn’t look like there was much life going on at all from the outside but once we stepped through the door, we were whisked off to our seat in the Churchill Room by a very jolly doorman.
Heythrop is a bit of a maze – mainly because its had so many different uses, as well as a grand country residence it was also used as a Jesuit scholarly academy, a training centre by Natwest and now a hotel and conference centre. Over 120 people were visiting Heythrop for a Mother’s Day treat but we certainly didn’t feel as if we were fighting for attention.
The team were very efficient at adapting to dietary requirements, including providing my Dad with his very own chocolate mousse instead of the cream bursting strawberry tarts. Heythrop Park is perhaps not the grandest place in the Cotswolds to go for a cream tea (I mean its pretty grand by ordinary standards, but if you think of some the other palaces it’s contending with in Oxfordshire, Blenheim’s just down the road…) but it is by far one of the most reasonable, so I’d have no problem recommending it to others!