Beaverbrook, hottest new country hotel

Read all about it: the 1894 facade of Beaverbrook

He was a colourful chap, Lord Beaverbrook. For more than 50 years, the influential owner of the Daily Express and wartime cabinet minister welcomed everyone who was anyone, from Charlie Chaplin to Liz Taylor, to his Surrey estate for discreetly decadent weekend parties. When the notorious womaniser wasn’t conducting his affairs there, he was debating the great issues of the day with the likes of Churchill, HG Wells, Rebecca West, Rudyard Kipling and Ian Fleming. 

“Some people take drugs; I take Max,” said Winston. Cherkley Court was both a den of iniquity and a seat of power, and on Tuesday, it opens as Beaverbrook, the UK’s hottest new country-house hotel.

Even without that pedigree, this wedding-cake mansion would have a lot going for it. Set in 400 soft-focus acres in the Surrey Hills, the House, built in 1870, has undergone a five-year restoration, rumoured to have cost £90m. The owners, Joel Cadbury (of the chocolate dynasty) and Ollie Vigors, have a CV that includes a stint running the Groucho Club; the interiors have been glammed up by Susie Atkinson, the designer behind Babington House; there is cutting-edge Japanese dining from the former Nobu chef Taiji Maruyama; a swanky kids’ club by Sharky & George; and the glorious country around Box Hill is on the doorstep.

Elizabeth Taylor, a guest of Lord Beaverbrook, pictured in 1955

SILVER SCREEN COLLECTION/GETTY

The reinvention is being revealed in instalments. Last September, the rustic 11-room Garden House annexe opened. By the end of the year, the Coach House Spa, with six treatment rooms, a gym, indoor and outdoor pools and a deli, will be ready. But the House is the main event, and I was the first journalist to stay.

When you cross the threshold, you step into history. Off the reception is the art-deco cinema where Beaverbrook and Churchill watched Pathé war reports. The wood panelling remains, but the upright seats have been replaced by squidgy sofas, and the movies will be curated by the film directors Alan Parker and Hugh Hudson.

Beaverbrook’s craggy features peer down from the fireplace in the Library, which remains comfortably cluttered with his possessions, so it’s easy to imagine booze-fuelled political debate here. Remarkably, given its reputation, the House didn’t have a designated drinking den, an oversight now rectified by the introduction of the Parrot Bar, with winning 1920s styling and killer cocktails (from £9). 

From the bar, you step onto the vast terrace, whose heart-warming views over the Surrey Hills consoled Rudyard Kipling, who was staying here when he learnt his son was missing after the Battle of Loos in 1915. Walk further down in 40 Acre Field and you can find the ancient yew where Churchill would ponder his next move with a cigar and a glass of whisky. When Cadbury and Vigors took over, they found dozens of discarded bottles in its branches.

Susan d’Arcy in the bar

Back inside, the overall vibe is fresh and friendly, with pastel shades, floral prints, quirky ornaments, fabric wall coverings and coir flooring softening the grand dimensions. The 18 bedrooms are equally light and lovely, and named after famous guests. Elizabeth Taylor overlooks the flamboyant Italian garden; Ian Fleming has a photo of Roger Moore as Bond above its art-deco bath. 

Churchill’s, decorated in clubby mustard and bottle greens, is surprisingly small, with no views: Winston liked its northern light for painting and the fact that it had its own exit (now converted into a fancy shower), so he could come and go unnoticed.

For value, the pick of the rooms is Kipling’s, bigger than its place in the cheapest bracket would suggest.

Japanese food may seem perverse to throw into this distinctly British mix, but dinner in the romantic restaurant was mouthwateringly good. Only the nine-course £95 tasting menu was available pre-opening — ouch — but the best dish, nigiri, including sea bass with crispy ants and clover, will be a slightly more affordable £25 à la carte. If raw fish doesn’t sit with your hangover, there’s Italian comfort food at the Garden House.

So, what’s the real story here? It’s that Beaverbrook is as charismatic as its namesake, pulling off the trick of feeling both relaxed and special. It isn’t cheap, but for a birthday or anniversary treat with your significant other, it’s well worth it. For an illicit liaison with someone else’s significant other, even more so. The old rogue himself would surely have approved.

Staying in the past: four more historic hotels

Cliveden, Buckinghamshire 
Waldorf and Nancy Astor’s Italianate mansion was the scene of the Profumo affair. Recently refurbished, it’s now one of the UK’s grandest hotels. 
Doubles from £300; clivedenhouse.co.uk 

Hartwell House, Buckinghamshire
Previous residents include King John and Louis XVIII. It’s now a chintzy but comfy country-house hotel. 
Doubles from £202, B&B; hartwell-house.com

Hever Castle, Kent
Built in 1270, it was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn. Guest rooms have a pleasingly Tudor air, and access to the ancient yew maze and rose garden. 
From £168, B&B; hevercastle.co.uk

Corinthia Hotel, London
The invasion of France was planned here in 1944: it was linked by tunnels to the Whitehall ministries. Now, Benedict Cumberbatch and Rihanna drop by. 
Doubles from £400; corinthia.com

Susan d’Arcy was a guest of Beaverbrook. Doubles in the House are from £225, until September 18 when rates rise to £330 (beaverbrook.co.uk)



© 2005-2019 Alastair McIntyre