Set in 11 acres of parkland, the stone facade at Billesley Manor dates back to the early 17th century, while the ornate topiary garden was planted 130 years ago and designed to replicate a chess board. Located just over three miles from Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon, this historic property, recently revamped with a £5.6 million budget, is steeped in history and charm! The hotel’s general manager Stephen Fearnley fills in all the gaps.
After a uniquely challenging period for the travel and hospitality industry— why was 2020 the right time for an extensive £5.6 million refurbishment?The refurbishment was planned already, and with the world going into lockdown it seemed an appropriate time to go ahead with the renovations, ensuring the least disturbance to our guests. We ended up renovating more than we first intended and decided to overhaul the kitchen too! After being closed for some time, we wanted to welcome our guests back with a “wow.”
The hotel is 125 years old—how have you balanced maintaining the originality and charm of the decor while also modernizing the interiors? We were conscious of keeping the original charm and features, such as restoring the oak panelling and maintaining our 125-year-old topiary gardens, whilst bringing a twist of modern, especially seen in Pratiksha Tayal’s art, hung throughout the hotel.
The hotel has a wonderful history with several illustrious guests in its past— can you share some insights into this? Over the years, Billesley Manor has been the home and guesthouse to several influential and wealthy individuals and families, contributing to its grandeur. According to legend, William Shakespeare wrote many of his famous literary works here. He is also rumoured to have married Anne Hathaway in All Saints Church, hence our Shakespeare suite and our new library, named As You Like It. Elizabeth Nash, his granddaughter, followed tradition and married here in 1646.
What might surprise someone to learn about Warwickshire? Shakespeare aside, if you’re a fan of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books and The Hobbit, you will be familiar with his use of the word “Shire” as a reference to “Middle Earth.” But, did you know, he based Middle Earth on Warwickshire? Tolkien lived in the then Warwickshire village of Sarhole, and this is where he drew inspiration for Hobbiton and the Shire. Even the mill featured in both books is thought to be based on Sarehole Mill!
Tell us a little bit about the gardens and the challenges of maintaining them? Our topiary gardens are 125 years old and depict chess pieces from Alice in Wonderland. They provide couples the perfect backdrop to say “‘I Do,” when we host weddings. We are fortunate that our in-house gardener has been with us several years and maintains the gardens to the highest standard. Equally, our terrace gardens benefitted from additional flower beds and new garden furniture in 2021, making them the ideal retreat.
What makes a perfect English country getaway? Whilst England is famed for its beautiful countryside with rolling hills, forests, and rivers; the charming countryside villages are always well-worth visiting. There is so much history in England with its old buildings, historic castles, and quaint churches. At Billesley Manor it starts from a warm welcome on arrival, wellingtons and walking sticks for local walks, through to beautiful bedrooms, cosy fires, and delicious dinners.
What are some of the typical day trips and itineraries you suggest to guests?Billesley Manor is situated in the heart of rural Warwickshire, a few miles from Stratford-upon-Avon and on the edge of the Cotswolds. Guests can begin the day with a hearty breakfast with us, followed by a stroll along the River Avon to see the sights of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the famed boats, and Holy Trinity Church, where William Shakespeare is buried. From there, we encourage guests to take a journey to Broadway, where they will find charming stores and scenic walkways.
What is the signature dish of the Billesley and why? It is so hard to choose one, but our signature venison dish is a particular favourite, using the best of our local produce. We always like to use locally sourced produce for our dishes, whether that is foraging for wild garlic in spring to using meadowsweet in desserts. We are fortunate enough to have a kitchen garden within the grounds.
The starting room price is very reasonable—how do you balance luxury with accessibility? I feel Billesley is truly escapism for all.