One of the most overused and debased terms to have slithered under the creaky not-so-antique door over the past couple of decades is ‘country house hotel’. Probably dating from the romantic end of the 1980s – Laura Ashley, fake parfumiers that were designed to make us think they originated in Covent garden in the 1770s, instead of California in the 1990s (Crabtree and Evelyn come to mind, though of course, there are many others), hugely overpriced rooms with nothing but a creaky ersatz 4-poster – you get the message. So when we were invited to a wedding there recently, I was steeled for the fake experience of a lifetime.
Well, I was wrong. Although the wedding experience isn’t the same as the dining or accommodation experience, it does have the value of going on for much of the day, and the intervals between the set pieces allowed us to wander around and explore this very lovely place.
The building itself – strangely little commented on – is wonderful. It’s a mid-19th century baronial gothic pile that would do well in a Walter Scott novel, or even, should they think of resurrecting them, Hammer Horrors. The Great Hall is stunning, a fusion of Palace of Westminster solidity (a wonderful hammerbeam roof) and gothic archways everywhere, with a monumental stained glass window that wouldn’t be out of place in a large parish church. The grand staircase leads to a mezzanine floor that would serve as a marvellous minstrels’ gallery, were it not for the elf and safety requirement for the gothic arches to be filled in with glass so that nobody could take a stylish dive onto the floor below via the rather low sills. Most of the common rooms seem to be well preserved originals – presumably the legacy of having been in the Blackett family for a very long time – and there are fine pictures, etchings, and some fascinating plans of the original building by the architect – including one of the Conservatory, which was designed by a firm specialising in these – back in 1909.
The vista from the main house is glorious, and the gardens very beautiful, especially the formal Dutch garden where we had our first glass of champagne after the wedding ceremony, which was held, of course, in the Great Hall. We were served several rounds of highly welcome and palatable canapés, and later in the evening a fine barbecue for the evening guests. The wedding breakfast was excellent, served in a lovely function-cum-dining room (there are several); an unusual fresh fruit medley, followed by only fractionally overdone local beef with mange-tout and parmentier potatoes, then a lovely warm pear and almond tart and honey and whisky ice cream. For mass-catering this was relaxed and careful, courses nicely spaced, with prompt filling of wine glasses. The young waiting staff – many of them uni students – were excellent.
We wandered off to have a restful drink in the conservatory, and finally plonked ourselves in the homely leather-upholstered dining room annexe before the evening wedding entertainment.
This looks like an outstanding wedding venue; plenty to occupy the guests, as opposed to many other hotels where the only options would be to risk asphyxia from smoke inhalation at the entrance or, equally horrible a fate, die of shame after consuming a proudly-served Starbucks. This lovely manor house will not appeal to those seeking a buzzy atmosphere, perma-tanned flash D-raters or a break fuelled by a phalanx of electronic devices. The reviewers who can’t fathom why a venue like this isn’t going to come cheap probably won’t ever have employed full time gardening staff to look after bygone-era facilities like a formal garden. They should stay away, and let a more mature crowd – brain maturity, that is, not chronological – enjoy this venue. The grumpy soul marking the Hall down because of a fee for an animal in a room should go to Germany or the Netherlands, where pets are welcomed pretty well everywhere, though I don't know if they are in historic buildings; but that's not the UK way any more, if it ever was. Much more importantly, the lunch and dinner menus looked very fine indeed, and we’ll be back to try one – the North East, amazingly, has very few really good restaurants, and not a Michelin star in sight. Someone has to be first, and this extremely civilised venue would be a good starting point.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Matfen Hall Hotel, Golf and Spa winner of Large Hotel of the Year 2015 at the Visit England Awards is located just 15 miles west of Newcastle in the charming village of Matfen and is the ancestral home of Sir Hugh and Lady Blackett. This stately home is set in 300 acres of parkland and has been a hotel since 1999. Enjoy true Northumbrian hospitality at Matfen Hall Hotel. The Hotel offers 53 bedrooms, individually decorated in traditional and contemporary styles. Our golf estate includes a 27-hole course, par 3 course and driving range. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Matfen Hall Hotel Matfen
- Matfen Hall Newcastle Upon Tyne
- Matfen Hall Northumberland