Hassop Hall Hotel, near Bakewell, has been sold and will close on September 29. It has been bought by a local businessman as a private house. MARTIN DAWES recalls a couple of visits for the Sheffield Star.
YOUR first glimpse of Hassop Hall Hotel, once through the wrought iron archway, could take your breath away. “It was like being in an episode of Downton Abbey,” said one overawed visitor on TripAdvisor, reeling from the atmosphere and the service.
If your next glimpse was of a male peacock there could be trouble. If in the mood it would either try to fight or mate with your vehicle. “It doesn’t like blue cars,” then owner Tom Chapman told us on our first visit.
Twenty years later, when we returned to dine again, the peacocks had gone. They were not providing the sort of welcome guests expect from a hotel. So had Mr Chapman, who died in 2013. “They were being naughty and Dad took them home,” said his son Tom junior who succeeded him in running the place with his identical twin Richard.
Hassop Hall, with its stuffy, Edwardian country house menus, seldom troubled the food guides. There was poached salmon, veloute of fish soup St Tropez (seen, as named, nowhere else in the world) and five roasts although the signature dish of duckling in a salt crust was worth having.
“Food for Americans,” sneered one visitor and if a little unkind was not entirely incorrect.
Hassop Hall, which is Grade II* listed, dates back to the Domesday Book but the present building, three storeys of honey coloured sandstone with seven bays, is from 1774. Some, like a Downton film set, is even more recent. The bar had been the garage and there were fake beams and heraldic emblems painted on hardboard. Legend has it that some of the oak panelling elsewhere came from Sheffield Castle
On our first visit we’d met Mr Chapman senior there as he greeted visitors. He sized up our worth in one look, smiled and asked “Anniversary?” We didn’t tell him until later when I gently pointed out my surprise at being served tinned peas. “We’ve not got round to nouvelle cuisine, petit pois,” he murmured.
He never did get round to it. Six years ago it was still silver service, silver cloches and carving at the table for its £43 a head (more on Saturdays) dinners. But you did feel like a million dollars. It will have cost several more millions for the new owner to buy Hassop to convert into a private house. When the Chapmans bought it in 1975 to turn it into a hotel they were only the fifth family to be associated with the hall in 900 years.
I remember the main dining room as one of the nicest I’ve eaten in, baskets of fruit on each widely spaced table. There are three private dining rooms and 13 bedrooms, as well as a ballroom. The Green Room has a marbled Tuscan columned chimneypiece.
You need a bit of brass to eat there (rooms can cost over £300 a night) and a bit of brass to buy it. Locals will miss it. “It’s a bit of an institution for lots of folk but not really on my list. Honest but uninspiring fare,” said one observer.
Hassop has a rich history. In the 14th century the 11 month old heiress was sold by the king for 50 marks and resold for double that to the Plumpton family. A century later it passed to the Eyres, then the Leslies and in 1919 was bought by the Stephensons before Tom Chapman took over.
It’s another chapter in the hall’s long history. Who knows, perhaps the peacocks might return? But the new owner better not have a blue car.
The hall has been bought by John Hill, who owns a chain of nursing homes, and his wife Alex. They live locally. Mr Hill is said to be prepared to throw money at updating the ancient pile. According to local gossip, he paid to have power lines moved because they spoiled the view at his current address.
The Chapmans say the decision to sell was ‘a difficult one for us to make but we feel it is the right time.’