Features & Images » Travel

Travel

Romance and intrigue in England's hotels

by

comment

Meridian Writers’ Group

BATH, England–The Time Out London guide book calls it "possibly the best address of any hotel in Britain." The Royal Crescent Hotel, at Number 16 Royal Crescent, is smack-dab in the middle of Bath’s crowning architectural glory, a curving avenue of pale gold stone, five storeys high, 30 mansions long and fronted with 114 Ionic columns.

In a town filled with neo-classical Palladian architecture the Royal Crescent, completed in 1774 by John Wood the Younger, is its finest example. In the Georgian era (1714 to 1837) the rich and titled would rent a house here when they came to Bath for a season of taking the waters.

The Royal Crescent Hotel is a discreet establishment. There’s no sign; only its street number above the door tells you you’ve come to the right place. Inside, there’s no check-in lobby. You’re ushered into the sitting room or library, where coal fires burn and help maintain the idea that you’ve come to a private home.

A spacious hidden garden leads to the hotel’s restaurant, Pimpernel’s, additional suites (including one Johnny Depp stayed in for four weeks while filming Chocolat ) and the Bath House Spa. The private garden alone is almost as rejuvenating as a spa visit, but for those wanting more attention there’s a range of treatments, from simple massage and exfoliation to a fruit enzyme wrap, plus a grotto-like pool, heated to 37 degrees Celsius.

One of the hotel’s most romantic rooms is the Richard Brinsley Sheridan suite. The story of how it was named begins a few doors down from the hotel, at Number 11. There, a plaque recalls the night of March 18, 1772, when the 21-year-old Sheridan eloped from that address with 18-year-old Elizabeth Linley. At the time, Sheridan was unknown. Linley, on the other hand, was highly regarded for her exquisite singing voice and had already been painted by Gainsborough. Horace Walpole said she had beauty "in the superlative degree." Sheridan himself, shortly after meeting her, said, "Won’t you come into my garden? I’d like my roses to see you."

Linley’s father didn’t approve of Sheridan, especially considering the number of better-off suitors his daughter had. But one of them, Captain Thomas Matthews, became so obsessed with her that he threatened to ruin her reputation publicly if she wouldn’t let him do it privately. Sheridan and Linley ran off together to France, but were brought back by her father. The enraged Matthews called Sheridan out and, after losing the first duel, demanded a second in which he wounded Sheridan badly.

Elizabeth nursed her Richard back to health – and did a marvellous job. Within five years he had become the manager of London’s Drury Lane theatre and England’s hot new dramatist, author of The Rivals and The School for Scandal , both still performed.

Some of the romance that perfumed young Sheridan’s days and nights in Bath seems to linger in the hotel suite named for him, to judge from comments in the room’s guest book. More than one visitor has written, "Loved the bed. We didn’t see Bath at all."

ACCESS

For more information on the Royal Crescent Hotel visit its website at www.royalcrescent.co.uk .

For information on travel in Britain go to the Visit Britain website at www.visitbritain.com .

PHOTO CAPTION: A woman emerging topless from this pool at Cliveden House in 1961 toppled a British government.

PHOTO CREDIT: Mitchell Smyth/Meridian Writers’ Group

Posh country hotel has quite a past

By Mitchell Smyth

Meridian Writers’ Group

MAIDENHEAD, England–Step off the driveway of an elegant country house on the leafy banks of the River Thames, go through a doorway into a walled garden and you’re amid the ghosts of a scandal that rocked a nation and felled a government.

There’s a little pool in the garden. Close your eyes and imagine the scene from a hot July night in 1961. A beautiful young woman emerges, topless, from the pool; she’s chased along the deck by a friend and she runs right into the arms of a balding, middle-aged man.

The woman was Christine Keeler, 19; the man was John Profumo, Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for War. He had been at a party in the "big house," Cliveden, and, glass in hand, had strolled down to the pool.

Cliveden, then owned by Profumo’s friend Lord Astor, is now a sumptuous hotel, set in 152 hectares of gardens, woods and meadows.

And, surprisingly, it doesn’t attempt to bury its brush with the great sex scandal of the 1960s, the scandal that started that night by the pool when Profumo became infatuated with Keeler and began an affair with her.

But at the same time she was sleeping with a Russian "attaché" (read "spy") and the rumour mill said she might be passing along state secrets. Profumo made the mistake of denying the affair and when it broke into the open in 1963 he was disgraced. The scandal helped bring down the Conservative government of Harold Macmillan.

The staff at the hotel – there are two workers for every guest in the 29 rooms – will cheerfully fill you in on the story. And there are reminders here and there: in the main dining room, for instance, (where a starter 30 grams of Beluga caviar will set you back £120) pictures of Keeler and her call-girl friend Mandy Rice-Davies look down on the diners.

The pastels were painted by Stephen Ward, an osteopath who was also a procurer of girls for the rich and famous. Lord Astor let him have Spring Cottage, right on the river, for, as Ward said, "a peppercorn rent" (said to be £1 a year).

That cottage – in reality quite a large three-bedroom house – is still a rental property, but the price has gone up to – wait for it – £1,575 a night. That includes a butler, a fridge full of champagne and a stretch golf-cart to take you and your friends to meals in the hotel, about two kilometres away.

Despite the cost, staff say the cottage is well-booked, often by corporations for senior staff who, perhaps, take someone other than their spouses.

But then the whiff of sexual escapades isn’t new to Cliveden. It was built in 1666 by George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, a notorious rake. An 18th century Prince of Wales installed his mistress there, and a later Prince of Wales (who became King Edward VII) spent weekends there with his lover, Alice Keppell (the great-grandmother, incidentally, of the former Mrs. Camilla Parker Bowles).

ACCESS

For more information on Cliveden (pronounced "Cliffdon") House visit its website at www.clivedenhouse.co.uk .