From an article: The Winning Secret by Rachel Flint
Langrish House, a Country House Hotel near Petersfield, Hampshire
Prison, sheep farm, family home, munitions factory and hotel, Langrish House has an unusual history. Rachel Flint visited this intriguing manor house near the South Downs.
“I’m coming home,” Nigel Talbot-Ponsonby announced having been given, partly by chance, the opportunity to buy back the family seat, Langrish House, for a seventh generation of Talbot-Ponsonbys.
The house had been sold in 1972 by Nigel Talbot-Ponsonby’s father, Edward, who, unlike his son and his forebears, was more interested in machinery than property. Following the sale a devastating fire in 1976 left the south wing an empty shell and open to the skies for two years before the House was restored by hoteliers Peter Ffytche and Monique von Kospoth and given a new role as a hotel – something that Nigel Talbot Ponsonby has decided to continue.
Yet Langrish House feels more like a comfortable and intimate family home than a country house hotel. Robina and Nigel Talbot-Ponsonby live in one of the wings and the rooms are full of the family’s furniture, paintings and mementoes. In the entrance hall, by the old-fashioned armchairs, is an old wooden chest engraved with the name of Captain C Talbot RN, and the drawing room is like a family album with paintings, prints and photographs of the family through the decades. It’s an evocative collection of times past and lost. Here’s a gathering of the Talbot-Ponsonbys in 1899 and 1903 and here’s another photograph of family members with the Queen Mother – somewhat ironically for Langrish House, built in the 17th, century, was one of the few republican strongholds in the county. Beneath the house is an intriguing legacy from the Civil War (1642-51): vaults hewn, with great hardship, into the solid marm rock by royalist prisoners from the battle of Cheriton. The prisoners were then incarcerated in the dungeons they’d built. They’ve been converted, somewhat surprisingly, into a great snug for guests and a cosy if rather unusual restaurant area.
Viewed from outside Langrish House is an elegant manor house with stone mullions, soaring gables, high chimneys, and gothic arched doorways atypical of an area, just outside Petersfield, better known for charming cottagey properties. Its origins may be 17th century, but substantial alterations and additions were made in 1842 after Nigel Talbot-Ponsonby’s great, great, great, great grandfather John Waddington bought what was then probably better described as an old farmhouse. He added two extensive wings to the house, landscaped the slopes which ran down to the lake (used for washing wool when the House was owned by sheep farmers) with azaleas and rhododendrons, planted an orchard, introduced specimen trees and had a large walled kitchen garden and ice house built. (Today the gardens, although much reduced to ‘only’ 14 acres, are a hidden secret of picturesque lake, parkland and countryside.)
“Langrish House became an ideal family home,” Nigel Talbot-Ponsonby explains, “Enjoying its heyday during the tenure of Charles William and Constance Louisa Talbot-Ponsonby in the 1890s.” You can imagine them holding the most wonderful house parties.
“They lived at Langrish for many years, bringing up eight children in the house,” Nigel Talbot-Ponsonby adds. “Family archives paint a picture of jolly, bustling and busy lives.”
The house was passed down through the generations until Nigel Talbot-Ponsonby’s father inherited the property in 1937 when he was just 19.
“During the second world war the House was requisitioned by the government and large numbers of New Zealand troops poured into the House and bivouacked on the lawns, and the Prime Minister of New Zealand visited to address them,” continues Nigel Talbot Ponsonby.
Many New Zealanders still visit the House and one of them was delighted to find a photograph of their great grandfather in the hotel and took a photograph of it to show their grandmother back in New Zealand.
The extensive stables became a factory producing spitfire aircraft parts and munitions vital for the war effort.
In latter years the old stables saw the construction of steel moulds for the nose cone of the Concorde Aircraft. Some 160 engineers were employed and it was a fine professional epitaph for Edward Talbot-Ponsonby’s remarkable skills with lathe and drawing board that the business was recognised as one of the finest small engineering works in the world.
It’s a long way from war work to a warm welcome, but that’s what you find today at Langrish House which has a reputation as one of the country’s best -loved country house hotels – even if it’s a rather eccentric one with ‘beware chickens crossing’ signs on the driveway.
Reached down a narrow country lane, Langrish House feels further away from it all than it actually is – which was particularly fortunate at the beginning of this year when motorists were stranded on the A272 in deep snowfalls.
“We were closed for two weeks for refurbishment, but opened up to help the stranded,” Nigel Talbot Ponsonby recalls.
One motorist remembers, “I had queued for over two hours and not moved as a lorry had jack-knifed in the snow and blocked the road completely. It became obvious the road was closed and people began to abandon their cars. “I knew there was a hotel half a mile off the main road as it is so well signposted, but I wasn’t to know that it was closed for refurbishment and therefore without the usual staff and fresh provisions. A call to Langrish House was met with understanding concern from Dan, the manager. He couldn’t offer a room as the hotel was closed up, but promised to call me back as the owners, Nigel and Robina, were trying to make arrangements to open up. A call came very soon to offer me a room and to inform me that Nigel had set off in his Range Rover to rescue me.
“Many other stranded motorists found a welcoming family (the Talbot-Ponsonbys) offering their hospitality well into the early hours of Wednesday morning. Hot food and drinks were rustled up, not easy when the hotel was actually closed, followed by rooms for the night. Even the drawing room was pressed into action for some of the 2am arrivals in order that they had somewhere warm to stay overnight – much appreciated considering temperatures at that time were dropping to minus eight degrees.”
Many of the motorists stayed for two nights, unable to leave until their vehicles were recovered on Thursday morning, and after they’d enjoyed breakfast in front of a log fire.
And so Langrish House retains the qualities of a family home as well as a niche hotel. The impression when you enter the main hall is of an English country house (albeit one with a top chef, Peter Buckman, and a two AA Rosette restaurant). All the rich oil portraits and photographs adorning walls and bureau tops, and the old furniture belong to the family. It feels personal, and it’s evident this is what guests and visitors love about Langrish House, so much so that it has been a past national winner of the Les Routiers Hotel of the Year award, was voted England’s third most loved hotel in a recent poll, and the owners were also recently invited to a reception at Buckingham Palace, at which the Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh were present, for those ‘who had made a significant contribution to the British hospitality industry’.