Take a journey into Sussex’s breathtaking countryside and make your way to the quaint little village of Rusper where you’ll find a chocolate-box hotel and restaurant singing with character and old-world charm. Ghyll Manor Hotel and Restaurant is an elegant 17th-century country-house hotel that marries tradition and style. Rich with history, the oak-beamed building gazes out over acres of gorgeous private gardens, including a lake and picturesque summerhouse.
Recently taken over by a new management company, Ghyll Manor invited Absolute Magazine for a trip down memory lane to discover their beautiful rooms, sophisticated restaurant and learn the stories behind this vintage treasure. It all started way back in the 1500s when the land on which Ghyll Manor stands was part of the Nunnery Estate owned by the Heybourne family. The Stone family came to own the Nunnery Estate and they actually lived in the Nunnery house until 1717, when it was known as ‘Hose & Butts’.
In 1681, ‘Hose & Butts’ was a typical 4 bay timber framed building with a dropped-tie attic storey and if you stand outside the main entrance to Ghyll Manor facing the main building you will see the outline of the original 4 bays by looking at the roof line. The word ‘Butts’ could indicate that the house was built on the site of some old archery butts or that part of the estate was used for this purpose.
Although Rusper must have been little more than a hamlet, it is possible to imagine that its men were just as much in fashion with those in nearby Horsham and that the ‘Butts’ were shot up and down on Sundays all those years ago in the field below Ghyll Manor. The word ‘Gill’ is a common name used in Sussex for a stream in a wood. As it so happens there is a stream called ‘Rusper House Gill’ on the Ghyll Manor Estate.
Ghyll Manor has been called home by an impressive list of residents throughout the years, with the first person of note being Thomas Sanctuary Esq. He was appointed High Sheriff of Sussex in February 1830 and he owned “Hile & Butts” from the 1830s to 1843. Perhaps the second person of note was Major George Aylwen, who owned Ghyll Manor between 1935 and 1941 and later went on to become Lord Mayor of London .
The third person was probably Lt Colonel Geoffrey Kitchen who bought the estate in 1959 when he was Chairman of Pearl Assurance and he and Lady Kitchen lived in Ghyll Manor until the house and the estate was sold in 1978. In 1981, Ghyll Manor was converted into a Hotel and in 1986 some of the old farm buildings to the north of the main building were converted into the Hunsdon Hall complex to provide a function room and extra bedrooms.
The cattle stalls and the nearby Bothy and Oak cottages were once part of the old Rusper House Farm Estate. Cottages of this type were normally used to accommodate farm labourers and servants with separate quarters being assigned for male and female servants. In recent years Bothy cottage has been extended and, like Oak Cottage, has been converted into suites each with a suitable blend of furniture to help retain some of the old charm.
We were lucky enough to be staying in the main original building in a room charmingly named ‘Rose’. It’s clear that no matter where you stay, every variation of accommodation has been resorted as much as it has been renovated, ensuring the expectations of the modern guest are met but the building’s heritage is maintained and respected.
The eight top-of-the-range Feature rooms exude character, elegance and charm. Located within the main 17th century house or in the beautiful hotel annexes, all these double rooms boast stunning original features, and some have the added luxury of a four-poster bed. Feature rooms also offer luxury towelling bathrobes, upgraded toiletries, enhanced hospitality tray and mineral water.
Our particular room was a ‘family room’ which not only incredibly spacious, but also had a separate little room coming off it, ideal for the children (or the ‘secret den’ as my daughter nicknamed it). The bathroom was very clean and well-equipped with all the necessities, however it was the double bed itself that was the showstopper. It’s called a Half Tester. Made of oak, the bed has been identified as a ‘double bedstead with a 16th century panelled rectangular headboard’. This date, of course, means that it is more than 400 years old, ie older than Ghyll Manor!
For that extra-special touch, it’s well worth booking one of the Superior Cottages, some of which have stunning views over the grounds or courtyard, or one of the Superior rooms which are located in the stable mews; some with a four-poster bed and/or separate lounge area. The Standard Rooms are the most reasonably priced of the collection but don’t let that fool you into thinking they are any less impressive. All are furnished to a high standard and offer that comforting home-from-home feeling.
All the room types feature en-suite bathrooms, flat-screen TVs with selected Freeview channels, free Wi-Fi, tea and coffee making facilities and extensive complimentary car parking. If you’re looking for a rural retreat that gives you all the amenities you’d have at home, including self catering facilities, then Ghyll Manor’s best kept secret is the pick of the bunch. Drive down your own private driveway and you will be lead to the entrance of the enchanting Ghyll Cottage.
Downstairs you’ll find the galley-style kitchen, leading through to a cosy lounge and dining area, and then the small twin children’s bedroom. Heading upstairs, there’s one double bedroom, also with original exposed beams, and a family bathroom. With family holidays comes a lot of baggage but fear not, there’s plenty of storage throughout the cottage, so it’s perfect for any length of stay. You also have use of a secluded private garden with garden furniture. All bedding and towels are provided (saves valuable space in your luggage or car!) and the cottage is fully equipped with crockery, cutlery and glassware, plus microwave, hob, oven and fridge.
Whether you are lucky enough to be staying at the Manor or not, everyone is welcome at the elegant and truly sophisticated restaurant situated in the main building. Ghyll Manor offers a truly charming restaurant experience, with relaxed, quality dining in this idyllic setting. Take breakfast lunch or dinner in this stunning Sussex country house and enjoy old-school gallant waiting service and artistically presented dishes. The talented Chef team produces a menu that changes on a daily basis and use locally sourced ingredients wherever possible. The restaurant is cosy and welcoming and yet also holds an air of occasion, making it somewhere that you feel like you an dress up to visit. The wine list is extensive and changes seasonally to suit the current menu.
Boasting a relaxing lounge area, bar and conservatory as well as the main restaurant, the manor is also the perfect place to enjoy morning coffee, Sunday lunch or an afternoon cream tea. I’d recommend relaxing with a drink before dinner in the bar, which has a more modern feel than the rest of the building or, if the sun is shining, on the terrace or conservatory overlooking the hotel’s beautiful gardens.
The hotel lounge is inviting, warm and lavished with cosy armchairs and sofas. It’s the ideal place to kick back and relax on those cold winter days whilst perhaps sampling a dish from the lounge menu which is available from 12pm to 9pm, with selected options available 24 hours a day.
Walking through the hotel itself and across the grounds, it’s clear that Ghyll Manor is a perfect rural wedding venue. The stunning location would make for incredible photos, the food is made for special occasions, the accommodation is ready for you and your guests and the staff are welcoming, put you at ease and exceptionally friendly (just what you need on your slightly nerve-racking big day!)
Ghyll Manor cater for civil marriages, partnerships and wedding receptions , with prices from £5999 for 65 guests, For something truly special, there is a beautiful outdoor Summer House set within a peaceful location in the picturesque gardens. Romantically decorated with blossoms and greenery, it truly is the perfect setting to make your wedding vows in front of up to 120 guests.
Your ceremony can also take place in the modern, light and airy conservatory, which can hold up to 100 guests and features a dramatic black and white colour scheme or the Terrace Room (85 guests), both of which are positioned in the main house at Ghyll Manor with direct access to the bar and gardens.
Both the Terrace Room and Conservatory can also be transformed to then host the wedding breakfast for up to 50 guests, or if your guests list is on the larger side, Hundson Hall is ready to welcome you all. High vaulted old-oak ceilings, twinkling fairy lights and gilded chandeliers suspended high in the air make Hunsdon Hall the idyllic wedding venue. Up to 120 guests can be seated for the ceremony, wedding breakfast an evening reception.
Ghyll Manor is situated just 20 minutes from Gatwick Airport and less than a quarter of an hour from Horsham railway station with its frequent trains into London.