The lighted granite stone façade and leaded windows of Moresby Hall in Cumbria, northwest England, are magnificent, even in the dark of evening.
Such is the visual effect of this 1,000-old building converted into a hotel lying 20 miles west of England’s famous Lake District and three miles east of the fishing port of Whitehaven.
Entering through sturdy iron gates and along the short, curved driveway, one’s attention is taken by the prettiness of the grounds on which it stands – neat rows of trees and bedding plants; a spacious manicured lawn; and a small, wood-framed glasshouse, herbs and vegetables from which are used in the property’s restaurant. A classical stone female statue in the garden and the crenellated Palladian style of the property’s façade indicate a bygone era. The feeling of entering through a time portal is intensified inside where the lobby features broad, aged oak-wood beams on stair banisters straight ahead and rafters above, as well bounteous wainscoted paneling and elegant period furniture everywhere.
Living up to its initial impression, Moresby Hall, a Grade I listed building due to its historical and archaeological value, boasts a colorful history, from ancient Romans to the Normans. The land nearby was the former site of the Roman camp of Arbeia founded by Agricola in AD78. Nearby excavations have revealed coins, pottery and sculptured altars. Near it is the old church of Saint Brigid, the former Pagan symbol of fertility, whose personage the Christian church has ‘borrowed.’ Sir Christopher Moresby, who died in 1499, was the last in direct succession at the Hall but his descendants fought in various wars including Agincourt in 1415 with King Henry V against the French King, Charles VI.
Rooms throughout Moresby Hall reflect an abundance of original features. In the lobby there are terracotta tiles; decorative plates lining the walls; an open stone fireplace; a 150-year old grandfather clock; as well as diverse paintings that owners, Jane and David Sexton, purchased from auctions, ranging from one of sheep gathered around a ruined building to an identical pair depicting fishing boats. There’s even a church pew, one of 40 the couple bought.
One of the many delights of the property is its elegant drawing room, which is furnished with a white marble fireplace; framed oil paintings of classical English rural scenes from places as diverse as Surrey and Stratford-upon-Avon; gilded wall mirrors; a cabinet filled with assorted porcelain figurines such as ballerinas, nubile nude ladies, tea-pots and various animals. It also features delightful window seats.
The winding staircase that leads up to the bedrooms is lined with series of drawings of Moresby Hall down through the centuries; an old-fashioned, square leather chest; a gramophone; wall tapestries, including one featuring two lions facing an armorial shield and crown; framed still lifes; and a large gilded mirror.
Our bedroom overlooked the lawn and front entrance on one side and the church and an ancient Roman arch on other. A four-poster, intricately carved mahogany bed, also purchased at auction, was the highlight of the room. The walls were decorated with oil paintings, including idyllic rural scene with cows grazing on hills overlooking the town. Furnishings included a large, central dresser; two smaller dressers either side of the bed; a coffee table with a crimson, damask armchair beside it; and a three-piece vanity mirror. Interestingly, perhaps indicating a Medieval Crusader-Templar history associated with the property, two floral-designed plaques surrounding a chalice (grail) stood either side of the bed. An added delight was a sophisticated multi-spray shower.
The dining room is a small and intimate and entered through a door off the main lobby. Under an old world ambiance created by oak crossbeams, candelabra and a hanging chandelier, with floral carpeting, tasseled curtains and leaded windows, a hearty breakfast is served that includes porridge, mixed fruits and ‘a full English’ of sausages, bacon, black pudding, eggs and grilled tomatoes.
Dinner is a most enjoyable affair, not only because of the quality of the food, which includes succulent lamb, duck and fish dishes, all locally sourced, but also because the intimacy of the room lends itself to lively, interactive conversations among diners, a situation encouraged by a tradition whereby guests gather at a designated time for pre-dinner, get-to-known-you drinks in the comfort of the drawing room. Over dinner, we had a wonderful time filled with humor with two English couples, all at separate tables, discussing subjects as diverse as soccer, business and history.
Due to its illustrious background and fine furnishings, Moresby Hall is an attractive small wedding venue, as well as a unique setting for conferences. The Sextons, who moved there in 1999, also plan educational and themed weekends and charity events there.
Around Moresby Hall are a number of interesting places to visit, including, of course, the beauty of the Lake District, a short drive away. A former mining town, nearby Whitehaven boasts the Haig Colliery Mining Museum. The town was also the last place in England attacked by American naval forces during the War of Independence. In April 1778, John Paul Jones arrived intending to set the merchant fleet on fire, but the alarm was raised, and he retreated. Another American link is Mildred Warner Gale, grandmother of former US president George Washington. From Whitehaven, she is buried in the grounds of St Nicholas’ Church. The town also has over 250, mostly Georgian, listed historical buildings.
If seeking a restaurant in Whitehaven, ‘The Waterfront’ near the harbour, is an excellent choice. Run by friendly patron, Simon, it offers a traditional English afternoon tea of homemade breads and scones with jam and clotted cream, as well as lunch and sumptuous, multi-course dinners featuring, for example, Lobster Thermidor and pigeon breast as starters, with a lively atmosphere to boot. The produce is locally sourced: fish from Donnan’s on the harbor; meat from a Lakeland butcher; and fruit and veg from Kinsella’s, an established greengrocer in town.
With the coastline to one side and the picturesque Lake District to the other, combined with its fine food, welcoming owners and intriguing history, Moresby Hall is a classic English getaway destination.