We were recently invited by The Stafford London and Cowdray to attend a two day event at Cowdray Park and to stay for the night at Cowdray House, so that we could witness the style in which future clients of this new venue will be treated, and I can confirm that the answer is ‘very well’ indeed!
The future of Cowdray House has been secured by Lord Cowdray by utilising this imposing family home as an exclusive event venue, catering for such things as weddings, and other family celebrations, and corporate events, such as conferences and product launches etc.
The advantage of this solution is that the Cowdray family retain ownership of the property, but are able to rely on their very able management team to maintain and manage the buildings and grounds.
Overseen by Chief Executive, Jonathan Russell, this has happily resulted in a ‘Virtuous Circle’ – a recurring cycle of events, the result of each one being to increase the beneficial effect of the next!
Cowdray House is set in 110 acres of private gardens, grounds and parkland, including the home of the original polo ground, known as the House Ground, which has recently been restored to its former glory.
The greater estate extends to some 16,500 acres, of which 36% is woodland (three times the national average) and the topography lends itself to high quality game shooting.
By April 2018, the House will have 22 luxury en-suite bedrooms, and gorgeous reception rooms including the magnificent ‘Buck Hall’. There are also indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a bowling alley and tennis court.
Cowdray House lends itself well to large parties as well as more intimate gatherings, whilst still retaining the informality of staying in a family home.
The bedrooms include the master suites, Crystal, Diamond, Pearl, and the oak panelled, Golden Topaz, with its magnificent ‘Four Poster’ bed, and all with stunning views to Cowdray’s grounds and the ruins of Cowdray House.
All the bedrooms have been individually designed with large comfortable beds and opulent bathrooms, and cater for the guests’ every need; providing luxury toiletries, and soft, fluffy towels, robes and slippers, all embossed in yellow with the distinctive Griffin from the Cowdray coat of arms.
Our stay began with a briefing from Jonathan Russell, the Chief Executive of this new business, and he is particularly well qualified for this role through his previous experience. Following his briefing, the programme began with a number of activities including learning to ride a Polo Pony and how to stick and ball and finally to play a chukka, and these took place on the newly restored ‘House’ Polo lawn opposite Cowdray House.
Whist all this was going, on, Jonathan Russell was kind enough to take those of us not brave enough to attempt polo lessons, although the ponies were incredibly gentle, on a tour of Midhurst. We were shown numerous Cowdray enterprises, and where the Estate Office is situated, and were driven south, up to the South Downs, to look at some of the wonderful shooting country for which the Cowdray Estate is renowned, including the famous ’chalk-pits’ drive at Cocking which is definitely on my ‘Bucket List’. As Jonathan Russell explained the many plans for the future, it became increasingly evident that the Cowdray Estate is in good heart, and a safe pair of hands.
We then returned to the house and enjoyed a delicious lunch and were regaled with tales of trying to connect a swinging polo stick with the ball whilst mounted on a moving horse!
After lunch further sport was offered by way of testing our shooting skills at clays, and a static ‘target’ for Rifle shooting. This I participated in with enthusiasm, as shooting is my passion.
Later in the afternoon, we were taken on a tour around the ruins of the original Cowdray House, built between 1520 and 1542, and one of several created by influential members of Henry VIII’s Court.
Unfortunately, fire reduced it to ruins in 1793, and by the 1990s the site had become too dangerous for visitors, but in 2005 lottery funding was obtained for a restoration programme, and 2007 saw the completion of this major conservation project.
Visitors can now admire Cowdray’s former greatness, hear the tales of its builders and owners, and learn about daily life in a noble household of former centuries.
The Tudor Kitchen Tower is the only part of the mansion to remain intact.
The last time that I had stood in these ruins was in September 1993 when an extraordinary ‘black-tie’ charity concert took place in the grounds surrounding the ruins of Cowdray. An astonishing line-up of Rock legends combined to become ‘The Ruins Band’ for one night only, and what a night it was!
It was certainly one of the best concerts I have ever attended, and the line-up included the three remaining members of Queen (Freddie Mercury having recently departed this world); Genesis, with Phil Collins, and Paul Young of Mike & the Mechanics, performing some of the vocals, plus Pink Floyd, and the great Eric Clapton.
Reproduced below is my ticket for this event featuring a silhouette of the ruins of Cowdray.
This special event, was staged by the kind permission of Lord Cowdray to raise money for the King Edward VII Hospital in Midhurst, and was supported by Richard Branson and other benefactors. It was a truly memorable experience on a perfect summer’s evening in such a superb setting, culminating in a wonderful fireworks display with the ruins as the backdrop.
Returning to the present, Cowdray House is an outstanding venue for all exclusive use hire, and guests can enjoy Polo, Golf, Shooting, Fly Fishing, and other country pursuits.
Cowdray House has formed an alliance with The Stafford London, based on their commonly held belief that food, travel and entertaining are some of life’s most enjoyable and fulfilling experiences.
The Stafford London is a luxury five-star boutique hotel located right in the heart of St James’s, and Cowdray, a rural Estate set in the rolling hills of Midhurst, West Sussex, and they are joining forces to create the perfect town and country experience for those who seek the best of both worlds.
This unique collaboration will offer guests staying at The Stafford London access to a myriad of country activities, as well as all the comforts of Cowdray House, including the indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and the beautifully appointed Therapy Rooms, which specialise in a range of conventional and alternative treatments.
With a strong focus on using locally-sourced produce, James Durrant, Executive Chef of The Stafford London will draw upon an array of Estate-reared meat; including award-winning Venison and Partridge for a genuine farm-to-table culinary dining experience.
The complementary nature of the two establishments provides a sound foundation for a strong partnership that offers guests a perfect ‘town and country’ experience.
Drawing upon the renowned culture of service excellence that defines The Stafford London and Cowdray Estate, this collaboration will provide a perfect solution for those who enjoy urban and rural activities – ideal for families, couples seeking a romantic getaway, or an intimate group of friends travelling together,” says Stuart Procter, General Manager.
Of course, with a venue this good, it is essential to offer the finest cuisine, and Cowdray’s partnership with The Stafford London enables them to do this, as witnessed by the superb dinner which was the highlight of our stay at Cowdray, prepared by the Executive Chef, James Durrant, with the accompanying wines selected by Master Sommelier, Gino Nardella.
Stuart Procter, General Manager, and Executive Chef, James Durrant of The Stafford London
and Jonathan Russell, Chief Executive at Cowdray House
The same team have recently launched a stunning new restaurant at The Stafford London, called ‘The Game Bird’ whose modern style allows the focus to be on British comfort cooking executed with style and panache.
Executive Chef, James Durrant has created a ‘theatre of the senses’ menu based on uncomplicated excellence: local, seasonal produce sits alongside time honoured British classics.
Centre of attention are the traditional handcrafted trolleys that overflow with signature dishes that both surprise and delight and include meat & game, own smoked & cured, pies, puddings & stews and a mouth-watering Sunday Roast.
In a setting reminiscent of an exclusive private members club, a heady mix of classic British design captivates and enchants, as do the paintings from some of the country’s leading young British artists.
The American Bar at The Stafford London is an institution in its own right where every available wall and surface is crammed with an intriguing collection of artefacts, knick-knacks and signed celebrity photographs donated by patrons and guests over the years.
This is the place to slip away from the outside world and into a glass of chilled Champagne or a martini cocktail before dining in the restaurant.
Returning to Cowdray House, we met for pre dinner champagne in the imposing Buck Hall, which takes centre stage at the heart of the house, and which was clearly built to impress, and for entertaining important guests.
As we entered the Dining Room, we were met with the most beautiful sight of a candle-lit table centrepiece festooned with autumnal foliage, and The Stafford London team also excelled themselves in the kitchen, as you can see from the Menu below. The dinner which followed was an impressive demonstration of their skills, and left us to drift into the various drawing rooms for coffee and liqueurs after dinner.
THE STAFFORD LONDON & COWDRAY ESTATE
ESCAPE TO THE COUNTRY DINNER
12th OCTOBER 2017
Orkney Sea Scallops Ceviche, burnt apple, radish, cider vinegar
Lugana “Le Creete”, Ottella Estate,Veneto, Italy, 2016
Cowdray Estate Partridge salt baked celeriac, hispi cabbage, horn of plenty, truffle Madeira sauce,
Paul de Albas, “Vendemia Seleccionnada”, Ribera del Duero, Spain, 2011
Black Forest, bitter chocolate mousse, cherry jam, kirsch, cherry sorbet, Chantilly cream
Banyuls, Domaine M. Chapoutier, Roussillon, France, 2014
Champagne Moet & Chandon Imperial Brut
My wife foolishly challenged me to a game of snooker on the full sized table, which had recently been installed, and which played beautifully. Memories of a miss-spent youth flooded back to me as my game improved, and my wife, Chrissy, became increasingly frustrated as I potted ball after ball!
We then joined the other guests who were sampling the delights on offer, although anyone wishing to smoke a cigar was, quite rightly, banished to the gardens outside the West and south Wings, which was no hardship, and the company was rather good!
We eventually retired to our sumptuous bedroom which had wonderful views to the South Downs in the distance, and the immaculate croquet lawn immediately beneath our windows.
White Sapphire Suite with views of the Croquet Lawn
Unfortunately, reality set in again on the following morning, but not before we had enjoyed a full English breakfast, and emerging from the house we were confronted with the sight of our fellow guests gathered around the new 4X4 Bentley ‘Bentayga’, courtesy of Jack Barclay Ltd, for a ‘team’ photograph which we joined.
Cowdray’s proximity to Goodwood Estate, not to mention Lord Cowdray’s longstanding passion for vintage Motor Cars, has seen Cowdray House involved in numerous motoring events and Owners’ Club meets. Goodwood also hosts two of the most impressive automotive events annually.
The Festival of Speed features an impossibly heady mixture of cars and stars as motor sport royalty come together over four days for the ‘Festival of Speed’, now the largest event of its kind, attracting the rarest and most glamorous motor cars on the planet.
‘The Goodwood Revival Meeting’ conjures up the smell of engines mingling with the roar of iconic racing cars in this three day event celebrating the halcyon days of motor sport from the 1920s through to the 1960s, with attendees encouraged to dress in period costume!
Goodwood is of course best-known for what is, in my opinion, the most beautiful racecourse in the World, occupying, as it does, a spectacular position on top of the South Downs with views south over Chichester harbour to the Isle of Wight creating the ultimate setting for the famous ‘Festival Race Meeting’ at the end of July each year.
However, Cowdray’s greatest claim to fame is that every summer, the world’s finest Polo players descend on the Cowdray Park Polo Club for the four weeks of the Gold Cup. Cowdray is the home of British Polo, and the club hosts around 400 matches during the season which runs from April to September.
The future of the Gold Cup has been secured by the announcement that King Power, the luxury goods duty free business, will become title sponsor of the Gold Cup for the British Open Polo Championship for 2018 for an initial three-year period.
King Power already has an impressive history with polo and in particular the Cowdray Park Gold Cup for The British Open Championship, the King Power team having secured a hat-trick of wins in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
Peter Barfoot, Chairman of Cowdray Park Polo Club says: “We are on the threshold of some truly exciting developments in polo and Cowdray Park is incredibly proud to be working with King Power.”
King Power’s Chairman, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, says:- “Polo is a passion for us. Having won the prestigious Gold Cup for the British Open three times, I am glad to be sponsoring this world-famous tournament. We are truly impressed with the way in which Cowdray Park Polo Club manages its grounds and the administration of the British Open Championship and are looking forward to a long and happy association with the club.”
For those not of International standard, there is also a Polo Academy which enables new players to step right into the heart of the sport following instruction from leading professional coaches. Everyone from experienced riders to beginners are welcome.
John, the 3rd Viscount, who inaugurated the Gold Cup in 1956, loved the game so much that the loss of an arm at Dunkirk did not put him off. ‘Thank God I won’t have to play golf,’ he remarked and designed himself an artificial arm with a hook for his reins!
So, what does the future hold for Cowdray?
My instincts are that Lord Cowdray subscribes to the ancient aristocratic concept of ‘Noblesse Oblige’. It denotes the concept that nobility extends beyond mere entitlements, and requires the person who holds such a status to fulfil social responsibilities, and is in my opinion, the bedrock of the British Aristocracy.
May Cowdray House continue to be the beneficiary of its own ‘virtuous circle’.
The motto on the Cowdray Coat of Arms is: ‘ Do It With Thy Might’ and I am sure they will!
We wish them every success.
The team at Cowdray House making sure that the house runs smoothly
Please note that Cowdray House is available now for hire for the ultimate country house party throughout the year as well as for Christmas and New Year.
Other times when you might like to hire it for one or more of the following events, are:
From April to September, for one or more of the approximately 400 Polo matches, and in July for the Gold Cup.
In June, for the ‘Festival of Speed’ at Goodwood
In September for the Revival Meeting at Goodwood
From 1st September until the 1st February for Game Shooting
For Further information about hiring Cowdray House for any of these events, please contact:
Jonathan Russell, Chief Executive, Cowdray House, The Estate Office, Midhurst, West Sussex, GU29 0AY
tel: 01730 814522
For further information about The Stafford London, please contact:
The Stafford London
16-18 St James’s Place
Robert Jarman has spent a lifetime observing and commenting on the habits and habitats of that endangered species, the British Aristocracy, including their houses, art collections, sports and pastimes.
He was a part-owner and Managing Director of Debrett’s Peerage and Baronetage, which he acquired and rescued from near extinction in 1976, and built into an international publishing company.
He published the catalogues for a number of major Exhibitions at the V&A and the Royal Academy in the UK, the Cooper Hewitt and MOMA in New York, and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington.
He also conceived and created an important contemporary reference book called, ‘People of Today’, first published in 1981which is the ultimate study of the UK’s most successful and influential people.
He is therefore well-qualified to publish and edit The Vintage Magazine, an on-line publication aimed at, but not limited to, the affluent and active, over 50s who number over 23 million in the UK, and control 80% of the wealth of the country.