The Crown, Surrey
“An inn with an astonishingly regal dining room that began life as a rest house for monks”
Review by Fiona Duncan, published 24th April 2011.
If you are very old, you come with baggage. Like anything antique, what you lack in freshness, you make up for in experience and character. Your old bones are creaky, and you use a stick to prop you up.
Or, if you are an inn, it's beams that prop you up, and it's the floors that are creaky. In the case of the Crown, which has recently been dated to 1441, beams criss-cross the bedroom and its lovely old cream-painted facade is lined by timber, as well as a beard of green creeper.
The inn began life as a rest house for monks travelling from Winchester to the shrine of Thomas Becket in Canterbury. In 1552, Edward VI, the "boy king" stayed here, with 4,000 of his men camped on the green. And it is thought that in 1591, when Chiddingfold was at the height of its fame as a glassmaking centre, with no fewer than 11 glassworks on the green, Queen Elizabeth stayed, or at least visited.
There have been dozens of owners down the centuries, not least a Canadian former airman who used to drink there during the war. Back in Toronto, he noticed in Country Life that it was to be auctioned, and bought it.
Today it's owned by Richard and Nigel Goodhew, who built up Searcys, and leased to Dan Hall, who moved here three years ago from the Swan next door. He gave the geriatric Crown a thorough spring-clean, including the plumbing department. Now it still looks appropriately elderly, but smart.
Breakfast, taken in the main bar from comfortable armchairs near the fire crackling in the great inglenook, was a delight. As for the dining room, talk about old: it looks not just antique but astonishingly regal, and amazingly well preserved. The ceiling is ornately stuccoed, the walls are oak-panelled and the fireplace, with the date 1615 engraved on the mantle, is decorated with a royal coat of arms.
"These chairs," declared my husband, indicating the attractive barley twist dining chairs upholstered in leather beautifully faded with the patina of age, "are very important."
Only in the morning did we discover that the room is a mock-up, put together by "the Colonel", a colourful Fifties owner, and that Dan had the chairs recovered a few months ago using "leather" that is in fact entirely faux.
So much for my husband's deep knowledge of antique furniture. But anyway, who cares? The dining room works a treat, as does the bar, though it all somehow looked much more attractive in daylight.
Our room, Tudor Parlour, was less successful: smallish, square and girt by beams, with a dominating four-poster and too-long cream curtains. The bathroom had a deep free-standing tub but not enough Ren toiletries for two. We could have done with an armchair but there wasn't room; there was one in the bathroom, however. It was also dark, the light from the central chandelier blocked by the bed's canopy. Characterful, for sure, but a bit uncomfortable. But hey – it's 600 years old.
The Green, Petworth Road, Chiddingfold, Surrey (01428 682255;www.thecrownchiddingfold.com). Doubles from £125 per night. Access is difficult for guests with disabilities
PLACES TO VISIT
Ramster Woodland Gardens (01428 654167;www.ramsterweddings.co.uk) t has beautiful shrub garden for walks, while Petworth House (nationaltrust.org.uk) is a vast, late 17th-century mansion set in a beautiful deer park landscaped by "Capability" Brown and immortalised in Turner's paintings. The house contains the National Trust's finest collection of pictures, with works by Turner, Van Dyck, Reynolds and Blake, fine furniture and carvings by Grinling Gibbons. The house is open from March to November, but the park can be enjoyed year round.
Langham's Brewery (Langham Lane, Lodsworth; 01798 860861langhambrewery.co.uk) produces award winning cask-conditioned ales sold in many local pubs, and offers tours and tastings.
Lower Roundhurst Farm (01428 653152; www.roundhurstfarm.com) specialises in the finest beef from pedigree Sussex cattle, plus lamb and pork, and has a café, shop and Pets' Corner.
Blackdown, or Black Down, is the highest hill in the historic county of Sussex, at 919ft (280m), and is second only to Leith Hill (965ft/294m)) in southeastern England. It is also the highest point in the South Downs National Park. The pine and heather-covered slopes are owned by the National Trust, and are a favourite walking spot. Blackdown has strong literary associations with the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
FOOD AND DRINK
Dan Hall recommends the modern dining at the Swan (01428 684688;www.theswaninnchiddingfold.com), next door to the Crown, as an alternative to the traditional atmosphere in the Crown. He also recommends Withies Inn in Compton (01483 421158;www.thewithiesinn.com), which hasn't changed in 25 years and no one wants it to: mismatched cutlery and plates, same menu and waiters in dicky bows.
The Hotel Guru verdict
Five modern, four old; Guard's has original four-poster; suite is fun too; some tweaking needed
Hands-on manager, Marcus, and friendly waitresses
One of the oldest inns in England; unspoilt
|Food and drink|
Excellent steak pie, dull scampi; above average breakfast
|Value for money|
I felt the bedrooms were a bit expensive