Peter Morrell and his wife spend a weekend at this charming exclusive use country house venue
Imagine arriving at a massive Victorian country house that sits in an elevated position with far reaching views across the lush rolling hills of Devon. It’s not a hotel but your home for the next couple of days. Five grand reception rooms, sumptuously furnished bedrooms and a butler’s pantry where tea, coffee, home-made cookies and other goodies are all yours to enjoy.
Well that dream is now a reality at Huntsham Court, near Tiverton, in Devon. But it’s not just your dream it’s also the realised dream of our hospitable hosts, ex corporate lawyer Chris Badham and Damian Llambias from the arts world. The genesis of their idea to create an exclusive use venue which felt like home came to Chris and Damian when they were looking for a property to celebrate their own civil partnership. The places they viewed were either the wrong size, had a myriad of rules, like only ‘blond’ drinks, and there were invariably lots of extra fees.
They found their ideal home in 2012 and are now at the end of its complete renovation. If you have ever done any home improvements you will know just how difficult this can be. Chris and Damian’s task was prodigious, To see exactly how much had been achieved since 2012 we took a tour of the 33,000 square foot house. As well as replacing the heating system and wiring, and redecorating there were a huge number of beds, wardrobes, sofas, tables, chairs statues and art work to acquire. A local seamstress was kept busy making curtains for dozens of windows.
There are 35 fully refurbished bedrooms that can accommodate 82 guests. The décor ranges from the classic to the contemporary. Our bedroom had a four poster bed and walls painted by Damian in Chinoiserie style while others were ultra modern. My favourite room had five single beds, ideal for the groom and his supporters or for the bridesmaids. The bridal suite was an elegant two room double aspect space with twin baths and bucolic views.
Like the bedrooms all the reception rooms have been tastefully furnished. The main hall has Jacobean panelling, comfy sofas and a roaring log fire, the library, stocked with leather bound books, has Pugin wallpaper and the drawing room offers expansive views of the countryside. A banqueting hall where we had a gala dinner to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the house was elegant and a cosy snug with bar was just the place for a relaxing nightcap.
Another impressive feature was that, although we were at Huntsham Court during the mini ‘Beast from the East’ when the external temperature hovering around zero inside it was the warmest country house I have ever stayed in.
Chris and Damian have built an excellent relationship with the community including donating use of the Court for charitable events. This relationship also gives them access to a range of high grade local services. They can arrange outdoor activities during the day, for example a party of us had great fun clay pigeon shooting at the nearby Shalden Shooting School. Their experienced (and patient) coaches soon had us hitting the clays. To make it inclusive the men used 12 bore shotguns while the women used 20 bore with less recoil. In the afternoon we had an archery lesson on the lawn from Birds Hill Days which again saw us all improve by the minute.
For those who preferred indoor pursuits there were make up masterclasses by Jane Dare of Eye Do and hair styling by Hair by Hannah. Before dinner we all joined in a very amusing ‘Call my Bluff’ blind wine tasting run by Majestic.
You can provide your own caterers for an event or Huntsham Court can recommend an approved supplier. We had an lovely informal buffet supper on the evening we arrived from Ceylon Curry and our hearty breakfasts were provided courtesy of The Devon Pantry who use food sourced from local suppliers.
Our Gala Dinner was cooked by Peter Munday, it was a beautiful meal. Inventive canapés with pre-dinner drinks were followed by a mix of kiln smoked and mousse of salmon to start. My main was venison Wellington and a decadent birthday cake for the house was the grand finale.
The Gala Dinner epitomised the uniqueness of Huntsham Hall, the long candle lit banqueting table with sparkling cutlery and glasses just oozed style.
Recently Chris and Damian teamed up with Peter Munday to open The Ginger Peanut, a new restaurant with rooms in the village of Bampton, a short drive away from the Court. We had lunch there during our stay. Before eating we took a look at the five rooms all of which had had the same magic decorative wand waved over them as Huntsham.
Like the Gala Dinner the food had a deft, innovative touch with a triumphal lamb rump and braised shoulder main as a standout which had been preceded by deep fried duck egg and Portuguese style sardines.
You can decide exactly how you want to use Huntsham Court. It’s an ideal wedding venue, there is a church at the end of the drive and all five reception rooms and a dove cote in the grounds are licensed for civil ceremonies. It is also the perfect setting for special birthdays anniversaries, business conferences and team building exercises. Most events will have a food focus and the house will comfortably accommodate 130 guests, with food provided from the trusted range of local caterers we had experienced first hand.
The well tended gardens and imposing facades of the building make it picture perfect for wedding photos as well as a location for photo and film shoots.
As a past ‘Father of the Bride’ and hirer of an exclusive use venue I can fully appreciate the flexibility and good value that Huntsham Court offers. A big plus is that you can bring in your own wine without being charged corkage. There is a fully equipped kitchen with a unique octagonal vaulted ceiling and a house set of tableware, cutlery, crockery and glassware and tables, chairs and linen for up to 130 people which are all included in the price. There are pricing options for 19, 27, 31 or 35 bedroom hires.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time at Huntsham Court. The surrounding are luxurious, there’s lots to do both in and outside the house and the food was delicious. But above all else there was an elusive factor that Chris and Damian have created so well: the very homely atmosphere that makes all guests feel comfortable and welcome. The final thoughtful touch was a goodie bag given us on departure filled with Pieminster Pies and snacks for the journey home.
Huntsham Court is very accessible from London and elsewhere in the UK. It is about a twelve minute drive from junction 27 of the M5 and from Tiverton Parkway train station which has a fast service from London. Parkway Taxis can provide ground transportation to Huntsham Court.
If you are interested in booking your Exclusive Use Venue or Devon Wedding Venue then contact details are Email: email@example.com Tel: 01398 361 277
Shalden Shooting School
Bird Hill Days
Jane Dare of Eye Do
Hair by Hannah
Peter Munday Catering