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Staycations mean boom for country house hotels

Investors seeking to benefit from the UK holiday market are snapping up British country house hotels with £600 million worth of independent UK hotels changing hands last year.

The figure represents a 330 per cent increase compared with pre-pandemic sales in 2019, according to Knight Frank and two thirds of sales — about £400 million — were in the country house hotel market.

One on offer is Ston Easton Park in Somerset, an estate with a grade I listed house on sale for £6 million, a snip compared with its original £9.5 million asking price.

The Palladian mansion was the childhood home of the Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg. His father, William Rees-Mogg, editor of The Times from 1967 to 1981, bought it in 1964 and saved it from dereliction.

On sale via the joint agents Strutt & Parker and Knight Frank, the 22,000 sq ft property lies 13 miles from Bristol and was built in 1769 for Sir John Hippisley Coxe, a politician and distant relative of the Rees-Moggs.

Described by the historian Nikolaus Pevsner as “exceptionally sumptuous”, it includes a grade II listed gardener’s cottage, coach house and 24 acres.

It was a filming location for last year’s BBC’s production The Pursuit of Love starring Lily James, and for the second series of ITV’s period drama Sanditon, based on an unfinished Jane Austen novel, out in March.

BBC1 filmed its forthcoming psychological thriller, Chloe, there. The series stars Erin Doherty, who played Princess Anne in The Crown, and is out in February.

Andrew Cronan, from Strutt & Parker, said: “In the 1950s, the local authority highways department were going to knock down the house and put a road through. Local historical society pressure groups saved the house by getting it listed. A big part of its grade I listing were its beautiful interiors and a plunge pool in one of the ground-floor bedrooms — a Georgian ashlar stone bath set into the floor. The Georgians jump in and splash around for a minute or two. That’s apparently where the saying ‘taking the plunge’ comes from.”

Rees-Mogg Sr sold Ston Easton in 1978 to Peter Smedley, who converted it to a country hotel. In the early 2000s Andrew Davis’s hotel group Von Essen paid £5 million for it. His 33-hotel chain went into administration in 2011 and the 23-bedroom property was sold for £3 million in 2012 to Hamilton Bradshaw — the company owned by James Caan, a former investor on Dragon’s Den. A year later Davis bought it back but it closed in summer 2020. Davis put the company into administration later that year.

All offers have been rejected so far — including two in excess of £7 million from British families with plans to buy Ston Easton to turn it into a second home.

The single largest hotel deal of last year was the sale of the Belfry Hotel & Resort in Sutton Coldfield, acquired by Goldman Sachs and Cedar Capital Partners, for about £140 million in November.

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