They say that good things come to those who wait and that is certainly the case here. Thornbridge Hall, the delightfully different 12th century stately home that lies on the outskirts of Ashford-in-the-Water, in the heart of the Peak District, is getting ready to invite the public in for the first time in two years.
The gardens, shop, plant nursery and the Carriage House Café will fully reopen on Monday 12 April at 10am. They will be open seven days per week from 10am-4pm. The cost of entry to the 12-acre gardens will be £7 per adult with no charge for children.
The Carriage House Café will be serving freshly ground coffee and other drinks, alongside their famous sausage rolls (Plain, Jaipur or Stilton – using pork raised on the estate), cakes and slices made by The Bakehouse. Based at Thornbridge, this fast-growing business is run by talented baker, Eleanor Rastrick.
A lockdown silver lining has been the time it has afforded the owners of Thornbridge Hall to work on the house and gardens. The breathing space has allowed them to make a number of tweaks to the already beautiful 100-acre plus property.
This includes fully restoring the previously buried Clumber Quadrafoil fountain in the Italian Garden. An impressive sight at 20m across, the fountain is now home to hundreds of yellow bath ducks. Squeals of delight can be heard for miles around as children catch them with the provided nets and throw them back in again.
“There has been just the one meanie who made a comment on our Facebook page about them being a bit naff,” laughs Emma Harrison, who has owned Thornbridge Hall with husband, Jim Harrison, since 2002. “But I’m happy to be part of Club Naff, if that’s what they are. The smiles and laughter have brought the place to life. We are even building a beach in time for summer, I’ve already bought the buckets and spades!”
Work is also well underway on The Potting Shed, a brand-new glass fronted café that will serve delicious home cooked dishes – such as doorstop sandwiches using freshly baked bread, huge, fresh salads and flavour-packed soups – using garden sourced and estate raised ingredients. There will also be cakes from The Bakehouse and beer on tap from Thornbridge Brewery. Access will be directly from the Monsal Trail, as well as via the property’s main entrance, providing a welcome sanctum for walkers and cyclists.
The plant nursery is enjoying a makeover, and The Bakehouse is being expanded as well.
The plan is to offer an extensive range of experiences, meaning a trip to Thornbridge should appeal to anyone and everyone, whatever their interests. Guided nature walks – allowing visitors to take in the diverse, often rare local wildlife – sculpture trails and photography courses, are all in the pipelines. Wood carving, glass blowing, kiln making, forging, floristry school, pick your own flowers and pottery are also on Emma’s wish-list.
“We have honestly worked harder than ever before during lockdown,” smiles Emma. “Usually, we would be travelling a lot, working on our various businesses but the restrictions meant we had to ease up on that side of our lives. It gave us the opportunity to step back and really absorb and enjoy our family home. We realised that we had to share it with other people again. It’s too special to keep behind closed gates.”
Emma first visited Thornbridge Hall with her youth/social worker, the indominatable Donna Jones MBE when Sheffield City Council ran it as a residential conference centre. She fell in love with the gothic mansion immediately and vowed to buy it one day. Emma and Jim fulfilled that dream 20-years ago and set about restoring the property, that had fallen into some disrepair. It has been a labour of love and a project that the couple are understandably very proud of.
“Lockdown has given us the time to pull together and develop so many elements, like the new café and the improved nursery – things that we’ve been wanting to do for a while. We can’t wait to share our unique corner of the Peak District with locals as well as visitors from further afield,” says Emma.
“Thornbridge Hall has never been conventional. It has never been owned by royals or the upper classes – somehow, it has always been under the care of eccentric businesspeople, artists and dreamers. We’re thrilled to continue that tradition! Our ambition is to have fun and never be ordinary, and we have lots of ideas up our sleeves. We’re excited to bring our visitors along on the ride.”
Thornbridge Hall is surrounded by 4.8 ha (12a) of quintessentially English gardens, set in the heart of the Peak District National Park. The gardens were designed at the end of the 19th Century to create a vision of ‘1,000 shades of green,’ which the owner wanted to be able to see from his bedroom window. They are a perfect example of Victorian drive, determination and engineering to manipulate the landscape into a series of garden rooms.
The gardens first opened to the public in the 1930s and there are many distinct areas including the Italian Garden, 30m (100ft) Herbaceous Border, Water Garden and Koi Lake, as well as terraced lawns overlooking the beautiful Derbyshire countryside.
Visitors will also come across three temples, numerous statues, 46 urns and two grottos, all of which were incorporated into the garden in the 1890s. Some of the statuary came from Clumber Park and Chatsworth, while some were gifts from the Greek Government.
The current ownership has seen the development of the Kitchen Garden, Scented Terrace, Long Border, Modern Knot Garden, Orangery and Greenhouse.
Before 12 April, locals and those from a little further afield (travelling long distances is still being discouraged) are welcome to visit Thornbridge for free. It is a good opportunity to see the extensive developments that are underway – and an Easter egg trail is being set up for the long weekend with prizes for the kids.