Amberley Castle - now a beautifully restored country house hotel
- Credit: JIm Holden
It may no longer be an Englishman’s home, but thanks to the Brownsword family Amberley Castle is very much a home-from-home, as it is now a beautifully restored country house hotel
Amberley Castle is the sort of place that small children dream about – a place of moats, drawbridges and portcullises, where princesses and rogues could feasibly lurk around any corner, and fairytales might just happen. The 900-year-old walls look suitably imposing as you approach along the sweeping gravel drive, but as soon as you’re through the doors you can’t help but be enchanted. Tapestries, paintings and coats of armour line the walls, and around every corner there is something to look at – each room is teeming with history, and that’s exactly the way that the Brownsword family like it.
Andrew Brownsword is the man behind the Forever Friends teddy that was on every piece of stationery going in the Nineties. With his wife Christina, he then started a privately-owned collection of luxury hotels, “inspired by locations that we would like to visit over and over again,” he says. Together they have travelled the world, and it is this, he says, that has taught them the true meaning of great service. “This has become an ethos of our operations across the collection. Our dedicated teams care about the service they give, proven time and time again when our guests return.”
And when they describe their hotels as places they themselves would like to live they really mean it, as seen in the fabrics, styles and colours seen across the hotel range, which also adorn their own home. “The carpet in here is a favourite of Christina’s which we also have in our sitting room – she has a fantastic eye for design.”
What makes Amberley Castle so special is that the Brownsword family have carefully considered its complete restoration, so that it is not only comfortable and functional as a luxury country house hotel, but also remains very true to its history, its heritage and its story. “We like to think that we have brought Amberley Castle back to its original glory – and luckily, our guests seem to agree.” The work though, he says, is never done, and as with any old building there’s always more to do, “but I truly am passionate about the restoration of old buildings, I think it’s so important.”
As testament to this, Andrew was made a CBE for his charitable services to arts heritage just days before our meeting. “Some people are very critical of change, but I think it’s a positive thing, as long as we really are making things better.
I think of myself as a custodian of these awe-inspiring buildings, and it is my responsibility to ensure that they remain as beautiful and true to themselves as they can be.”
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At Amberley, when they drew back the “very urbanised” carpets they found the most fantastic original floorboards, which they have since exposed and kept on view for everyone to see. It is this sort of thing that Andrew loves about old buildings. “There’s always more to see, more to find and discover, there are so many little quirky things about Amberley that we love.”
As well as the four AA red stars that the hotel achieved in 2013 and 2014, the restaurant also earned itself three AA rosettes last year, and is going from strength to strength, offering lunches, afternoon teas and evening dining. “We like to use local suppliers and producers to stock it wherever possible, as there are so many round here that deserve our support. Much of the furniture too comes from dealers in Arundel and the surrounding areas.”
Although Andrew is not a Sussex man himself, his son-in-law David, who runs the property side of the business, grew up near Cuckfield and attended Worth Abbey School. “I’m a proper Sussex boy at heart,” he says, “and I love having this historic piece of Sussex as part of the portfolio, as I know it’s in the best possible hands.” As a nod to its place as one of the great castles of Sussex, each of the rooms at Amberley is named after a different castle in the county.
The Brownswords are very much a family unit, and are all involved in the business in some way. “We really enjoy it, that way,” says Andrew, “and it’s great all being able to work together.”
As well as putting their personal touch on the fabrics, the Brownswords also have their own range of Arts & Crafts-style furniture, seen in all the rooms and many communal areas. Named the Gidleigh Collection after the group of hotels of which Amberley is one, the pieces can be found across the portfolio of hotels. Andrew hopes that Amberley will follow in Devon’s five-star Gidleigh Park’s footsteps: “Gidleigh Park is world-renowned and I have aspirations for Amberley to follow suit – it has just as much of a story to tell, so I don’t see why not.”
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