There are two pieces of advice that Peter Osborne quotes from his youth; one from his father (a hotelier), the other from his mother.

'Dad said 'don't go into the Army', Mum said 'don't be a hotelier',' he says with a wry smile. Either by accident or coincidence, he disregarded both. After an early career with the Household Cavalry (Blues and Royals), he went into hospitality, managing prestigious hotels for the likes of TA Collection, where he became managing director, and Stoke by Nayland Resort.

Now, mid-career, Peter finds himself managing director of Heritage Rocks, owners of Seckford Hall Hotel and Spa at Woodbridge, as well as exclusive-use wedding venues Woodhall Manor at Sutton, and Manor by the Lake in Cheltenham.

Great British Life: Peter Osborne, Seckford Hall Hotel. Peter Osborne, Seckford Hall Hotel. (Image: Seckford Hall Hotel)

In the richly wood panelled guest lounge at Seckford Hall, we're ensconced in comfy velvet chairs. Peter has an eye on the the fire, ensuring it's crackling nicely in the huge brick hearth, and another on the discreet toing and froing of various staff. On his lap, Digby the adorable miniature Schnuazer, sits contentedly. I feel like I've been welcomed into someone's comfortable country pile rather than a hotel. But then, making you feel at home in his hotel is Peter's speciality.

Since December 2022, when he was brought on board by Heritage Rocks founders and entrepreneurs Michael Chittenden and Tammy Madge, to bring his hospitality knowledge and experience to the group, Peter has been spearheading a renaissance of 15th century Seckford Hall. After a spell when he considered leaving the industry, it's something of a homecoming for him. Being given licence to breathe new life into the iconic property is the opportunity of a lifetime.

To understand the significance of Seckford Hall Hotel's revival it helps to know a bit of its history and the special place it holds in Suffolk hearts. It was built between 1553 and 1558 as the family home of Thomas Seckford, lawyer to Queen Elizabeth I (she stayed here), a landowner and public benefactor, a beneficence still felt today through the Seckford Foundation.

Great British Life: Seckford Hall has plenty of historic charm as well as modern comforts.Seckford Hall has plenty of historic charm as well as modern comforts. (Image: Seckford Hall Hotel)

The hall had many owners over the centuries. It became a hotel when the Bunn family bought it 1950 and converted it. They lived on the premises and were hands-on with day to day running of the hotel, until they sold up and retired in 2012. New owners came and went, each trying something different. Then in 2017 Michael Chittenden and Tammy Madge acquired it and installed a management company to increase revenue and reduce costs.

The business ticked over, but what was missing was the quality and style for which Seckford Hall had become known. It had a superior reputation as the place to dine on special occasions, and for upmarket weddings.

'Michael (Chittenden) used to come here as a child,' says Peter. 'He remembers it as a treat, how special it was.' Peter understands the affection local people have for Seckford Hall. He also recognises its huge potential to be equally loved by people visiting the county – to be the best destination hotel in Suffolk.

Great British Life: Seckford Hall has spectacular grounds. Seckford Hall has spectacular grounds. (Image: Seckford Hall Hotel)

'This is a great place to explore,' he says, 'and we're a gateway to the coast.' His ambition is to make Seckford Hall one of the country's top boutique hotels, with an AA four red star rating and membership of the Pride of Britain Hotels collective of luxury hotels.

The business is certainly being re-energised with investment in new rooms, the spa and the grounds. The ethos of Heritage Rocks is to 'to bring love, warmth and celebration back into some of the most beautiful heritage buildings in the country' – in other words, make them 'rock' again. While this does lend itself to some quirky theming, in actual fact it's about celebrating ('rocking') tradition, so that when people check into Seckford they find themselves among the decor and surroundings they expect from a magnificent, historic Tudor mansion. It's modern luxury without losing the charm.

'These old buildings have been purchased to bring them to life – Seckford has been waiting for its time,' says Peter. Over the past 12 months the hotel has acquired a new-old identity; signage has been upgraded to incorporate a coat of arms with a nod to the hall's heritage. The spa, with its fabulous 18-metre pool, was closed in 2022 when Peter arrived, but has been re-opened. Rasul has been added as well as a fabulous spa garden with outdoor hot tubs, ice bath and sauna, plus a fire pit for colder days.

Great British Life: Seckford Hall spa garden. Seckford Hall spa garden. (Image: Seckford Hall Hotel)

A gradual refurbishment of the hotel's 40 bedrooms is underway and there are plans to add more, including 'treehouses' in the grounds. There are also plans to build a more permanent structure than the current marquee for large functions, and the hall's superb grounds will be the setting for more outdoor activities, such as music events. There's a history room displaying mementoes from Seckford's past life – including Mr Bunn's early restaurant menus and photos of him welcoming famous guests, such as former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and musician Jools Holland.

Peter reels off plans and changes with enthusiasm and passion. He has a strong sense of ownership of the lovely old house and has worked closely with Mr Bunn to learn about its quirks and eccentricities as well as its proud heritage.

But while the building is important, it's service that is the driver for Peter and will be key to Seckford's resurgence. Earlier in his career he enlisted celebrity chef and service guru Fred Sirieux to help train his staff . The two have remained friends and Sirieux has already visited Seckford Hall.

Great British Life: Seckford Hall Hotel's menu is seasonal and food is sourced locally where possible. Seckford Hall Hotel's menu is seasonal and food is sourced locally where possible. (Image: Seckford Hall Hotel)Great British Life: Sunday lunches are popular at Seckford Hall Hotel. Sunday lunches are popular at Seckford Hall Hotel. (Image: Seckford Hall Hotel)

'We're bringing it back to the days when service was top priority,' he says. 'This is where it starts.' A personal touch is everything; Peter is always around the building, as is his wife who has joined the team in a sales role. His son is waiting tables in the restaurant. It's a reminder that Seckford is, at heart, a family hotel, and that includes the dog (canine guests get a welcome letter from Digby).

Staff recruitment, training and retention are key to Seckford moving towards the upper end of the market and Peter's acutely aware of challenges in the industry. He's working with local high schools and colleges to change perceptions of hospitality, providing students with work experience that could eventually lead to careers.

The hotels' employees, meanwhile, are all treated equally, with the same access to training and an emphasis on work-life balance. Most of the Seckford team have worked for Peter in the past 10 years including chef Jake Lawrence, who brought a full kitchen team with him when he joined at the beginning of the year. He's introduced a classic British menu to the two-AA rosettes restaurant, with an emphasis on quality and service. Sunday lunches are extremely popular, as are afternoon teas. There's talk of a taster menu with a Tudor theme.

Peter's only just got started and there's a lot more work to do. But already there's a warm, welcoming atmosphere at Seckford Hall, a sense of fun but also of calm and familiarity. A homecoming...