One of our recent trips was to two lovely county houses, close to the M25 and M1. Both unique in their own way, and both privately owned.
Ashridge House is a prestigious business school which opened its doors to external bookings a few years ago.
They have 190 bedrooms, which are all ensuite. The rooms are currently going through an extensive refurbishment programme.
Ashridge House stands on a site that has been in use for over 700 years and was built as a monastery in 1283. By the time of Henry VIII it was a royal residence for his young daughter – the future Elizabeth I. It then became a private residence until in 1808 when it was almost completely rebuilt by the Wyatt family. By 1949 it was a ladies finishing school and in 1959 it became the business school that still flourishes today.
Harry Potter fans may recognise the grand staircase as being very similar to the “moving staircase” in Hogwarts Castle. It provided inspiration to the film makers, and photos were taken at Ashridge to help create the movie version!
You can still see shadows of the Houses historic past in the venue’s 30 meeting rooms. One of the meeting rooms, known as the Monks Barn, was part of a monastery at the site – and holds 60 theatre style or 28 boardroom style.
The Lady Marian Alford room is a faithful remodelling of the 19th century drawing room, with amazing ceiling artwork and gold leaf – this gorgeous space holds 130 theatre style or 70 cabaret style.
The stable blocks have all been remodelled, and hold a self contained set of rooms, including the more modern Fairhaven Room, which is the venues largest – holding 250 theatre style.
We were lucky enough to work in the Windsor room for the day, a lovely space overlooking the grounds – it can hold up to 24 boardroom style.
Dining and Activities
For dining, the venue has onsite caterers and provides breakfast, lunch and dinner for delegates. You can choose to eat in the main dining area – Acres Restaurant, with other guests or there are plenty of other spaces that offer great private dining spaces. This includes the Fernery that can hold up to 30 for dinner.
The 190 acres of countryside can be explored by delegates, but can also be used for outdoor team building activities.
The private Grade II registered gardens are open to the public, along with the courtyard Bakehouse serving local produce and light lunches.
Finally, for the really active, the venue has a swimming pool, sauna, hot tub, gym and tennis courts. All residential guests have free access to the leisure.
The venue has a free shuttle bus from the station (Monday to Friday) and is 25 minutes from Luton Airport.
Pendley Manor is a Grade II-listed manor whose footprint dates back over 1000 years. The building (now the hotel) was built in the 19th century in the Tudor revival style. It was a private home up until 1983, and the last owner famously started Pendley Open Air Shakespeare Festival, which still runs today. The Court Theatre has taken over the former stable block and regularly hosts performances.
Another thing the hotel is famous for are peacocks (appearing on the hotel’s logo). The grounds are home to over forty peacocks and peahens of all shapes, sizes and colours – they are quite a sight!
The hotel was opened in 1991 and has been much extended so that it now has 84 bedrooms.
The largest meeting space is the recently opened Rose Garden Grand Suite. This is a permanent rigid marquee, complete with its own decking, entrance foyer and kitchens. The Grand Suite can hold up to 600 delegates theatre style, 500 banqueting style and 400 cabaret style – but it should be noted that the pre-function area can only really hold 280.
The Manor House and the modern extensions house a number of other meeting rooms: the Harcourt Ballroom can hold 250 theatre style or 48 boardroom style and the Simon Room takes 50 cabaret style or 150 theatre style. There are also 12 other meeting rooms ranging in size from 23 boardroom style to 6 boardroom style.
Spa and Activities
The Spa has a swimming pool, gym and treatment rooms. The hotel has extensive grounds and can host all types of team building activities. For a particularly leisurely pursuit guests can indulge in a game of croquet on the lawn.
The hotel’s restaurant, Oaks, serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. We were lucky enough to eat there and can say the food was very good. Afternoon tea is served in the Peacock Lounge.
In conclusion, both Ashridge House and Pendley Manor are ideal for team getaways and retreats, and yet with their close proximity to London, M25 and M1 they are also ideal for larger day and residential meetings. We were very impressed with both – great food, attentive staff and excellent service.