The Beginnings and the Gardens
Gravetye Manor started life in 1598 when Richard Infield (an ironmaster) and his wife Katherine built it as their family home. The initials “R” and “K” are carved in the stone over the main entrance door from the formal garden, and portraits of the happy couple are cut in the oak over the fireplace in one of the bedrooms.
The garden at Gravetye is an especially unique feature of the Manor. Originally created by William Robinson in 1885, they are now considered one of England’s most important historic gardens. Robinson started life in Ireland in the poverty of the potato famine, where at an early age, he trained as a garden boy. By the 1860s, he had moved to London to work on the new botanic gardens in Regents Park, where he started his career as a garden writer. He produced huge amounts of work and set about reshaping how we think about gardens. Some of Robinson’s most influential books include The Wild Garden and The English Flower Garden, which remains the bestselling gardening book ever printed. He also ran several gardening journals such as The Garden and Garden Illustrated. Today, he is best known for his wild garden concept, creating a landscape that celebrates nature rather than controls it. He also introduced the idea of the modern mixed border and popularised commonplace items such as secateurs and hose pipes.
In many ways, Robinson created modern gardening as we know it and is affectionately remembered as the Irishman who taught the English how to garden. He was one of the leading garden theorists of the 19th century and ranks alongside Gertrude Jekyll in terms of influence. Robinson moved away from the Victorian formality that had become the norm for country houses. He devised more natural planting patterns and styles and practically invented the herbaceous border.
Although Robinson had a humble start in life, he became very wealthy from his writing.
In 1884, Robinson bought Gravetye Manor. He began by renovating and extending it and eventually owned over 1000 acres of the surrounding landscape. Much of the land was used for experimental forestry. In the heart of the estate, on 35 acres surrounding the Manor, Robinson created his masterpiece garden. This garden takes a lot of work, and despite everyone’s best efforts, it had fallen into a state of decline when Mr and Mrs Hosking bought the Manor in 2010. This resulted in a major renovation project, which continues today, with a team of eight full-time gardeners.
After Robinson’s death, Gravetye Manor gradually became derelict until Peter Herbert took it over in 1958. He injected his exceptional hotel keeping and restaurant standards for nearly 50 years, until his retirement in 2004, and established Gravetye Manor as one of the leading establishments in its class – recognised throughout the world for offering the best kind of country house hotel hospitality and has built an enviable reputation as a first-class restaurant. Gravetye Manor was listed as number eight in the top fine dining restaurants in the Travellers’ Choice Best of the Best awards for 2020 on TripAdvisor.
A new dining room was built in 2018 with floor to ceiling glass walls so that guests can now look out on to the Manor’s stunning gardens.
Many people choose Gravetye to celebrate special occasions, and there is a dress code to ensure the dining room’s atmosphere reflects that. The dining room at Gravetye is smart casual. Smart jeans are acceptable, but men tend to wear a jacket in the evening.
There are two private dining rooms; one with seating for 7 to 11 guests, the other a slightly larger room which can cater for up to 20 people. The wood-panelled rooms are perfect for a family gathering, a celebration with friends or a more formal business dinner.
Executive Chef George Blogg uses ingredients from the kitchen garden or from local suppliers and has already achieved a Michelin star.
In the Survey of English Place-Names (a county-by-county guide to the linguistic origins of England’s place-names – a project of the English Place-Name Society), Gravetye Manor is recorded as an early-attested site in the Parish of West Hoathly.
The etymology is said to be:
‘Gravetye Manor is Grauetye, Graueytie, Gravety al. Moate House, grafa, teag. The name probably denotes an enclosure in or by a grove or copse.’
The William Robinson Gravetye Charity
William Robinson (1838–1935) died without an heir and bequeathed the freehold of the Gravetye Estate in West Sussex in trust to the nation. His intention, according to the terms of his will, was that the estate ‘be held and utilised for the purposes of State Forestry under the control of Trustees or Managers…’
In 1936, an independent charity, the William Robinson Charity (registered charity 256766), was set up to take ownership of the property, and Forestry Commissioners were appointed trustees. ` The local branch of the Forestry Commission was selected to manage the estate on a day-to-day basis.
As Robinson’s death occurred a few short years before the outbreak of World War II, no long-term management plan was ever established for the estate, and the manor house was used by Canadian troops. After the war, work on the estate’s forests restarted, and the woods were restocked, but both the house and garden fell into disrepair.
During the late 1950s, the Forestry Commission granted a long lease for the house to be used as a hotel, and the renovation of both the house and garden was begun. Robinson’s creation had all but disappeared by this time, herbaceous borders having been dug up to plant vegetables by the Canadian soldiers stationed in the house during World War II. Work on the surrounding woods continued with restocking from the mid-20th century and after extensive storm damage in 1987 and 1990.
Governance arrangements were reviewed in 2000, and the Gravetye Estate is now owned by the William Robinson Gravetye Charity. The estate is now managed on behalf of the charity by RH & RW Clutton together with independent consultants.
Gravetye Manor Hotel and garden is the 35-acre jewel in the crown of the extensive 750-acre estate owned by the William Robinson Gravetye Charity. William Robinson’s papers are held at the Royal Horticultural Society Lindley Library. The archive comprises of two volumes relating to work carried out on Gravetye Manor itself, as well as the garden and the surrounding estate, 227 letters written to William Robinson and his nurse, Mary Gilpin, and a small number of papers collected by William Robinson.
A Memorable Record
Henry James, the American author (but naturalised Englishman) who was considered by many to be among the greatest novelists in the English language, left a memorable record of Gravetye’s gardens when he wrote:
“Few things in England can show a greater wealth of bloom than the wide flowery terrace immediately beneath the grey, gabled house, where tens of thousands of tea-roses … divide their province with the carnations and pansies [and] the medley of tall yuccas and saxifrage.”
Telephone: 01342 810 567
Postal Address: Gravetye Manor Hotel, Vowels Lane, West Hoathly, Sussex, RH19 4LJ
Sourced/Excerpted from and Further Reading
- https://wrgc.org.uk/history-of-the-charity/ https://gravetyemanor.wordpress.com/gravetye-garden-map/
- Sourced largely from: https://www.gravetyemanor.co.uk ↑
- Source: http://epns.nottingham.ac.uk/browse/Sussex/West+Hoathly/53287230b47fc40c36000a35-Gravetye+Manor ↑