New lease of life for historic family seat

By 18th November 2013Awards

ASKHAM Hall, near Penrith, once the seat of the Earls of Lonsdale, has taken on a new lease of life as a hotel and wedding venue.

An event is to be held later this month toshowcase the newly-converted Grade II listed Bank Barn which is being described as a “first class wedding venue”.

At Askham Hall, which is a Grade I listed building, work has been carried out sympathetically to turn it into a hotel, complete with a new restaurant.

Dating from the 12th Century, Askham Hall was a fortified peel towerprotecting England from invasion by the Scots. In the 16th Century it was converted into a grand Elizabethan mansion by Thomas Sandford before being bought by the Lowther family 200 years ago.

It then became home to Anthony Lowther, a descendant of the 5th Earl of Lonsdale, Hugh Lowther the “Yellow Earl” and was passed down thefamily. It is now owned by Charles Lowther and his mother, Caroline, Countess of Lonsdale, who until recently had Askham Hall as the family home.

The new venture to open the hall as a commercial venture continues to be a family affair, involving both the Countess of Lonsdale and Charles Lowther along with hissister, Marie-Louisa Raeburn, and his wife, Juno.

Speaking about their decision to turn the hall into a hotel, restaurant and wedding venue, Marie-Louisa said that since the death of her father, James Lonsdale, the family felt it was too big to remain as a private home.

As a precursor to Askham Hall they opened the George and Dragon at Clifton five years ago and it proved a success. Marie-Louisa said the idea to establish Askham Hall as a wedding venue was not part of the original plan but evolved and emerged as renovations took place and it became obvious the venue would be perfect for receptions.

Also the family already had fond memories of the hall as a wedding venue after Marie-Louisa married her husband, Christopher Raeburn, in a marquee in the grounds four years ago.

Work began on the hall’s transformation in 2011 and the old cow pens wereconverted into a quirky and rustic-style cafe which, along with thegardens, was opened to the public last year.

Converting Bank Barn into a wedding venue was the second phase and it can now cater forapproximately 160 seated guests and an additional 50 evening guests.

Original features such as bare stone walls and an open beamed oak ceiling have been retained and paired with contemporary lighting and large glass doors to create a stylish decor.

Askham Hall does not use external caterers and its on-site kitchen and chefs use locally sourced produce, along withproduce grown and reared at Askham Hall itself or on the 800-year-old Lowther Estate.

Although the venue is not yet licensed forwedding ceremonies, it is just a short walk from St. Peter’s Church, Askham, and close to the 13th Century St. Michael’s Church, which has strong Lowther familyconnections and overlooks the hall, River Lowther and Lowther Castle.

In September 13luxurious double rooms and suites were completed in the hotel, with anadditional 13 rooms planned for 2015, meaning that the venue can be hired out for exclusive use.

At the same time the restaurant was opened under the guidance of chef Richard Swale, a Cumbrian who spent 12 years working all over the world including at Noma, Copenhagen, which was voted best restaurant in the world five times.

Askham Hall hosted its first official wedding on 7th September, followed by another just a week later. A third is to take place in December, and 15weddings have already been booked for 2014.

“It’s very personal and not a big corporate thing. People who have come have said they like that it’s family run and not just a conveyor belt of weddings,” said Marie-Louisa.

A wedding fayre, which has free admission, is to be held from 11am to 4pm on Saturday, 26th October. It will feature around 20 exhibitors.