History of Ashdown Park Hotel
Built in 1867 by Thomas Charles Thompson, the house is new by English standards but has so much charm and character, it could easily be taken straight from the set of a decadent period drama.
The estates at Ashdown had long been in the ownership of successive Monarchs and aristocrats before being bought by Thomas.
Born into a wealthy family in County Durham Thomas inherited the estates of his maternal Grandparents at Sherburn Hall. Following the family tradition, Thomas studied law and in 1844 he was called to join the Inner Temple, a high honour for a professional barrister, and served during something of a glory period for the Temple. Earning the respect and admiration of his peers, Thomas proved himself a worthy inheritor of the family legacy. It was around this time that the industrial revolution arrived in the north east of England and the Sherburn estate witnessed the rise of the coal mining industry. As such, Thomas inherited a number of commercial ventures to which he was dedicated, working relentlessly to make succeed. He was a perfectionist and a disciplinarian but he was also liberal and pious and these virtues are evident in the architecture of Ashdown Park.
Once Thomas bought the estates at Ashdown, he got straight to work replacing the original manor house with the Ashdown Park that remains today, establishing it as his country retreat away from the family estate in the north. He spent considerable time working in London, so Ashdown provided Thomas with a sanctuary to escape to, the forest being located close to that other great Victorian innovation, the railway which by this time ran between London and Brighton.
Thomas served as a Justice of the Peace in his home county of Durham but he had bigger ambitions, to stand for MP of Sunderland. Unfortunately, Thomas’ plans were scuppered as even his own party, the liberals, considered him to be too much of a radical. Although a devout protestant himself, Thomas wanted to see greater emancipation amongst sectors of the population still experiencing suffrage including women and Catholics who were still playing second fiddle in most walks of life to Protestants. His wife Marianne, herself the daughter of a Pastor was a driving force behind Thomas’ convictions and the two of them can be considered to have been amongst those carrying the baton from Disraeli’s reform act of 1867 to the Representation of the People Act of 1918 when women first gained the vote.
Thomas overcame three setbacks in total during his Parliamentary career before finally becoming the MP for County Durham in 1880, in William Gladstone’s landmark victory. This was no doubt testament to the intelligence, common sense, integrity and the capacity to act fairly that he displayed throughout his career and this last attribute is something he also bestowed upon Ashdown Park.
Alongside the country house Thomas also built a profitable farming business to support the local communities as well as a school for local children and the Church of St Richard de Wych for the local congregation. Hospitality was clearly an important virtue to Thomas and thankfully this heritage of hospitality is very much alive today at Ashdown.
Thomas built Ashdown Park for hosting guests at his country retreat from London and luckily many of the features he incorporated have remained. The glorious morning room, the extravagant reception area, the secret garden and the place of worship, all added to by subsequent owners yet without any of the loss of character that can occur with such additions. Ashdown Park is a country house worthy of its enchanted forest setting.