Four Pillars Hotels, an Oxfordshire based hotel chain, have just completed the latest of its lovingly undertaken refurbishments of Tortworth Court in Gloucestershire. Located just outside Wotton Under Edge, and less than half an hour from Bristol, this grand old building is now home to the more discerning traveller. In addition to the wide range of corporate facilities, the hotel boasts two restaurants, a beautiful outside terrace and wonderfully restored bar, a fantastic spa with a wide range of treatments, fully equipped gym and pool, but this wasn’t always the case!

Since 1853 Tortworth Court has seen many changes and the total cost of Four Pillars Hotels restoration project was in excess of 20 million pounds. Since the hotel opened, the building has been given a new lease of life. To see the trasformation for yourself, take a look at our new showcase video, or go to http://tortworth-court-hotel.four-pillars.co.uk

During the reign of Edward 1st Tortworth Manor belonged to Sir Nicholas Kingston, who passed the manor into the possession of the Veel family where it was lovingly cared for, for over two hundred years. During this time, Sir Peter de Veel created a beautiful deer Park which remained until his death in 1343. The manor was then passed to the Throckmorton Family, and later to Sir William Ducie, an Alderman and Sheriff of London and eventually Lord Mayor in 1631. William’s son Richard succeeded in 1637 and later Tortworth was passed to Richards brother William, a Knight of Bath. After William died childless the manor passed to a relation, Mr Matthew Ducie Moreton where the ownership of Tortworth remained for hundreds of years.

In 1849 the 2nd Earl of Ducie requested that the old Court be torn down, and timbers and stones used elseqhere in the estate for building work, and the original ground be set on fire! (as you do) Tortworth Court was then re-designed by Samuel Sanders Teulon, and built between 1849-1853. The Court is built at the highest point of the land away from the valley of the River Severn, and one of Samuel’s first jobs was to dam the river and create a lake, build a boathouse and stock the lake with fish. Tortworth Court was technically a very up to date house in many ways. It was equipped with new and innovative forms of light and heat – gas lighting and hot air central heating. Also the Court had its own gas works, gas lighting water works, laundry, gun house, slaughterhouse, stables, dairy, chapel, brewery, lift and finally warm air central heating. This was provided from a boiler house in the cellar and had its own railway to bring the coal to the furnaces.

In 1875 a small wing was added to the East elevation. Rumour had it that this was for the 3rd Earl to reach his quarters without using the main entrance. Incidentally there are two other staircases, one rising to the first floor and the other one rising to the second floor. In the court’s heyday one staircase was for male staff and the other for female!

The conservatory (now called the Orangery) was added in 1899 replacing a chapel formerly on that site. The Conservatory housed exotic plants and palms and had the benefit of under floor heating from its own boiler in the cellar. The 2nd Earl of Ducie, died in 1853 before the Court was completed, aged 50 years old. He was succeeded by his son, Henry John, who achieved much and lived to a great age. He was in his time Lord Lieutenant of Gloucestershire, Captain of the Yeoman of the Guard and Lord Warden of The Stannaries. The 3rd Earl of Ducie, planted the grounds with hundreds of trees including many rare specimens, to complement the existing ancient trees on the site. He started planting in 1853 and carried on until his death. In its day Tortworth Court rivalled Westonbirt the famous arboretum nearby. Today the park is an extremely important arboretum and is recognised as one of the finest of its type in the British Isles.

When war broke out in 1938, the court was used instead by the British Navy in 1940. Alterations were made and the house became a training establishment for coding and signals. The Navy called it a ‘Stone Frigate’ and it was named HMS Cabbala. Incidentally the ceremony of the flag took place daily where Reception is now sited in the main hall. This was done inside the building to avoid drawing attention to what was, at the time, top-secret premises. It was left to Mr Diment to arrange for all the furniture in the Court to be put in store. At the end of the war the contents were sold at auction.

In 1942 HMS Cabbala moved to Warrington and Tortworth Court became home to American servicemen. A hospital was built in the grounds and the doctors and nursing staff lived in the house. On the 26th November 1943 the 91st and 128th Evacuating Hospital Units arrived with hundreds of wounded from the North African Campaign. Trains would arrive at Charfield and Thornbury full of wounded Americans. From June 1944 until March 1945 other American General Hospital units, including 224th and 225th, were temporarily stationed in Tortworth Court looking after American Service personnel.

The 5th Earl of Ducie died in Australia in 1952 and, as he had no issue, the title passed to his nephew, Basil Howard Moreton, the 6th Earl of Ducie, a sugar cane farmer from Queensland. Upon inheriting the title and the Estate, he returned to Tortworth and became actively engaged in its management. The 6th Earl found the Estate in a parlous financial condition in 1952. Basil, Lord Ducie, spent time acquainting himself with his inheritance. He walked every field and talked to the tenants and came to the conclusion that he would bring his family to Gloucestershire and make it his life’s work to safeguard the future of the Estate.

During the next four decades, the 6th Earl achieved his goals, and the respect and affection of the tenants. Some disposals had to be made to meet tax liabilities and to help finance various improvements to farms and the extensive cottage refurbishment programme. Any income was ploughed back into the fabric of the Estate. Lord Ducie died in November 1991, at his desk in the Estate Office. He left a well-maintained Estate with a stable tenant population. The 6th earl was succeeded by his son, David Moreton, the 7th Earl of Ducie. Lord Ducie and his younger brothers, the Hon. Douglas Moreton and the Hon. Robert Moreton are farming tenants on the Estate, their sister Lady Jeannette Stewart lives in Canada. Lord Ducie is the current Chairman of the Estate Company and the Hon. Robert Moreton is the current Company Secretary.

In 1991 the property was bought by controversial entrepreneur Phillip Stubbs who started to convert Tortworth Court into luxury flats and houses. Soon after that there was a disastrous fire, which virtually destroyed the main body of the house apart from the principal rooms (mostly facing the lake) and the main staircase and room at the top. All that was left of the rest were the tall chimneystacks and outside walls. Work on the conversion stopped and the house remained virtually derelict for the next eight years.

Tortworth’s Rennovation:

The restoration project was a daunting task and a nightmare of planning and conservation. Materials had to be the same as originally used. The first job was to make the building safe and a steel frame was lowered by crane into the burnt out section. Following the demolition, the salvage teams were able to go in and clean out the rubble of the collapsed building. This was then sorted and items unbroken such as roof tiles were saved and put aside.

An Amazing Transformation

The ceiling height on the ground floor is 19 feet, so in part of the building, used mostly as offices and kitchens, a mezzanine floor has been added housing offices, ladies changing rooms and the gymnasium. Former stables are bedrooms, the circular meat-hanging room is now a black and gold honeymoon suite and the Orangery transformed into a restaurant. The vast library now functions as the main Moretons dining room. The white walls of the roomy bedrooms (189 in all) offset the heavy heraldic furnishings and oak beams. The Westminster Suite is a completely new building in a style to match the existing house. In the corridor leading to the suite one can see a Magnolia Tree that had to be protected under the planning rules, thus the glazed walls were put in place. There is also a large indoor swimming pool, a spa pool, a well-equipped gym and a beauty salon.

The gardens and park were in a neglected state in 1999 and the Head Gardener, John Hunt, and his team, have been extremely busy restoring them to their former glory as seen in some early photographs taken around 1930. Much of the grounds were covered with brambles and rough grass. All the paths were grassed over and it was not until clearing began that the pets cemetery was discovered. This lies just beyond and to the right of the Wisteria and Laburnum tunnel now restored. The trees have all been documented as to their name, size, age and condition. They have also benefited from the attention of a tree surgeon where necessary. Each tree is now labelled with a number and there is a booklet obtainable from the Hotel Reception, which identifies all the trees, many of which are very rare and several are the best example of their species in England.