Did you know that the experience of staying at a hotel today is actually the re-imagining of an Edwardian country house weekend? I had my own modern country house weekend at Goodwood recently. Here’s how history conspired to give me my great few days:
If you were wealthy and well connected in the early twentieth century you might have received an invite to join Edward VII and his family at Sandringham. Here a guest would enjoy luxurious accommodation, and begin their day with a strange meal, which we know now as the typical hotel breakfast…
“At Sandringham guests were expected to come down for breakfast between nine and ten o’clock. This was served at small tables, an innovative departure from the ‘long board’… Breakfast was a substantial meal; on the sideboard spirit lamps kept hot huge silver dishes of porridge, eggs, bacon, deviled kidneys, finian haddock, kedgeree. Another sideboard held a variety of cold meats, pressed beef, ham, tongue and game. China and Indian tea, coffee and chocolate, bread rolls, toast, scones and muffins, jams and preserves and fresh fruit were all laid ready.” (Bentley-Cranch Edward VII Image of an Era P 78).
After your breakfast, a program of various outdoor activities would start, usually hunting, riding and shooting in summer, and ice skating in winter.
With the aristocracy taking its lead from the king, other powerful families organised their own special weekends. Then in a trickle-down effect, the fledgling hotel industry adopted and developed the format for a wider audience. There have been some welcome changes to meet modern tastes. Golf, for example, is a gentle evolution of hunting and shooting, with golfers walking through an idealised hunting park, taking their “shots”, hoping to bag a birdie, or even an eagle. Today the loader offering a loaded gun to his master on a shoot at Sandringham has been replaced by a caddie offering golf clubs.
Echoes of Sandringham can be heard by any hotel guest, but they were particularly clear during my stay at Goodwood. There was the breakfast of course, which, if you stay at the Goodwood Hotel, you eat looking out at the golf course. Then you might go off and and visit the famous horse race course. Alternatively there’s the classic circuit for racing cars, the modern replacement of horses, the horse racing heritage seen in terms such as “paddock”.
I had a great few days enjoying an experience once confined to the few.