Traditional arts and crafts flourish in UK hotels
Traditional arts and crafts flourish in UK hotels
25 JANUARY 2017 9:13 AM

Championed by early retirees with disposable income and the desire for a different type of vacation, traditional arts and crafts are gaining new life in U.K. hotels. The challenge now is to get younger generations in on the fun, too.

REPORT FROM ENGLAND—Early retirees with more-disposable incomes who are seeking a different sort of vacation in the United Kingdom are finding hotels that offer traditional arts and craft activities, sources said.

Recently, the U.K. experienced an interest in homegrown food. Now, there has been a wave of attention to traditional British skills, such as dry stone wall building, poetry, embroidery and whiskey making.

Accommodation levels range from budget to midscale, and visitors come from all around the world, not just from inside the U.K., sources added.

Courses often become even more inventive in winter months, to help fill rooms during slower periods.

“It is a continuing battle to get younger generations involved, although it was a young generation that set Halsway Manor up in the Folk revival of the 1960s,” said Crispian Cook, chief executive of the 27-room Halsway Manor. “For most of the year, our occupancy is 80%.”

Cook said the property, which also houses the National Centre for Folk Arts, is continually looking for ways to appeal to a wider audience.

A private house until 1965, the manor was a philanthropic gift. Today, it offers courses on instrument-making, dance, song, music and storytelling. To broaden its audience, Halsway Manor also offers courses on international arts such as Klezmer music.

Cook said guests come from all over the globe, including the United States, Japan, France and Germany.

“We run 365 days a year, and probably more than 90% of the time we have courses,” Cook said. “The folk arts in England are our focus.”

Cook added that Halsway Manor is more than just a hotel offering courses. “We’re a folk association with rooms,” he said. “We would not do rooms without courses.”

A celebrated center for the arts in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire, is 14-room Lumb Bank, affiliated with arts charity Arvon, which has three other course retreats. The property was the former home of U.K. poet laureate Ted Hughes, once married to American poet and writer Sylvia Plath.

Rosie Scott, center director, said she prefers to call Lumb Bank an artistic center rather than a hotel. It attracts some high-profile names, which will be the case with an upcoming course taught by playwright Willy Russell. Other courses offered include poetry, fiction, screenwriting, songwriting, yoga and theater.

“A third of our year is given over to school and community groups,” Scott said. “People come for the courses and then spend the weekends before and after in other area hotels. There is an impact on tourism. The Brontë sisters’ home in Haworth is only seven miles away.”

The Stone House Hotel in Yorkshire’s Wensleydale area, famous for its cheese, has put together a course on building dry stone walls, which co-owner Chris Taplin hopes to debut soon.

“Courses on wine and malt whiskey tasting and landscape painting are popular,” he said. “In the main season we do not need to offer them, but in the shoulder seasons, we can offer things to add to our repertoire.”

Taplin added that there’s a market for people who want to experience classes offered at the Stone House Hotel.

“People are retiring earlier, have more disposable income and desire a different experience than is the usual.”

More crafts hotels in the UK

  • The Manor House Hotel and sibling The Ashbury Hotel, both in Devon and with a combined 204 guest rooms, have a large array of traditional arts and crafts to learn (free to guests), from silk painting and candle-making to pottery and enameling.
  • Dartington Hall, also in Devon, sees more than 650,000 visitors per year for its courses, events and festivals, and has 50 guest rooms facing a medieval courtyard. Dartington’s estate, with origins back to the 9th Century and Grade II-listed gardens, was transformed in 1925 by Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst, who wished to regenerate the local community via what they coined the “Dartington Experiment.” Many famous artists took part in ways large or small in its history, including writers George Bernard Shaw and Aldous Huxley and musicians Igor Stravinsky, Benjamin Britten, Jacqueline du Pré, Paul Robeson and Yehudi Menuhin.
  • West Dean College, in Chichester, Sussex, is a 19th Century jewel with a palatial stately home and adjacent vicarage containing 58 hotel rooms. Numerous short courses are offered, including woodworking, furniture making, lettering, willow work and basket making. The property was the life’s work of poet Edward James, who was also a patron of the Surrealist arts movement, even going so far as financially supporting Salvador Dalí during the Catalan artist’s earliest period.

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