Grotto, Surrey

The Grotto, Beaverbrook, Surrey

Beaverbrook is a sumptuous country house hotel close to Dorking in Surrey. It was formerly the home of Lord Beaverbrook, the press baron, who found it by accident, and snapped it up, whilst out motoring with Rudyard Kipling in 1911. His house guests at Cherkley Court, as it then was, included luminaries from politics, the arts and show business. Winston Churchill dictated letters from his bath, Jean Cocteau painted a glass panel that remains above a door and Elizabeth Taylor provided Hollywood glamour.

Beaverbrook died in 1964 and his widow lived until 1994. The house and grounds had deteriorated and the Beaverbrook Foundation, Beaverbrook’s charitable trust, decided to restore the estate as a conference and wedding venue with the grounds open to the public. A new garden structure and planting was designed by Simon Johnson who moved and restored two pavilions. But the greatest treat of all was commissioned from the talented Belinda Eade. She took an arcaded alcove under the stairs sweeping down from the house and created a shell-encrusted grotto. The decoration is based on the story of Arethusa, the Arcadian nymph who escaped her home by fleeing under the sea and emerged as a fountain. Intricate shell work has been used to depict gods and sea nymphs. The first visitors were welcomed in 2007.

More recently the Beaverbrook Foundation felt unable to maintain the house and gardens and wished, as it has always done, to spread its funds amongst a wide range of charities. With the proviso that the house be cherished and the special character preserved the property was sold to a hotel operator. Beaverbrook opened in 2017.

PS thanks to Michael Cousins, whose camera skills are more sophisticated than mine, for sending this much crisper image:

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