Here's A Peek Inside 2023's Coziest New Hotel: Boys Hall, Kent
As a homely temple to locavorism, a fading Kentish mediaeval house is reborn.
In the midst of unprepossessing Ashford, Boys Hall is situated between a rail track and an industrial estate. Rich Report takes you to a haven of inviting nooks, crannies and oversized fireplaces, a Kent-locavore restaurant and an inviting, chatty owner, Kristie and Brad Lomas welcome you warmly. Throughout the renovation, they've infused personality and warmth into the beams and wonky corners of the original 1616 building.
It was impossible not to gorge on Kentish Ashmore cheese and speck croquettes, parmesan and chicken liver parfait gougere balls, overlooking an imperious oil by one-time guest Samuel Pepys as we sipped toasted coconut Old Fashioneds by the fire in the lounge, beneath mediaeval timber beams. The feeling of being at home is almost too strong to move. A great barn-like restaurant with a brick fireplace at one end was abuzz with laughter. New hotel openings, like the Middle Ages, rarely feel this exciting.
What happened in the past
The house, built by the aristocrat Thomas Boys, has an interesting past – sitting atop a warren of smuggler’s tunnels, it was a pit-stop for Charles I while he was fleeing Oliver Cromwell, and mediaeval coins found under its floorboards now reside in the British Museum. But when Kristie and Brad Lomas stopped by in 2019 with children in tow, impatient to move out of London and looking for a project, it was swallowed by wisteria, with multiple occupants in dark rooms under a sagging roof (our beautiful room was apparently owned by a guy who sold car parts on eBay, and was filled with hunks of metal). Kristie had founded the Keystone Crescent cocktail club in King’s Cross, among other ventures, and Brad was a director at the East London Pub Co, which runs the likes of Spitalfields’s Ten Bells and The Lock Tavern in Camden. Kristie grew up in Ashford, the daughter of a master craftsman with experience of renovating period houses. So this has been a family labour of love – from clearing out the garden and wisteria to repairing beams and fireplaces using fallen oak from the garden and transforming the one-time pool area into a barn-like restaurant. They plan to add three more rooms to the current seven, renovate the former stables and build nine wooden lodges in the hall’s four acres of increasingly sculptured gardens.
Rooms of the guests
Like the rest of the house, rooms lightly tread the line between wood-framed mediaevalism and smart modernity, and don’t feel overdesigned (Kristie mostly handled the interiors, with help from Kentish new-old specialists Kagu). We stayed in Ernest. Named after one-time owner Major Ernest Bengough Ricketts, its dark wood cabinetry, roll top bath and convex mirrors are offset by clouds of dried flowers, a slouchy sofa, Roberts radio and curving Windsor paisley headboard. Shoppable Pelegrims toiletries are made from the byproducts of wine-making at the nearby Westwell vineyard and the coffee pods in the minibar or honesty cart come from Lost Sheep in Whitstable. Beside a handwritten note, a beautiful bound booklet details the history of the house and the best local vineyards, country houses and restaurants.
A food and drink menu
Like The Pig at Bridge Place near Canterbury, or Updown near Deal, the whole place has been designed around local Kentish food and wine, including a little locals-friendly pub in one of the oldest corners of the house. Chef Shane Pearson used to commute from Ashford to Caravan in King’s Cross or London chophouse Blacklock. Now, he’s enjoying serving rich, comforting dishes in the double-height space – from a starter of pulled venison served on a crumpet with dijon mustard and pickled blackberry to a rich coal-fired turbot in a creamy sauce with Kentish mussels and cider. Brad and Kristie dance around tables, with Brad championing Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs while telling the knockabout genesis story of the vast brick fireplace, and explaining how the double-height space will open out into the garden come summer, with a bar in the walled garden.
The Services They Provide
First of all, this feels like the family business it is, with the owners a prominent presence: down-to-earth and good fun, but clearly honed in on the details and very keen to champion the place and the area. The rest of the service staff tend to be young and local, but charming but impressively briefed on the finer points of the menu and the history of the house. Clearly, some passion has been infectious.
The area around them
We were initially bemused when we first saw Boys Hall’s location on the map: near the train line and the retail outlet park on the edge of Ashford, which has never been the most charming town in Kent. But… the location means it’s a 37-minute train ride from King’s Cross, and the rest of the world seems to disappear with the road noise when you drive through the gates into the almost four acres around the old house. And this is right in the heart of the county, well within half an hour of Canterbury, Deal and the south coast. In particular, wine enthusiasts Brad and Kirstie are keen to promote its position close to many of the county’s best vineyards (Westwell, Woodchurch, Gusbourne and Chartham are all within ten miles). In the future, they plan to use Boys Hall as a base for wine tours of the area.
New properties often trump their appeal to locals, but at Boys Hall there were lots during our visit – and they seemed genuinely excited about the restoration of a local point of interest. One guy was staying in a room where he could just about see his garden beyond the line of trees on the edge of the property. There were locals in the pub and one group in the lounge, who were clearly having a great time. Generally, though, the roll top baths and great food will appeal to escaping couples.
A commitment to the environment
Upcycling and locavorism are a big part of the whole thing. Kristie’s father Richard didn’t just repair so much of the house’s original details, from rag stone rock walls to oak ceilings and floors, but also used natural and recycled products wherever possible. For example, a massive fallen oak branch in the grounds was used not just to replace beams but to create a dramatic mantelpiece for the huge fireplace in the dining room, which was also made from unused red bricks.
With its understated beauty, the property feels lived-in and true to its roots, yet also fresh; a difficult balance for such an old property (Georgian and Victorian properties tend to be more modern). Except for the Samuel Pepys portrait that was inherited from previous owners, most of the art - mostly gilt-framed oil portraits - was purchased at auctions and dealers by Kristie. During the spring, you can expect to see the gardens bloom happily, since she has become a dedicated gardener. All of it is homely and unpretentious - from the newspapers and Scrabble boards in the living room to the extra-large Caramel wafers in the honesty bar.
Does it make sense to spend the money? Without a doubt. There is a significant price difference between the rooms and Kentish equivalents (let alone the Cotswolds), and the quality and execution of the food and wine are fair given the prices. It has all the best features of a classic English bucolic escape without being pompous.