Discover the history of Woolley Grange in Wiltshire
Our hotel's history dates all the way back to the 17th century - and over the course of the last 350 years, it's been home to so many families.
Iron Age settlements and Roman villas
Since the building's story is closely linked with the history of Bradford-on-Avon, we'd better start at the very beginning. The town was originally the site of an Iron Age settlement which was later occupied well into Roman times. Its location on the outskirts of Bath, then known as Aquae Sulis, meant it was just a few miles south of the road to Londinium. A major Roman villa was found beneath the playing fields of St Laurence's School in 2002.
The town is also home to an Anglo-Saxon church dating back to around 700 AD, as well as a Norman bridge, which is still used today as a main road.
Woolley Grange built
As indicated by the carved wood above our front door, Woolley Grange was built in 1665 as a home for Francis Randolph and his family. The original house likely comprised the reception area, the Dining Room, and the rooms above them. Over the course of 60 years, the family expanded the building to create a spacious mansion.
Sold to the Baskervilles
After being leased to the Baskerville family for a few years, the house was eventually sold to them in 1726. Both families had made their fortunes as clothiers and were key examples of Bradford-on-Avon's thriving wool trade.
Thanks to a large inheritance in 1769, the Baskervilles went on to expand the house and its estate to more than 120 acres. In the late 18th century, a 15-year-old John Baskerville etched his name into the window of what is now the John Baskerville Suite - a curiosity that you can still see today. All of the Baskervilles played a prominent part in the local area, whether in the army, serving as a local magistrate, or even as Deputy Lord Lieutenant of the county.
The Hounds of the Baskervilles
When John Baskerville Jr died in 1837, he left the house to his cousin, Henry Viveash - but only on the condition that he adopted the Baskerville name. Henry lived at Woolley Grange briefly, but in that time he spent £4,400 on adding another farm to the estate.
Henry Viveash, or Henry Baskerville as he became, was immortalised in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles, as Sir Henry Baskerville. Indeed, the inspiration for the story came from Henry’s long-standing fondness for ferocious dogs, which he kept at his estate in Oxfordshire.
Captain Septimus Palairet
In 1840, the house was let to Captain Septimus Palairet, whose family remained there until 1863.
During his time there, Palairet greatly expanded the house, bringing it largely to its current form. He even moved the original road into Bradford-on-Avon from its original position, where the pond now is in front of the house, to its current spot, as he didn’t want it coming so close to his front door.
Palairet was also a prominent figure in the town. He contributed the funds to build Christ Church School and is commemorated in a stained-glass window in Christ Church. He was instrumental in encouraging his friend, Stephen Moulton, to set up his rubber company in Bradford-on-Avon, which became the primary industry in the town for much of the late 19th and early 20th century.
Woolley Grange at war
After the Palairets left, Woolley Grange passed through several owners before it became an ante-natal hospital during the war. Expectant mothers were transported out of the capital to give birth in the safety of the country and recuperate in peace. Over the years, we've been visited by plenty of 'Woolley babies' who have stayed with us to see where they were born.
In 1948, the Coach House became one of the country's first ambulance stations after the NHS was founded.
The first Luxury Family Hotel
The mansion was bought by Nigel Chapman, a London accountant who wanted to create a child-friendly hotel that didn't compromise on luxury experiences for adults - something that England had never seen. The hotel opened in 1989 and was an overnight success.
The Woolley Bear’s Den was named after the Woolley Bear, which can be found on the first-floor landing. The bear received national attention following an advertisement placed in the paper by Chapman looking for someone to restore the bear, with the tagline ‘Make My Bear Stand Proud’.
Woolley Grange was also the family home of the Chapman family while they ran it as a hotel, and it seems the Chapman children were rather mischievous. There are reports of regular calls to the local fire brigade and tales of the children being banned from the guests’ dining room for bad behaviour.
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