Hidden away in the small village of Wonersh, just outside Guildford, sits one of Surrey’s most beautiful country houses, Barnett Hill. Set in 26 acres of beautiful grounds and woodlands, Barnett Hill is as rich in history as it is in splendour.
The site upon which the grand house sits was once merely a wooded hilltop offering nothing except impressive views across the Surrey Hills. It was these views that delighted and charmed Frank Cook (the grandson of renowned travel agent Thomas Cook) enough to buy it in 1905 and spend £35,000 building a house that was to become his family home.
The house was constructed as a Queen Anne-style mansion and, upon completion, was named after the hilltop itself, Barnett Hill. Cook had the surrounding grounds landscaped, transforming them into a combination of terraces, formal gardens and paved areas – which were all cared for by a team of 14 gardeners – and lived there for many happy years with his wife and family until he died in 1940.
Upon his death, Cook’s wife loaned the house to the British Red Cross for use as a convalescent hospital during the Second World War, a real-life Downton Abbey. Those injured in bomb blasts were taken there for rehabilitation and cared for with the help of the St John’s War Organisation. Four years later, when the cost of running Barnett Hill became too much, Mrs Cook sold it to the British Red Cross who converted it into what was to become their National Training Centre, which ran successfully for many years.
By the 1970s, the British Red Cross also began to struggle with the high costs associated with running such an enormous building. To help manage their overheads, they opened up the house to the public, promoting it for business conferencing. As part of this new venture, they transformed some of its rooms especially for conferencing and offered independent training courses.
In 1996, the house was leased to the Chudley family, who were already successfully operating a conference venue in Northamptonshire called Highgate House. After 9 years of Barnett Hill flourishing in their care, the family went on to purchase it in 2005. The family later expanded Barnett Hill’s offering to include the leisure market, enabling weddings, dining, accommodation and private events to take place there too.
Today, many of Barnett Hill’s original features still remain; the summer house, tea house and greenhouse are all in their original condition and the Chudley family continue to fund new projects throughout the estate to help maintain the house’s original ambience, both inside and out.
In 2016, Barnett Hill was awarded Gold for Business Tourism at the Beautiful South Awards and became the first conference centre and hotel in the UK to pay its staff the Living Wage. With an award-winning Head Chef, the venue prides itself on using locally sourced ingredients in its menus. Forever evolving, Barnett Hill now hosts over 50,000 honey bees in its grounds to support and help reverse the UK’s declining bee population. Honey produced by the bees is used within the venue’s menus and is also given as gifts to guests.
Barnett Hill has 59 en-suite bedrooms and 15 function rooms which are used for special occasions and private dining. Its ample grounds are often used to host outdoor events and there is a wide range of leisurely pursuits on offer, but most guests simply choose to explore the grounds at their leisure. Walks include enchanting views of Guildford Cathedral and Charterhouse School and the grounds also home a delightful child’s playhouse which Frank Cook built especially for his daughter.
To find out more about Barnett Hill, please visit sundialgroup.com/barnetthill or call the venue directly on 01483 893361.