28 August 1998

No change sullies peace in English country tea room

Real home cooking and cakes galore keep the

customers coming to the Old Cartlodge tea rooms and

restaurant. Tessa Gates joined them

THE Old Cartlodge has everything you could wish to find in an English country tea room. Delicious food, friendly staff, a rural setting and the comfort of knowing that nothing has drastically changed since your last visit.

"People dont like too much change here, they like familiar faces and familiar standards," says Mary Suckling, who has run the tea rooms at Dunley Hill Farm, Ranmore, Surrey, since 1984.

Mary was born at the 97ha (240-acre) farm, where 200-year-old redundant buildings – a barn, lambing shed and potato store – have been tastefully converted to house the tea rooms and lunchtime restaurant.

"It started as a joke, really," Mary explains. "Someone said Ranmore needed a tea room and my husband applied for planning permission.

&#42 Planners OK

"The planners passed the idea and the next thing I knew the local paper was ringing up asking when we were going to open – this was Christmas 1983 – and I said May 1984!"

A lot of hard work and a commitment to providing good home-cooking has seen the Old Cartlodge grow from a small tea place to a thriving lunch time restaurant and tea rooms with a reputation for cakes that has provided an extra dimension to the business. "We started baking cakes for customers to take away principally because they wanted to buy what they had been served," says Mary, who makes 30 varieties of loaf cakes and 10 of round cakes, and supplies farm shops, other restaurants and some National Trust properties as well as selling to customers at the Old Cartlodge.

"One of us is baking all the time and we have a kitchen devoted entirely to cakes," says Mary. "Us" is her team of helpers, several of whom come from farming families, who contribute recipes and ideas for the menus as well as the every day hard work of cooking for and serving the public. All use natural skills honed at home rather than college which is why the cakes and lunches are so appreciated – they taste like good home-cooking should.

&#42 Staffing levels

"We have about 15 staff in all and need seven or eight of us here at a time. We work as a team and I wont take all the credit for our success. The girls work jolly hard and some have been here a long time, such as Sally who has worked here for 13 years, and Audrey and Wendy, who have been here eight years," says Mary.

"We sit down each January and work out menus by seeing what has worked, what hasnt and what we could do with."

Wherever possible, Mary uses local produce including the beef that is a regular feature of the popular Sunday roasts at the Old Cartlodge. She was a founder member of the food group Taste of Surrey which evolved to become Taste of the South-East. She was a director of TOSE until she relinquished her post due to pressure of work, and believes that food groups are worthwhile at all levels.

"If you put in a lot of effort you get it back," she says. "People are proud of buying local things and I can never see any point of not using local produce. We even have English wine on the menu and change it regularly. People can taste it here and then go to visit the vineyard."

However, local for Mary often means south-east rather than Surrey. A nearby trout farm and a farmhouse cheesemaker have both closed down

"Farming in Surrey is declining at a serious rate. My husband Reubin is the NFU representative in the area and he is saying goodbye to farmers all the time, it really is depressing," says Mary, who loves this beautiful part of the world and understands only too well that once the farms are sold to non-commercial owners they will be lost to the industry forever.

Dunley Hill Farm is run by Marys mother, Rose Weller, and sister, Ann Ford, with the help of one worker. "When my father was alive it was a mixed farm. He never had a son and when he died of motor neurone disease in 1990 people asked what we would do. My sister Ann wanted to farm and she and Mum have carried on, although they had to change to rearing beef," explains Mary, adding "We only keep going on this farm because our husbands dont work on it."

Customers to the tea rooms like the fact that it is on a working farm where many traditional buildings remain. Coaches and cars bring in regulars and newcomers, many of them elderly and some disabled. "Our oldest customer was 110 and he wanted ham sandwiches with white bread, recalls Mary. "We have full disabled facilities here, which were very expensive to put in. We had no grant help but I realised when my father was ill how important it was to be able to go out together as a family unit."

Marys plans for the future are to carry on much the same as she is at the moment. "We have no major plans but no business can afford to stand still – we will want to see how the British economy goes in the next few months. Our main aim is to carry on using good local produce and to go on giving what we always have done. People love coming back here and finding the same people are still running it."

Inquiries: (01483-282222)

Capable women are the order of the day at Dunley Hill Farm. Mary (left) runs the Old Cartlodge and her sister, Ann and mother, Rose, run the 97ha farm.

The tea room is renowned for its cakes and its lunches for which Mary sources local produce wherever possible.