26 April 2002



Quality was the watchword

for the building conversions

on a family farm in Essex

and it has paid off.

Tessa Gates visited the

five-star rated cottages

at Park Hall

PARK Hall, home of farmer David Ford and his wife Trisha, is steeped in history. It dates from the 14th century and was once a monastery and the residence of Abbot John of London.

In the grounds of this lovely house at St Osyth, Essex, peacocks strut and wild birds call and an old coach house and stables have been transformed into luxury cottages.

"When we decided to convert the buildings we knew the cottages had to go with the house and be of a quality that would suit the people we wanted to attract," explains Trisha Ford as she shows us round the two cottages she has painstakingly furnished. They are both rated five-star. "The lady from the tourist office said it was the highest rating she had ever given cottages," recalls Trisha, adding that she thinks there is only one other such rating for cottages in the county.

David, who farms 243ha (600 acres), all arable, in partnership with his two brothers, is no stranger to diversification. "Farmers have to change or go down," he says. "We have gone quite heavily into diversification as we have no one coming up behind us to take over." Between them the brothers run the farm, its two fishing lakes which are open to membership and its acclaimed shooting school. His younger brother Alistair shoots clays for England and brother Richard is a talented coach.

&#42 June start

David did the conversion work on the cottages, which saw their first guests last June.

"They would have been completed earlier but my husband fell off a straw stack and broke his leg in 10 places," explained Trisha who works full time as a management support specialist, and offers luxury weekend breaks in Park Hall in addition to running the cottages.

"I used to hunt round antique shops in my lunch hour for items for the cottages," she says. Certainly she has an eye for interior decoration and the cottages, which are full of beams, are furnished with style and no expense spared. "We expect a 10 year return on our investment," says David.

&#42 Central heating

The cottages, one with two bedrooms the other with three, each have full central heating and wood burning stove, washing machine, TV and video and top quality music centre, complete with a choice of videos and CDs to play on them.

Hand-laundered, lavender-scented bed linen on quality beds, including a four-poster, chocolates by the bedside, scented padded coat hangers in the wardrobes, and a bottle of wine awaiting guests arrival are among the touches that Trisha finds people appreciate.

"I wanted to make these something I would want to live in, something that I felt my guests would enjoy," she says.

"I give them all the extras including a goody bag for the kitchen, nice toiletries, current magazines, a range of board games and a wonderful guide book that details the history of the cottages, Park Hall and our owls."

The owls – real and painted – are something of a feature at Park Hall which has barn, tawny and little owls nesting on the farm. The owls have taken up residence in the cottages too, in art form painted on ceilings and one (stuffed) perched on a beam. Guests seem to like them and lately have taken to leaving gifts of owl ornaments when they depart.

"About 90% of our guests come from London or around the M25 but we had two couples from South Africa staying over Easter," says Trisha. Some people come for the peace and quiet and to walk, others come for the shooting and fishing or for the three beaches, Jawick, Clacton and Walton, which are nearby.

&#42 Bookings

The aim this year was for 40% occupancy. "We shall exceed it," says Trisha. "Already we are having to turn away bookings for the three bedroomed cottage from families who want 5-star accommodation. We have planning permission to turn a cart lodge into another three bedroomed cottage and we will start that later this year. We are also going to build a Jacuzzi in the conservatory."

The couple have put a lot of effort into ensuring guests have every comfort and it is paying off in more than rebookings. "Its good to meet people from outside of the industry and many have become friends," says David.

"Some keep in touch by email," says Trisha. "What gives me most satisfaction is how appreciative guests are and that they want to come back."

For more information telephone 01255-820922 or visit

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