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A Kent stately home at your service

Chilston Park exterior

Roger St Pierre marvels at Chilston Park

It was John and Judith Miller, high-profile co-editors and publishers of the renowned ‘Miller’s Antiques Guide’ – the industry’s bible – who transformed Kent’s stately Chilston Park property from a run-down and crumbling period mansion into a classic country house hotel.

The couple had stumbled on this gracious if neglected residence while out looking for storage space for masses of furniture, wood carvings, clocks, rare books, paintings, other works of art and assorted bric-a-brac. These were needed for their main business at that time. They bought and renovated country piles that they then sold on to well-heeled mainly city types who had plenty of cash to invest but not the time nor the design skills to perform the task for themselves.

It was a classic ‘turnkey’ enterprise. After the Millers had woven their restoration and refurbishment magic, all that the client needed to do was to bring their pipe, slippers and favourite gun dogs and settle in by a roaring log fire as they thumbed through ready and waiting piles of ‘Country Life’.

The brainwave USP behind the Chilston project was the cross marketing of two businesses. All the removable furnishings were potentially available for sale, so, in effect, the hotel served as an impressive and constantly evolving free antiques showroom to display the treasures in a perfect lavish setting with a ready audience of hotel guests. At the same time, it allowed them to furnish the hotel far more lavishly than it could have been as a stand-alone project.

A nice extra touch was to have the staff dressed in Victorian garments, creating a wonderful house-party ambience. All down the centuries, Chilston has been a work in progress, with generation after generation leaving their mark, re-modelling and re-sizing as well as restoring.

By 1997 the Millers had departed and Chilston had expanded, with a further 15 contemporary bedrooms in what was once the coach-house block. Ownership passed to Hand Picked Hotels, founded by former lawyer Julia Hands and now a vibrant group of individually styled country house properties across the UK.

Set between Maidstone and Ashford, and just a couple of miles from the M20, Chilston stands deep in the Kentish countryside yet affords quick and easy access to the Channel ports.

There are 53 guest rooms in all, of which 15, including three master suites and seven feature rooms, can be found in the old wing of the main house and the new wing has 15 rooms. A further 23 rooms, including junior suites, are located in the former coach house and other buildings surrounding the courtyard.

Geared to staging stylish corporate events, the eight main meeting rooms include the elegant 120 theatre-style capacity Fitzhammond Suite and the 100 theatre-style Orangery.

As well as the dedicated meeting spaces, the Tack Room lounge and the Hamilton Room – a permanent boardroom – are also available for business events.

Culinary-wise there’s the gourmet-standard fine dining option of the romantic in-house Culpeper’s Restaurant as well as a less formal grille offering.

Extensive grounds include meadows, woods and a carp-filled lake, with first-rate facilities for team-building activities. Chilston is just one hour from London. Nearby are such renowned Kentish attractions as Canterbury and its mighty cathedral, stately Sissinghurst Castle and its internationally renowned National Trust gardens, the North Kent seaside resorts of Ramsgate, Broadstairs and Margate and the trendy little Thames Estuary fishing village of Whitstable – famed for its memorabilia and antiques emporia as well as the most succulent of oysters.

Even closer – just 10-minutes from Chilston in fact – is the breathtakingly exquisite Leeds Castle, a moat-and-lake girded medieval wonder that appears to have leapt from the pages of a fairytale and which, in its time, has housed six Queens of England. Indeed, it is believed that it was here, at the self-proclaimed ‘Loveliest castle in the world’, that Henry VIII proposed to Anne Boleyn.

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