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Couple hand over Hall to hotel group

By Ashbourne News Telegraph  |  Posted: November 26, 2008

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DAVID and Dorothy Spencer, who turned Callow Hall, Ashbourne, from a run-down private home to a luxury country house hotel, have retired.

Callow Hall has itself has been sold to von Essen Hotels, one of the most prestigious private hotel groups in the country and Mr and Mrs Spencer are excited about its future and what it can bring to the area.

The name Spencer is synonymous in Ashbourne with baking and catering, David being the fifth generation of the family in this line, followed by his son Anthony, who remains executive chef at Callow Hall, and daughter Emma Larcombe, who is following her mother's footsteps in dealing with front of house matters.

David and Dorothy bought Callow Hall in January 1983 - this is their silver jubilee year at Callow - and immediately started a phased restoration, starting with work to bring the restaurant into being along with three self-catering units in the wing which they opened at Easter of the same year.

For four and a half years they ran Callow Hall and the family's Market Place businesses together, relinquishing the Market Place shop in 1987 when they opened nine en suite bedrooms, which by 1993 has been extended to 16.

Although known as a country house hotel, the restaurant has always been of such importance that David and Dorothy often thought of their set up as "a restaurant with bedrooms."

David in particular has always had an affinity with Callow Hall. He recalls: "I used to deliver bread to Callow as a lad in short trousers."

With the development of Callow Hall completed and in full swing the accolades rolled in and they look back knowing that they have been in the Good Food Guide for 24 years, the majority of that time as a main entry.

As chef patron, David always sought the best possible ingredients.

"Once a week at least I would get up at 4am and go off to Birmingham wholesale market to buy specialist foods and in particular good quality fish. Although we were in the middle of the country Callow Hall has really been one of the best fish restaurants because of the amazing buying power of Birmingham market."

David also bought some vegetables, while growing others, and at one time they had their own beef cattle to supply the restaurant.

"We also made all our own bread and pastries, marmalade and jams, and made our own sausages, smoked our own bacon, and did our own butchery and fish."

As the woman in charge of front of house, Dorothy looked after the house-keeping, office and dining room.

Said David: "When we took on Callow Hall everyone said we were mad. We had to work very, very hard and 100 hours each a week was nothing. Not just one week, but week after week, living, working and socialising 24-hours a day.

"It's been a lifetime's work and total commitment, 24/7 and 365 days a year, always on call and with a telephone at our bedside to deal with any emergency.

"We wanted to create an internationally renowned hotel and restaurant in this area and thank everyone who has helped us to do that. We have had wonderful staff over the years and have created something which is worthwhile on the Ashbourne scene.

"It has been a privilege to have had it for the time we have."

Callow Hall has been a venue for fine dining, conferences, private parties, weddings, weekend breaks, corporate hospitality and charitable events.

Visitors from all walks of life have passed through the doorway at Callow Hall.

The Crown Prince of Thailand was one, along with chefs James Martin and Anthony Worrall Thompson, fashion designer Jean Muir, politician William Hague and a wealth of celebrities including actress cum cake designer Jane Asher and her cartoonist husband Gerald Scarfe, Alvin Stardust, Peter Andre and Bullseye compere Jim Bowen.

Says Dorothy: "We have had many regular customers who we do thank for their loyalty, as well as very supportive corporate clients such as JCB, Lubrizol and Frank Wright who have been wonderful and we do wish them all the best in this very difficult financial climate of the moment."

The new owners of Callow Hall are von Essen Hotels, and Dorothy says: "It is tremendous for the area and a real coup having such a prestigious group taking over. They have 28 hotels and they are all of this standard. They include the Royal Crescent at Bath and the Sharrow Bay at Ullswater, as well as a chateau in France. They also own the Battersea Heli-port in London.

"If they carry on Callow Hall like their other hotels, and keep it up to scratch and increase the number of people coming here, we will be overjoyed."

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  • Ashbourne News Telegraph  |  November 30 2008, 8:07PM

    I wish to thank Mr & Mrs Spencer for the work they have put in over the years to put Ashbourne on the map! Please enjoy your retirement and enjoy the time with your family ! Regards Mick Smith (kent)