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Behind the abbey with… Sarah Callander Beckett

Estate – 11.07.17


Welcome to the first ‘Behind The Abbey’ interview! Today, we talk to Sarah Callander Beckett, owner of Combermere Abbey.

Where’s your favourite place at Combermere Abbey?

I love walking up to the Pleasure Gardens and down to the lake edge through the Garden Wood. There are a couple of benches there with wonderful views across the mere and you are framed by the wonderful trees in the wood, watching the grebes, coots, moorhens, herons and geese on the water, surrounded by birdsong in the trees behind.

What’s your proudest moment at Combermere Abbey?

When we finally completed the North Wing of the Abbey. This project had been over 12 years in gestation, and 27 months in restoration. To see the house whole again without scaffolding and standing proudly as she would have done in 1820 when first Gothicised was fantastic and made the long wait worthwhile.

What makes you smile?

I put a sofa in my new office three years ago, and it was taken over by the dogs immediately! It’s like a theatre unfolding, they jostle for the best spot, have noisy dreams about chasing rabbits and assume the most hilarious poses! Always makes me and anyone else in the room laugh.

If you could go back in time, when would you like to see in Combermere’s history?

The period when they altered the house from a Tudor manor house to a Gothic building. We do not have any archive records and it would be fascinating to understand how it all took place. A massive alteration without the benefit of modern machinery and skills.

Who would be your ideal dinner party guest, dead or alive, and why?

Julian Fellowes, Lord Fellowes of Stafford and the creator of Downton Abbey. He is an extraordinary chronicler of life, with a sharp wit, huge personality and a great raconteur. I have known him for many years, but he really ‘sings for his supper’, and is always the most entertaining person and a very loyal supportive friend.

And what would be served at your ideal dinner party?

I love my veggie garden so would try and craft the meal around things growing or from the estate. Sorrel soup (from a recipe by Lou Bailey, the American chef); pheasant breasts with wild mushrooms in cream, saffron and pepper sauce served with red cabbage and apples (from the maze of course!) and celeriac mash. Pudding would be a white chocolate mousse with rhubarb fool.

Share a secret about Combermere Abbey…

I have only just discovered that there was a door in the downstairs loo, which led to the crypt and it was only blocked up by my great grandfather after he bought the house in 1919. The Stapleton Cotton family have told me they remember it well, and as children used to go down there to play – getting very scared when the stone tops moved!

If you want to find out more about this remarkable house and wedding venue, read all about the Abbey and Gardens here.