#InternationalWomensDay – Sarah Callander Beckett’s Abbey Story
Inspiration - 04.03.22
This International Women’s Day, we’re focusing on a very special woman connected to Combermere Abbey: its owner, Sarah Callander Beckett! Sarah has an extraordinary story, and we’re delighted to be able to share just how she came to run the Abbey, as well as what life is like for the owner of a nearly 900-year-old, locally cherished, historic building.
In the spirit of International Women’s Day, Sarah has passed on her pearls of wisdom for women in business. Here are her top tips…
Sarah’s Top Tips for Women in Business
- Ensure you gather your own team of professionals to give you advice. While you might be tempted to go it alone, there’s no substitute for a great team to help support you.
- Make sure you fully understand the financial picture of the business you are either inheriting or buying into.
- Trust your gut instinct. Very often your inner voice will guide you in the right direction. Hunches are your psychic warning system – not to be dismissed in the mix.
Combermere Abbey was purchased in 1919 by Sarah’s great-grandfather, Sir Kenneth Crossley, of Manchester’s famed Crossley Motors, from the Combermere family whose early fortunes had waned.
After WW2, estates suffered from diminished work forces, a generation lost and changed lifestyles. At Combermere, The Abbey itself began to show signs of disrepair – the underlying Tudor building hidden beneath the newer Gothic overlay was structurally unsound and abandoned. During the 1970s, the disintegration continued with the estate suffering from rot, demolition, and collapse.
When Sarah inherited the estate in 1992, she set about making it her later life’s mission to bring it to its former glory. She saw the magnificent potential of the estate … And brought it to life again! The main house with its abandoned wing, (used temporarily as a grain store in the 60’s!) large stables, walled gardens, grand library and redundant farm and garden buildings were restored through a 20-year project that would not only truly revive Combermere, but also make it a sustainable business securing its future and allowing people from far and wide to celebrate it as it deserves.
There were a number of challenges to be met when Sarah was renovating the Abbey. Firstly, how to prioritise where to spend her limited capital, when all seven buildings were in various states of dereliction, in order to allow for a second income stream in addition to the existing farming business.
Secondly, ensuring that the existing team of estate and farming staff, who had been there many years, understood and bought into any changes and were aware of how vital change was to the long-term financial viability of the estate.
Sarah managed to meet these challenges successfully – today, as you may well know, the Abbey is a completely restored historic home, and an integral part of the Cheshire and Shropshire community!
An Ode to Generations Past
Sarah has said that her proudest achievement has been breathing life back into the estate, both in terms of the buildings and their new uses, and also seeing Combermere’s leisure guests, wedding couples, and their families and friends, make special memories here. If these walls and grounds could talk, they would have so many stories to tell! The restoration of the Abbey itself, spanning over 20 years with the North Wing being rebuilt in 2014-16, was an emotional and passion-fuelled venture for everybody involved, and something that can be looked back on with very proud feelings indeed.
An inspirational lady through and through, Sarah’s plans for Combermere weren’t simply about restoring it to fit an aesthetic, there have been tributes made to the terrific women in her lineage, too!
Crossley Cottage, for example, which was restored in 1994, was decorated with the ‘Asticou gardens’ collection by Nina Campbell, to celebrate three generations of Crossley women who loved gardens – Sarah’s great-grandmother Josephine Crossley, step great-grandmother Joyce Crossley and her grandmother Clare Crossley. In the case of the North Wing, it was given a different approach – to appreciate the strong gothic architectural elements of the building but introducing a contemporary colour palette and fabrics to create a warm, inviting, elegant, and dynamic interior.
Similarly, near the cottages in the woodlands, you’ll now find ‘Pempe’s Pavilion,’ a beautiful regency pavilion created for Chelsea Flower Show some 20 years ago! It has been rescued and erected in the Pleasure Garden on the exact site of an earlier lost pavilion at Combermere Abbey. This was named after and dedicated to Sarah’s mother – the late Penelope ‘Pempe’ Bostock nee Crossley, who died a year ago aged 92. Before Sarah, she inherited Combermere in 1959. Pempe’s Pavilion will provide a delightful place to sit and watch the sunset with its views of the Garden Wood to the lake below.
These odes to the important women not only in Sarah’s life, but in the community too, help to give the estate an unparalleled personal touch that so many guests enjoy when they visit Combermere.
Looking To The Future
With the generations of yesteryear long passed, Combermere Abbey’s future now looks set to be a fascinating one with Sarah at the helm. The business is now recovering after the uncertainty of the past 2 years, but the work is far from over!
This spring, Combermere Abbey will be re-launching its much-loved Bluebell Walks. The walks will run from Saturday 23rd April to Saturday 21st May, at 10am and 1pm every Saturday and Sunday. Head to our Bluebell Walk page to pre-book your tickets.
And even better, if you are a fan of heritage, Combermere Abbey’s much-loved tours will return this year too! Guests have the option of a public or group tour with friends. Or, if you would enjoy an afternoon tea with the inspirational woman that is Sarah Callander Beckett, then why not book a special Invitation to View event?
Happy International Women’s Day everybody, please do take this opportunity to raise up those around you and celebrate the wonderful achievements of the females that inspire you. You can connect with us on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.