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Sarah Callander Beckett on: The Restoration of Combermere Abbey

Estate – 09.11.18


Sarah Callander Beckett, owner of Combermere Abbey, has contributed a chapter to the recently published Rizzoli coffee table must-have, ‘The Country House: Past, Present, Future.’ Written by celebrated art historians David Cannadine and Jeremy Musson, it is full of wonderful, inspiring photographs and essays about Britain’s heritage, its contribution and relevance to today. Sarah’s chapter entitled: An Inheritance Restored: A Private Owner’s Experience tells the story of the 20 yearlong restoration of the Abbey and everything that it entailed.

We caught up with Sarah to find out more on the process of the restoration and who was involved…

Writing about the restoration must have brought back a lot of memories, what was the feeling amongst everyone who’d worked on it, on the day it was declared finished?

A huge sense of satisfaction and pride, the project was one of the most complex and demanding that many of those working with us had been involved with, and the teamwork and commitment to completing it was a testament to their different skills and passions.

What was it like working alongside Nina Campbell and what was the vision behind the design of the cottages and North Wing?

I have known Nina for many years and admire her skills at combining a deep understanding and appreciation for architecture and buildings with creating stylish, elegant and comfortable interiors. She has a great sense of humour and is slightly irreverent, refreshingly so which makes it all the more fun! The vision behind the decoration of Crossley Cottage in 1994 was to use her Asticou collection (based on a famous US garden) to celebrate the three generations of Crossley women who loved gardens. My great-grandmother Josephine Crossley; my step great-grandmother Joyce Crossley and my grandmother Clare Crossley. In the case of the North Wing, it was 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. The bridal suite colours of silver and light blue are romantic and take advantage of the north facing windows; the sitting room celebrates the wonderful lake views and the sunlight through the large windows – here she has brought the garden inside.


What aspect of the restoration are you most proud of?

I am incredibly proud of the team that we drew together – they were all amazingly talented people, passionate about doing something they loved and excited about being involved in a very hands-on project. I am very proud of my husband’s project management skills and without him there on site it would be difficult to see how we could have come in on budget (and more or less on time)! It is wonderful to see the Abbey whole again and standing proud in the landscape with a purpose and giving our visitors and guests a truly amazing experience.


During the restoration did you come across any items that could tell a story of the lives that inhabited the Abbey previously?

Yes, in particular we came across a pair of shoes between two floors and after some research discovered that shoes were hidden like that to recognise a birth, and represented fecundity ensuring more healthy children. Also, we found a perfect bottle with a glass seal with the initials RSC on it – I believe they were beer bottles. There is not a flaw in it. Also, we found lots of early cigarette packets and early newspaper sheets!

Combermere Abbey has seen many eras and there have been reports that it’s haunted – have you personally ever seen a spirit?

No, I have not personally, but some people see ghosts, some feel them, and some hear them. However, my great grandfather Kenneth said he saw a monk coming down some ‘stairs’ in his study and disappearing through the floor. A complete mystery until a couple of years ago I met one of the Combermere family who said that the original crypt was under that spot! The most famous ghost picture is one taken by Sybil Corbett, Lord Combermere’s sister in the Library on the day he was buried. And when it was developed, he was sitting in his chair in the library.

Are there any plans to do more on restoration in the future?

In a house like this there are always things that could be improved and worked on. There is one range of buildings still to restore but also existing buildings which need upgrades to make them fit for purpose to use…so it is always a tussle as to who wins! However, there are still parts of the gardens and woodland which need attention in the next few years so that is where I will turn my attention to next.

Look out on our social media channels in the spring for the announcement of the Abbey tours. Alternatively, why not book a stay and Combermere Abbey to fully immerse yourself in this history country estate!