Switch on to an amazing escape to Raithby Hall!

Walking around the magnificent interior of Raithby Hall, you almost expect to bump into Dick Strawbridge and his wife Angel.

Raithby Hall
Raithby Hall

They’re the TV couple who bought a dilapidated chateau in France and transformed it into a luxury wedding venue.

Helped by the exposure of Channel 4’s hit ‘Escape To The Chateau’, they have become household names - and are on their way to their first million.

Stephen Cox and his wife Brenda Hobbin hope to follow a similar route.

Raithby Hall

It’s 13 years since they saw Raithby Hall for the first time.

Tucked away in the beautiful Lincolnshire Wolds, it has an impressive history.

The hall was built in 1760 although some parts date back to 1604.

It was the ‘seat’ of the Brackenbury and Rawnsley families, and many of Lincolnshire’s finest and most famous sons have slept under its distinguished roof and wandered the extensive grounds.

The owner, Brenda Hobbin, in one of the many amazing rooms.

John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, spent many a night at the hall.

In 1779, Robert Brackenbury built Wesley a chapel in the grounds. The Grade One listed chapel is the oldest Methodist chapel in Lincolnshire, and one of the oldest in England still in use.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, was born in nearby Somersby. He became a warden of the Brackenbury family and was a frequent visitor.

Inspired by its unique beauty and serenity, he wrote his poem ‘The Eagle’ in the grounds.

The designer, Simon Wilson, is a former Skegness Grammar School student.

More recently, the hall has served as a private residence, a care home, and a boarding school.

It was May 2007 when Stephen and Brenda saw the hall for the first time.

The couple had met as students at Warwick University and became teachers.

They lived and worked in Cairo for a time but returned to the UK to launch their own business – Osiris Educational – in 1996.

Raithby Hall

It has developed into the largest teacher training company in the UK.

Living in Bardney and Woodhall Spa, the couple had young children and wanted a home where they could combine business and family life.

Raithby fitted the bill, although it was hardly love at first sight, as Brenda recalls.

She says: “It took Stephen about 12 months to convince me it was the right house for us.

“He could see the potential. It was certainly big but to me it was too big, too imposing.”

Despite initial doubts, the couple moved in the following year.

Raithby Hall

The hall had been stripped of some of its historic features, including doors and fireplaces.

That did not deter Stephen and Brenda, who set about transforming the 30-odd rooms, including 16 bedrooms.

They’d accumulated many artefacts themselves after years travelling the world.

When it came to choosing a designer, they opted for someone closer to home.

Simon Wilson had been a friend of the couple’s daughter at Skegness Grammar School before going on to study art in Lincoln and London.

Brenda explained: “Simon didn’t have a lot of experience and but he was different, unique and had some brilliant ideas.

“When we met him, we knew he was exactly the person we wanted.”

While Stephen and Brenda have supplied some furnishings – and considerable investment - Simon’s inspiration and innovation has been the key.

Each bedroom has been designed on an individual theme, ranging from Italian Renaissance to a room with an Austin Powers’ style circular bed - complete with shaggy rug!

Some rooms are historic, while others are full of bright, bold colours.

Simon’s passion and knowledge of the art world has created amazing designs.

There’s the Captain’s Room, the Lake Room, the Boho Room, the Psychedelic Room, the Rose Room.

There’s even a ‘boudoir’ transporting you to Paris.

The different beds – including some sturdy four posters – are just one feature.

Brenda explains: “We could have gone out and bought 16 beds from the same place. It would have been cheaper, but it just wouldn’t have worked.

“It has been fun searching for all the different beds and other materials, but we couldn’t have achieved what we have without Simon.

“When he’s finished here, he will move on somewhere else. Whoever gets him – home or abroad – will be very, very lucky.”

Simon and Brenda show me to another room, in a recently converted office... brushed gold wallpaper and all.

Most of the rooms boast individual en-suites and one even has ‘glitter grouting’.

“The tilers hated me for that,” says Simon. “It was difficult and when they went home, they looked like they’d spent the day in a kids’ nursery!”

The renovation is still on-going, although the first guests hired the entire hall for Christmas and were impressed.

Some designs might not be to everyone’s tastes but none of them could be labelled as boring or predictable.

On the ground floor, there’s a room that wouldn’t look out of place in one of those expensive Gentleman’s Clubs in London. It even has a bar and a card table.

The gardens have also been transformed, although this time it is Stephen who appears to have had most of the ideas.

Some of the grounds resembled a marsh when the family moved in. A 24-ton digger later – and a bit of imagination – the hall now has a picturesque lake.

Brenda says: “We’ve swam in the lake and even held water polo matches there. The children loved it.”

When the family looked behind a row of laurel bushes, they discovered a secret garden, covering about an acre.

It now has a Japanese theme with a stream, wooden bridges, flowering cherry trees and a pagoda.

Even on a dank Wednesday in January, the garden is a tranquil paradise, the silence broken only by the sound of gurgling water or a chirpy song bird.

Everywhere you look – inside and out– there’s something different to see, including a French newspaper to read on a loo wall.

“See that line of trees over there,” says Simon, pointing across the Japanese garden. “It’s one of only three of its type in this country. I’m just not so sure which one it is!”

If Simon is lost for words on trees, he’s certainly not short of enthusiasm.

Back inside the hall and he throws open yet another door... this time leading to a soon-to-be function room.

I’m not a betting man, but I would put money on the walls not being painted magnolia!

There are surely exciting times ahead, although the mind can only boggle at what it has all cost.

Brenda adds: “I’d rather not think about it or I’d probably never sleep at night!

“It’s not just the money, it’s the time and effort we’ve all invested.

“But what we have is amazing, something that – thanks to Simon – is unique.

“We could have settled on a another period family home, but was never going to be us. I wouldn’t swap it for the world.”

Raithby Hall is certainly different. It is Lincolnshire’s best-kept secret and even Mr and Mrs Strawbridge would be envious.

‘Escape to Raithby’ has a nice ring to it...

Raithby Hall