Stirk House - weddings, fine dining and boxing
PUBLISHED: 00:00 14 July 2017
One of the Ribble Valley’s oldest hotels has had a stylish contemporary make-over, writes Roger Borrell.
If you ever see a photograph of a bride wearing a pair of boxing gloves don’t worry – this probably wasn’t the start of a stormy marriage. It’s more likely the happy couple were wed at Stirk House, a historic hotel in the Ribble Valley.
It has to be the only hotel with a full size boxing ring – something that has become a favourite for newly weds looking for a quirky reminder of their big day.
It’s a very modern concept at a very ancient establishment, found on the outskirts of Gisburn. It was built in the 1630s partly with stone ‘acquired’ from Sawley Abbey after Henry VIII knocked it about. It has its own priest hole, a mark of the first owner’s allegiances.
In the early 1800s Stirk House was a venue for wild parties thrown by a London financier and later owners included the Hartley family, most famous for one member, William, who was bandmaster on SS Titanic.
A gent called Harry Speak bought it in the 1930s for a mere £500 and set about turning it into a hotel. A major refurbishment followed a fire in the 1950s and the restored hotel gained a reputation as an exclusive venue with flunkies in white gloves and tailcoats.
It was around this time that it became a popular location for wedding receptions and that continues to this day. Amanda Arends, the sales and business development manager, said: ‘Not so long ago we hosted 18 weddings in a year. We’ve just done 22 in one month!’
Its most recent owner is businessman Paul Caddy and the hotel is run by his daughter, Helen Kay, in partnership with Kevin Maree, one of Britain top boxing trainers, who runs Maree Leisure.
He is based at the neighbouring leisure club which boasts, as well as a boxing ring, a gym, heated pool, steam room and sauna. The connection means that some of the world’s top boxers – including Mike Tyson, Rickie Hatton and Joe Frazier – have been spotted at the hotel. Hoping to join them in the hall of fame is Oldham’s Mark Heffron, an unbeaten middleweight, trained by Kevin at Stirk House and now managed by the legendary Frank Warren.
Amanda and the team are helping to ensure the rest of Stirk House punches above its weight. ‘When I arrived I went out onto the streets of the towns and villages in the Ribble Valley and did my own marketing by asking people what they knew about Stirk House,’ said Amanda.
‘Everyone had heard of it but many said they hadn’t been there for 20 years. People passed the sign on the A59 but didn’t come in. We are changing all that.’
Parts of the hotel had become dated and the owners are investing substantial sums giving it a new lease of life. Contemporary furnishings, exclusive wallpaper from the USA and high end lighting have worked well with the ancient stonework in the public rooms. The bedrooms are being similarly upgraded and the restaurant – under the guidance of experienced head chef Chris Dobson – has been rebranded as Prime and renewed as a sophisticated space where guests can enjoy locally sourced food.
Chris, from Accrington, has been a market gardener so he knows his greens as well as his meat. ‘I have Michelin-style classical background,’ he said. ‘We aim to produce good simple food, locally sourced, seasonal and sympathetically cooked.
Stirk House is set in 22 acres, with its own piece of ancient woodland, a bird hide and picnic lawns. Its drive to reduce its carbon footprint has brought it awards for sustainability as well as for its work on wildlife conservation, particularly with the World Owl Trust. The grounds are regarded as a wildlife haven with the hotel team listing 15 mammals and 49 bird species.
‘It’s a beautiful hotel in what has to be one of the most beautiful locations in Britain,’ said Amanda. ‘More and more people are coming to the Ribble Valley and we are determined to be part of that.’