Tim and Stefa Hart bought Hambleton Hall in 1979 and opened as a hotel and restaurant in July 1980. Tim had spent 10 years in finance after taking a philosophy degree at Cambridge University. The move to Rutland enabled him to indulge his enthusiasms for food, wine, gardens, country living and hospitality.
Tim is still closely involved with the hotel. His wife Stefa practices as an interior designer but in 1980 was too busy with small children to undertake the Hambleton project, and instead asked her friend Nina Campbell to take charge. Nina’s schemes still survive in the bar and private dining room. Elsewhere Stefa’s touch is evident throughout.
It is hard to imagine today that in Walter Marshall’s time Rutland and Leicestershire had something of the atmosphere of a resort area. Melton Mowbray, the Mecca of fox hunting, meant the same to enthusiasts as St. Moritz might to skiers or St. Tropez to beach-lovers in modern times. Hambleton Hall provided an ideal base for hunting with the Cottesmore, Quorn, Belvoir or Fernie hounds, and participation in the intensive social activities centred on Melton, Market Harborough and outlying estates and houses.
Some time ago Tim Hart had the good fortune to receive, on loan, Walter Marshall’s scrap book. This document consists of a compilation of clippings mostly of a scandalous or scurrilous kind reflecting his interest in gossip, scandalous divorces, demi-mondaine girls (some revealing their arms and ankles) and spicy tales from the ‘pink-un’.
Marshall remained a bachelor and when he died seems best remembered locally for the excellence of his table and cellar, and the convivial if slightly ‘racey’ company he kept.
He left his house to his younger sister Eva Astley Paston Cooper. Although Eva started life as a keen devotee of the chase, from the age of 50 onwards she presided over a salon of bright young things including Noël Coward, Malcolm Sargent and Charles Scott Moncrieff.
In his autobiography ‘Present Indicative’ Noël Coward describes Mrs. Astley Paston Cooper in the following terms: "Mrs Cooper was gay company. Her principle pleasure was to lie flat on her back upon a mattress in front of the fire and shoot off witticisms in a sort of petulant wail."
Mrs Astley Patson Cooper’s granddaughter has suggested that Noël Coward’s rather uncharitable remarks about his benefactor were somewhat influenced by the fact that the young Noël was made to spend most of his waking hours here chopping down trees for the good of his health!
After Mrs Cooper’s death Lord Trent, Dr. Brockbank and Major and Mrs Hoare enjoyed the house in their turn until the 1970s brought two big surprises. The creation of Rutland Water in 1976 (to provide water for the inhabitants of Peterborough and Northampton) transformed the outside environment, while Tim & Stefa Hart transformed the inside in 1979/80.
The house has come full circle. As a small hotel and restaurant for discriminating diners and travellers, the house has returned to a very similar convivial use to that for which it was built.