A Night Away: a Kentish vision of the good life at Boys Hall
Those heading straight for the Kent coast might be missing a trick. This historic house is as sophisticated a bolthole for epicureans as any – with none of the stuffiness
- Cat Olley
Boys Hall in Ashford comes with historical anecdotes of a rather higher calibre than most period buildings – even those in the same grand old Jacobean mould. There was the time that Charles I rocked up for an overnighter when fleeing Oliver Cromwell (all relatively short-lived, as it turns out), or the visit from diarist Samuel Pepys, whose oil portrait now presides over the drawing room. There’s even a bit of Boys Hall treasure tucked away in the British Museum, after 17 gold coins were found under the floorboards here in 1972.
When Brad and Kristie Lomas turned up almost half a century later, charmed by a shot of the wisteria-tangled façade they’d seen online, they were met with the sight of a man eating a Pot Noodle in front of the telly, kettle to his left and microwave to his right. “It had been turned into a very peculiar house in multiple occupation,” says Kristie, the founder of King’s Cross craft café Drink, Shop & Do. The couple had previously offered on a similar proposition on a clifftop in north Wales, but quickly realised Kristie’s upbringing down the road from Boys in Mersham could be a boon for business. “It was a case of better the devil you know,” she adds. “I was also aware that there wasn’t really anything like Boys Hall in this particular pocket of Kent.” Although the scale of the job on their hands was plain to see, so too was the potential in its panelled walls and mullioned windows.
The big idea was to turn this 1616 Kentish Wealden hall house, once home to aristocrats Thomas and Margaret Boys, into a food-focused bolthole with none of the exclusivity or members’ clubbiness that marked out similar offerings. Enlisting Kristie’s master-craftsman father to help steer renovations (that “devil” could be characterised by either the major leaks – 24 of them – or the old plasterboard used to conceal beams), they rebuilt great brick fireplaces and relaid stone floors. “There isn’t a part of the building Brad hasn’t crawled through,” says Kristie. She took the lead on the interiors, with a little help from Tenterden-based Kagu, choosing wallpapers and fabrics from Linwood, Sanderson and GP&J Baker to add pep to historic bones.
The couple, who describe hospitality as an “art form”, have hit on a hard-to-fake air of conviviality here. In the double-height glazed restaurant, which opened last September, plates of turbot, Kentish mussels and Chart Farm venison are met with happy murmurings. (“Good food, good drink, good provenance” is Brad’s mantra.) The list of Kentish fizzes, meanwhile, is a local roll call. The restaurant had just taken receipt of a rare 1992 batch when Inigo sits down for dinner and Brad, a former operations director of The East London Pub Co., is positively giddy. “Whether you’re in the Napa Valley or Bordeaux, any restaurant will predominantly have wine from its own region,” he says. “So why aren’t we all doing it?”
The make-mine-a-double mood of the place belies a precise attention to detail, down to the extra box of Scrabble in the lounge. There’s even something reassuring about the unmistakable slope of the floor in our room, named for Margaret Boys herself. “We haven’t knocked the bedrooms about,” says Brad. “It was always a case of stripping the building back to what makes it so magical.”
Everywhere here there’s either history or heft, from the carved oak staircase that leads up to the seven bedrooms (three more are coming soon), to the enormous joists in the restaurant. Though the timber in this wing is not yet two years old, a winter in the rain, due to glazing delays, has weathered the wood to perfection (if not quite back to the 17th century). At every turn, Kristie and Brad have smartly leaned into the generous scale of the place and there’s a sense of generosity in its plush armchairs, sized-up lamps and lofty upholstered headboards, which are paired with the kind of mattresses you make a point to ask about the next morning (Hypnos, of course).
“What I have always enjoyed on weekends away has been starting the day with tea and cake in a beautiful room, followed by lunch in a restaurant, then a pint in the pub. Spend 24 hours here and you’ll have all of those experiences,” says Kristie. In the same spirit, the couple are now busy sizing up the stables for a handful of extra rooms – though Kristie is just as keen to use the space in the interim as an antiques barn, selling pieces left over from the renovation. “Hopefully, we’ll soon have planning permission for nine cabins. And we’ve got our walled garden – we want to do a pop-up in the summer with firepits and rosé,” adds Brad. Count us in.
Boys Hall on Instagram
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