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A Night Away… a tremendous transformation brings new life to the Bradley Hare

An old-fashioned coaching inn, the Bradley Hare, in Wiltshire’s Maiden Bradley, has been dramatically, dazzlingly revamped under the aegis of interior designer Thurstan. This pub in the old mould is full of new tricks

The pocket of south-west Wiltshire in which the Bradley Hare sits may not quite be Hardy country, but its dips and mounds are as rough and romantic as any Tess Durbeyfield or Gabriel Oak knew. The village, Maiden Bradley, is a few miles east of the border with Somerset, while to the south, grassy hilltops give way to the green demesnes of Dorset’s Blackmore Vale. On Inigo’s visit, low cloud draped itself like gauze over Long Knoll, the large chalk ridge overlooking the village. It is, apparently, a puff-inducing walk to the top – though Inigo wouldn’t know, having shamefully forgone the walk, tempted instead by the gossamer steam hanging above the bathtub installed in one of the upper Coach House rooms in this beautifully appointed inn.

This is a pub in the old mould – still under the auspices of a local landlord in the truest sense; in this case the Dukes of Somerset. Those familiar with this part of the world may have once popped into the Somerset Arms, but oh, how things have changed – and not just in name. The current duke’s eldest son, Sebastian Seymour, has overseen the Bradley Hare’s total transformation, asking James Thurstan Waterworth, former European design director at Soho House and founder of his own eponymous business, Thurstan, to both join as a partner and to cast his expert eye over its interiors.

“When we started,” James says, “the interior was incredibly outdated. But,” he goes on enthusiastically, “there was so much potential. So much.” Though the building itself is mid-Victorian, the proportions throughout feel Georgian in their airiness – something James was keen to capitalise on, hence the walls of drabs and greens, and the 18th-century antiques dotted among the contemporary upholstery fabrics and Turkish rugs hanging as door curtains.

Happily, James had something of a cache to draw upon, having been collecting antiques for many years, storing them in a unit while waiting for the perfect places in which to put them. “I’m always buying ‘future finds’” he says. “It adds a much more authentically residential feel to projects like this one.” The art is worth mentioning too. No antiquated aquatints of field sports and frock coats here; instead, patrons may feel their eyes catching on the walls. Is that a Terry Frost? A Roger Hilton? It’s an altogether more pleasing offering than any other pub’s. But then, this is an altogether more pleasing pub than any other.

“We wanted the Bradley Hare to feel homey. I know everyone says that about their projects, but it really was at the forefront of our minds. We were really conscious of not appearing pretentious,” he says. That intent has become reality. Opening up fireplaces has helped, as has the gentle restructuring of the main rooms downstairs. Previously, visitors entered from the road into a cramped hall before turning into one of two bars on either side. Now, the main door has been moved to the side of the building, meaning the first thing you see on entering from the garden is the handsome high bar and smiling staff behind it. The old-fashioned games room, once home to that since-removed second bar, has been turned into a convivial dining room. “It’s amazing what a change in flow can do to spaces,” James explains. “Structurally, the smallest changes can be so powerful.”

After a few teething problems, the food has been finessed. Local meats and cheeses take star turns in the ever-changing menu, either decked out in semi-Italianate semblances (a rich ragu of venison; ricotta gnudi of giddy weightlessness), or in ‘best of British’ style – roasted partridge; a custard-clotted damson fool. Those who believe a bona fide pub menu needs a burger shan’t be disappointed either. The Bradley Hare’s is big and bold and beefy (or, indeed, not, should you go plant-based).

Again and again, James repeats the word “relaxed” when talking about the Bradley Hare. “That’s what you want to feel in a pub,” he says, “when you’re eating, drinking or sleeping.” And so, to the sleeping. Rooms here are generous. Even the smallest are larger than one might expect and many still bear traces of their 19th-century past, from doorknobs to wooden wall cupboards (reassuringly, however, heating, plumbing and all the rest have a firm footing in the 21st century). What were five rooms have now become 12, making use of a former coach house that had fallen to ruin – all in the space of 18 months.

In the main house, those robust Georgian hues run upstairs, meeting joyful wallpapers and making for generally cosier spaces. “They’re more traditional, in many ways,” James explains. “In the Coach House, the spaces are grander. I didn’t want heavy colours in there, as the light is so fantastic,” he goes on, explaining that the vibe is that little bit more modern. “What it does, that plainness, is that it gives the antiques space to shine – you really notice the beauty of the 17th-century Spanish side tables, or English oak box, for instance.” Bathrooms in both are, though occasionally bijou, utterly beautiful. Hardware feels pleasingly heavy in the hand, while tiles in liberal abundance gleam under flatteringly warm light.

What James likes most about the rooms, he says, is that each feels distinct, discrete from the rest. “It’s why people come back here,” he says. “To experience them all.” It’s not hard to understand why.

Further reading

The Bradley Hare

The Bradley Hare on Instagram

Thurstan

Thurstan on Instagram

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