Built by George Hodgkinson Barrow in the early nineteenth century, and set in 30 acres of well manicured lawns and hedges, Ringwood Hall Hotel is a Georgian grade 2 listed Manor House close to the market town of Chesterfield. Funded no doubt from the considerable profits of the famous Staveley iron and coal works, it must have once been a very atmospheric and beautiful stately home. Unfortunately this beauty has now been replaced by cold, corporate functionality, and the hall has become little more than a factory for grinding out thousands of identical budget wedding receptions.
The bedrooms are large, well equipped and comfortable, and my room had a TV screen the size of a tennis court. As soon as you step outside your room, however, the public areas are less than welcoming and they will soon send you scurrying back to the comfort of your room. Once surrounded by beautiful sprawling countryside, the hotel is now hemmed in by uninteresting streets lined with bland sixties housing. So if you fancy a nice country stroll before dinner, there’s really nowhere to go.
In order to expose original architectural features the designers have decided to leave some areas of the residents’ restaurant undecorated – exposing unsightly brick walls and unrendered door arches. This may be an excellent idea on paper, but in the execution makes the whole restaurant area feel unfinished and unfriendly – as if the builders are still waiting for some plaster to arrive. I had a peek at this room during my initial inspection and as a result decided to eat in my room. My dinner was, however, very good indeed. Crab fish cakes served with creamy Tartare sauce and the most delicious chunky chips – all served on a trendy rectangular wooden platter.
I decided to have breakfast in the unfinished restaurant, which was, to my horror, laid out in the style of a hot buffet. I have never really understood this style of service. At least eight waitresses stood motionless around the edge of the room and calmly watched while a restaurant full of paying guests dashed breathlessly back and forth – pouring themselves coffee, serving themselves with eggs and bacon and waiting for their toast to pop out of the toaster. I’m genuinely surprised we weren’t asked to wash up our own plates.
George Hodgkinson Barrow would turn in his grave. This is not service. Is it too much to ask that my own hot breakfast be cooked for me by a chef and served right away? Many much larger (and less expensive) hotels seem to manage this without difficulty, so I don’t understand why it’s not possible at Ringwood Hall and thousands of corner-cutting hotels like them.