lit’s not just white Lotus hotels — you get that undeniably extra “ooh” factor when you stay somewhere that’s been on TV. Perhaps it was inspected by Alex Polizzi, was part of a Coogan-Brydon road trip, or was called “Amazing” by Monica Galetti and Giles Coren. The show I saw about Boys Hall – a Jacobean mansion that is Kent’s newest hot-property-restaurant-with-rooms – was hosted by Yvette Fielding. Filmed when the 17th century building near Ashford was privately owned, it was a 2007 episode of Most spooky. Shot mostly in blurry night vision it’s hilariously unconvincing – so camp it’s more Lionel Blair than Blair witch – and I didn’t believe a word of it. But then I caught myself thinking of ghostly star-crossed lovers, grumpy stablehands and jovial Falstaff types? Of course I did.
So it was with some relief that when I arrived at Boys Hall last Saturday under a darkening sky, my immediate impression was one of warmth. It didn’t just come from the wood burning stove by the big cozy sofas in reception, but also from the staff passing drinks and snacks, and from the merry group of guests who still carry on in the main lounge after a long lunch. The place was full of life and color – unrecognizable from the TV show and not just because the lights were now on. The only spirits on display were the “make mine a large” type that filled the brass-framed shelves behind the bar.
Boys Hall is located in a Grade II listed Jacobean manor house
Brad and Kristie Lomas are the couple who bought the Grade II listed hall in 2019 and can take credit for its transformation, cutting away the chimney-height wisteria to reveal the four stone and brick facades and mullions; remove drywall to show off antique oak beams; and peeling carpet from wooden floorboards and stairs. They removed a throne-style toilet from a bathroom and a pink marble shower from a bedroom, replacing tack with tasteful fabrics, antique portraits (including, ghostly, one with scratched-out eyes), and greenery everywhere.
Downstairs, in addition to lounges and snug areas and the 20-seater private dining room, they have created a cozy pub in the part of the hall that was originally the 1616 Wealden hall house of the original owners Thomas and Margaret Boys, and built a tall oak beamed and glazed dining room with a bar on one side and a huge fireplace on the other. Upstairs, they’ve just opened seven bedrooms – three more will be completed later this year. Beams and wobbly floors and curious spaces that might have been hiding places for priests or smugglers are now finished with paint from Farrow & Ball, fabrics from Linwood and Sanderson, super-king size beds and Kristie’s vintage furniture finds.
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It joins the Rose in Deal, the Pig near Canterbury, Updown Farmhouse near Deal and Fort Road Hotel in Margate in Kent’s growing range of cool, food-focused boutique hotels that are attracting the DFLs (of Londoners) to the South East of the capital.
A number of Boys Hall bedrooms have free standing baths
My room, Romney, at the top of the house, is a huge space with dark sage walls, burnt-orange pillows, mind-your-head beams, and kitschy bamboo furniture. It’s one of several rooms with free-standing baths in the bedroom – I also loved Banks’ pale pink and jades and Margaret’s dark blues and greens. Sovereign and Franklin have beautiful four-poster beds and the Bishop’s Quarter – one of three to come – has carved wood paneling that was a gift from Charles I (he hid here from the Roundheads).
It looks like they’ve spent a lot more on the refurbishment than the £1 million it’s cost them so far, but they’ve made excellent use of her frugality and tinkering (she’s set up the craft pub Drink Shop & Do in King’s Cross, London), her long background in hospitality (he was the operational director of the East London Pub Co) and the expertise and local contacts of her master craftsman father.
“When we came in it was cold and damp,” says Brad. “I can see how the previous owners discovered it was haunted.”
“It was creepy at first,” says Kristie. “If Brad left a room, I’d find an excuse to go with him. But when we opened it up, brightened up the space and warmed it up, the atmosphere improved.”
That’s not to say history is swept under the rug, says Brad: “There are so many stories in the walls, we embrace that.” A book on display at the reception describes a 1779 Christmas “like an 18th century Hello! magazine article”.
Brad, who previously led a team of 200 people, says their goal in leaving London was to “get back to hospitality, to being hospitable”. He cites the Pig group of hotels as a big influence – the one at Bridge Place is half an hour away. “We wanted Boys Hall to feel open and accessible, not exclusive like some other places where people can go crazy.”
And they’ve pulled it off even in these times of hospitality recruitment crisis – the staff are all smiles and just the right amount of friendliness. Brad says it’s been trickier to fill the rolls in the kitchen, and maybe it’s true that the food takes a while to arrive, but once it does, it’s excellent. The restaurant opened in September and has already built up an enthusiastic local fan base. The new chef, Shane Pearson, has come via Blacklock and Caravan in London; influences from both are evident in entrées such as sticky braised venison on crumpet with pickled blackberries, or charred hake on flat nettle bread. My only criticism here – prepare your little violins – is that the portions were a bit too big. But as a humane plate clearer as I am, I still polished my main course of venison steak with smoked garlic and port gravy. Apple Crumble Soufflé was the star pud.
The fish is sourced locally from Hastings and Hythe
Kent’s role as the Garden of England is taken very seriously here. The ingredients are as local as possible, from bread baked in Hythe to coffee roasted down the road to fish landed in Hastings and Hythe. Brad is a great champion of the wines produced in the county and there are four Kentish fizzes available by the glass. It’s not just food and drink either. The gorgeous toiletries are from Pelegrims, co-founded by former Haeckels executive Alex Verier, and are made with grape extracts from the Westwell Vineyard, eight miles away. Full size bottles, of course. The couple are so connected to Kent’s new cool ecosystem that Kristie herself is local, having grown up three miles away in Mersham.
A lot of thought has gone into what’s on offer – shout out to the Tunnock’s Caramels in the honesty bar – but it’s striking what’s not there. No TVs. No dogs in bedrooms or restaurant (children are welcome in both). No weddings. No fries on the menu. No avocado. Can’t say I disapprove (the crispy ratte potatoes justify the lack of chips).
If there’s a catch, it’s the location. Because although Boys Hall is a five minute taxi ride from Ashford station, and therefore 42 minutes from central London, you really do need a car if you’re staying for more than one night, however delicious the food and the windmill just down the road are . Brad is considering going on Land Rover tours of Kent’s vineyards, but otherwise it’s short drives to all the things that make the county worth exploring: scenic walks along the coast or in the North Downs; seaside towns like Margate, Deal and Folkestone are busy rediscovering their mojo.
Either way, Boys Hall is going to do brilliantly – Brad and Kristie have worked wonders and are not resting on their laurels. There are the other three rooms that need finishing, grand plans for a vegetable garden on the property, oak cottages around the pond, greater sustainability efforts. I’m almost disappointed that I didn’t hear any bumps at night and didn’t see any apparitions. But the couple has their own vision, and there’s plenty to be excited about.
Liz Edwards guested at Boys Hall, which has B&B doubles from £160; mains from £18 (boys-hall.com)
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