Take a peek at a little bed and breakfast with Jane Austen ties with Joan Mossop.
I run a B&B St Mary’s Hall in Alton which is 1 mile from Jane Austen House Museum so have sooo many JA fans to stay with us from all over the world.
St Mary’s is a converted church which adds a lovely historic theme for our guests. This is my retirement project which is a very satisfying way to meet interesting people and offer them a wonderful place to stay while here in Hampshire doing all things Jane Austen. I am also on the committee for the Jane Austen Regency Week which is held each June here in Alton and Chawton and is growing year on year but is still in it’s infancy!
How did you come to St Mary’s Hall?
I decided to retire from the Financial Services industry, and wanted to have more time at home and do something I really enjoy doing – looking after people. We lived nearby in Alton and noticed St Mary’s Hall was up for sale. We went to view it on the spur of the moment and immediately felt it had huge potential, though we knew it needed a lot of work!
Taking the business from where it was then to where it is now has been incredibly satisfying. We’ve listened to our guests over the years – both leisure and business travellers – and continued to make improvements, and the great feedback we get makes all the hard work so worthwhile.
Could you tell us a little more about the B&B?
St Mary’s Hall is an award winning 4-star B&B in a converted church in Alton, Hampshire.
Our en-suite accommodation is of the highest quality, with lots of little extras to make it feel like a home from home. We’re rated number 1 in Alton on Trip Advisor, recommended by the Times, and we’re really proud of the awards we’ve one, including Gold at the Beautiful South Awards 2011 and 2012/13.
St Mary’s Hall is in a beautiful part of the world – we’ve got the wonderful Jane Austen’s House Museum and Chawton House Library both just a short walk away, as well as The Watercress Line steam railway, Gilbert White’s House and Gardens in Selborne, Winchester Cathedral, South Downs National Park and Goodwood.
Although we’re in a peaceful setting, Alton town centre is just a few minutes’ walk away, with some good restaurants and pubs – Monty’s and the George are our personal favourites, a regular farmers’ market and excellent transport links. Walkers and cyclists are welcome and we’ve got secure off street parking.
What are some of the unique things about being a building with so much history attached to it?
St Mary’s Hall really is unique – it was consecrated on 19th May 1912 by the right reverend Dr Cotter, the RC Bishop of Portsmouth and sold by the church in 1997. The building has been very carefully renovated – retaining beautiful original features like the altar stone (in what is now the kitchen), vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows and of course the tower (home to our popular Tower Suite), but we’ve introduced modern home comforts like underfloor heating and power showers in the bathrooms. We like to think of it as the best of both worlds!
We recently celebrated the building’s centenary, inviting friends past and present to join the celebrations with all proceeds going towards the new St Mary’s Church Roof Appeal. We had a lovely time reminiscing and found out all sorts of things about how the hall has been used over the years – lots of people have very fond memories, so it was lovely to bring everyone together and raise money for a good cause.
Are there any historical stories about the building you would like to share?
Sister Cecilia from the Convent of Our Lady of Providence told us a bit more about the history of St Mary’s Hall at the centenary celebrations. She said, “In the early 1900s there were very few Catholics in Alton and only rarely did a Priest visit the town to celebrate Mass in such delectable places as a café, the Red Lion on Normandy Street or the Assembly Rooms. In 1910 a Mrs Cecil Mangles from Newton Valance collected subscriptions from 100 prominent Catholics across the country to build a church in Alton and in 1912 the little church in Albert Road was ready for use. The first Priest was Father William O’Sullivan followed by Father (later Canon) John Lane. Sisters from the Convent of Our Lady of Providence ran a kindergarten at St Mary’s and still do today at the Convent School at Ansty Manor.”
What do you like best about running the B&B?
This one’s easy – we love welcoming guests and knowing they’ve enjoyed their stay with us. Whether they’re here on holiday or for business, we want each and every one of our guests to feel at home here.
What are some of the most memorable/unique experiences you’ve had with the B&B?
We often get writers and speakers staying with us during Jane Austen Regency Week, or for events at Chawton House Library and Jane Austen’s House Museum – it’s always exciting when we have celebrated authors and academics gracing our breakfast table!
We also love it when brides-to-be choose to stay here the night before their wedding. It can be a bit of a whirlwind on the big day – hair, makeup, champagne at breakfast! – but it’s lovely to be a part of their special day, and we often get couples coming back time and again as St Mary’s Hall holds such happy memories for them.
Are you a Jane Austen fan? What is your favourite work of hers?
Of course! Pride & Prejudice – one of the books Jane worked on at her home in Chawton (now Jane Austen’s House Museum), just a stone’s throw from St Mary’s Hall.
What do you think Jane Austen might say about the B&B and what you’re doing with it?
I don’t know what Jane herself would think, but we get lots of Jane Austen fans from all over the world who tell us they love it here at St Mary’s Hall, and the staff at the nearby museum are always happy to recommend us so we’ll take that as a compliment!
Could you tell us a little about Jane Austen Regency Week?
We LOVE Regency Week – the festival takes place each June, bringing the streets of Alton and Chawton – where Jane Austen lived and worked – alive with a whole host of exciting events. One of our favourite things to do is a horse and carriage ride through the town, just as Jane Austen would have done in her day, but there’s so much to choose from – all the events and details are listed on the website at www.janeaustenregencyweek.co.uk
Check out more about St. Mary’s Hall:
tel: +44 (0) 1420 88269 fax: +44 (0) 1420 86245
St Mary’s Hall Bed & Breakfast
18 Albert Road, Alton, Hampshire, GU34 1LP, UK