When Country Life wrote about Buxted Park in 1934, it was the home of Basil Ionides, the architect who transformed Claridges and the Savoy between the wars. On February 23, 1940, fire gutted the house. The wily Ionides persuaded Sir George Chrystal, the civil servant in charge of construction, that he would be doing a service in rebuilding it because many local builders were unemployed.
As the hotel guide slightly wickedly puts it, Ionides ?visited bombed-out buildings salvaging covings, cornices, chandeliers and show doors. So good was the quality of the items he salvaged that some scurrilous people have actually suggested he was paying the Germans to bomb particular houses?. Further architectural notes suggest that many of Ionides? choicest pieces came from houses demolished before the war. These include Adam maho-gany doors from 23?25, Port- land Place, and the staircase from 30, Old Burlington Street, both in London, and a fireplace from Clumber Park in the Dukeries.
The house was next bought by Kenneth Shipman, the owner of Twickenham Studios, who entertained stars such as Marlon Brando, Dudley Moore and Gregory Peck there, and Mrs Shipman added a large new wing to serve a luxurious spa. When the Shipmans divorced, the ?young staff of over 100 beau- tiful girls? stood around in tears at being given notice. Buxted was then acquired by the Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates for use by the ruler of Abu Dhabi. The spa wing was adapted for the women of the sheikh?s household and was guarded by a eunuch.
Left to fall into a state of dilapidation, the house was bought in 1986 by the Engi-neering and Electrical Union, and then recently by Julia Hands, energetic chairman of Handpicked Hotels, who in the past few years has spent more than £35 million in restoring a selection of mainly country-house hotels. Work is under way on bringing the large garden into order?we saw a flourishing group of wild orchids outside the walled garden.
The house, a popular venue for lavish weddings, is little more than 15 minutes? drive from Glyndebourne. Rooms are decorated in sleek modern style, with silk curtains, large sofas and exceedingly comfortable beds. The room we stayed in?the Churchill suite?was grand enough to be the backdrop for a Zoffany conversation piece. It is definitely a place to have breakfast served in the room. The bathroom was palatial, with a giant shower and bathtub set throne-like in the middle of the white marble floor.
Buxted Park Hotel, Buxted, Uckfield, East Sussex. Rooms from £190 per night, including breakfast. For details of a special offer for Country Life readers, telephone 01825 733333 or visit www.handpicked.co.uk