Walking through The Ritz en route to the judging for Country Life’s best parsonage competition, I turned left before the restaurant. It was an exciting moment. Not only because of what I knew would be the lively discussion about parsonages that awaited over lunch, but because I had never before taken this route to William Kent’s Arlington House, built for First Minister Henry Pelham in the 1740s, and now elegantly incorporated into what is, architecturally if nothing else, London’s premier hotel.
Louis XVI to Palladianism: tail-coated waiters with Champagne were strategically positioned to revive guests overcome by the transition. At first sight, The Ritz, whose defining adjectives must be opulent and Lucullan, might seem a strange place to consider parsonages. Urbane pampering is not the keynote of the modern Church of England; but then, sadly, only one of the parsonages on our shortlist was still in its original use.
It was a fiercely fought contest. I was only an observer, but, even so, felt the need for a calming cigar. What? You can’t smoke one in The Ritz? Fortunately, a deckchair in St James’s Park did very nearly as well. Country Life publishes the competition winner on September 17.