Country houses for sale

Tips on hosting parties

Dear Mrs Danvers, We plan to hold a party for between 20 and 50 people to celebrate the completion of our barn project. We have converted this barn for use for wedding receptions and parties and we thought we should try it out with a real sit-down meal first. We want the party to be hugely stylish, and should like to use either old silver or silver-plate cutlery instead of the usual caterers’ hideous stainless-steel King’s Pattern. What do you suggest?

Most specialist silver dealers have huge stocks of both antique or modern silver as well as good-quality plate, because they have to buy in bulk then match up sets. You should ask one the costs of hiring the real thing for the day although they’ve probably never been asked for such a service. Work out exactly what you will need including silver or plate handled knives, serving spoons, ladles, salt and mustard spoons and do a deal with a friendly dealer.

Silver will obviously be more expensive and in shorter supply say 12 to 24 mixed pattern settings at most. You could first try the dealers in London’s Silver Vaults. John Hamilton is a cutlery specialist at Vault 19 (London Silver Vauls, Chancery House, Chancery Lane, London WC2; 020?7831 7501). He reckons that to hire a 12-piece set of silver cutlery for a couple of days would cost about £350 (the actual value of the silver being about £3,500), and for 50 table settings in good silver plate (value about £2,000), the hire charge would be about £400. This is because of the effort in cleaning and polishing the pieces. Remember to insure the silver or plate against damage or carelessness especially if you have caterers or use a dish-washing machine. ‘Red Wine on The Carpet’ a collection of Mrs Danvers’ advice, is published by Swan Hill Press at £12.99

Dear Mrs Danvers, I would like your help. My family is very keen for our centenarian relative to come to a family gathering, where she’ll be the matriarch. There are two problems: she lives in Yorkshire and the party is in Cambridgeshire; and she doesn’t want to stay overnight. She’s nearly blind and not too steady on her pins but remains resolutely game for anything.

The main problem is the length of journey perhaps up to five hours each way by car. You can, if money is no object and she’s willing, fly her from Yorkshire either by private plane or by helicopter. We’ve researched a notional journey from Durham Tees Valley Airport (formerly Teesside Airport) to Cambridge airfield. Northern Aviation ( owns two B200 Beechcraft Super Kings (twin turboprops flying at 350mph) and is based at Tees Valley Airport, but they get booked up and couldn’t help us. So it’s worth booking well in advance.

Another,, run by two retired airline captains, has a De-Havilland Dove which first appeared in 1945 and is now usually in museums (so appropriate for cen-tenarians?). But the plane was being used to ferry rugby fans to France. Our third call was to, which is based in Bournemouth and flies all over the country with aircraft such as a twin-piston-engined Piper Navajo. The boss/pilot, Jamie Rose, was once a medic and is happy to take wheelchair-bound passengers. The following figures are based on his timings and costings.

Using Tees Valley Airport, she would have to leave her nursing home about 9.45am, arriving at Cambridge at midday. An Aeromega helicopter ( would take her to the party by 12.35pm, to the amazement of all. If she left at 4.30pm, she would arrive back at the home at 7.20pm. The round trip would take five hours 40 minutes, plus four hours at your party. The cost would be roughly £3,300 in total. If you were to plump for a limousine so she could travel in comfort, door to door, we budgeted for a journey time of about nine hours (thus allowing for a stop for a cup of tea and comfort break en route) plus four hours at the party, making a total of 13 hours.

We asked GBS Executive Cars of Harrogate (01423 360000; to quote for the journey and the price was £312.50 for a Volvo estate. Another firm quoted £600 for a grander Mercedes. So there’s a huge price difference between flying and driving. It’s also worth remembering that, if you’re mob-handed like a rugby team or supporters’ group, the price of flying per person drops dramatically.