It is early evening, midwinter, and I’ve arranged to meet my friends for a pre-dinner drink in what was the billiards room. But I’m finding it difficult to tear myself away from my bedroom, which is so calming in its understated luxury. Soothed by the earthy pigments and stylish, modern furnishings, I’m lying on the bed watching snow falling silently into a tree filled gorge and the wooded dene of the Ouseburn, all I can see from the window, yet we are scarcely a mile from Newcastle.
The Arts-and-Crafts architect Richard Norman Shaw exploited this setting when, in the 1870s and 1880s, he remodelled the original Georgian house with extensions featuring tall, mullioned and transomed gables and lavish Jacobean-style panelling and plasterwork. Further additions in a similar vein were made by the local archi-tect F. W. Rich in 1896?7, including a laboratory for the owner, Sir Andrew Noble, a partner in Lord Armstrong’s Tyneside shipbuilding and armaments company.
Jesmond Dene was Noble’s townhouse, and Kipling and Baden Powell were among his guests here. Sold in 1931 to the City of Newcastle, it later became a special needs school until 2001. There followed several demolition threats, but in 2004, the house was bought by the ecologically minded property developer Peter Candler, and the Michelin-starred chef Terry Laybourne.
Their unusual interests and skills have combined to create a hotel that exemplifies Newcastle’s recent renaissance. Cleverly, they have introduced a very contemporary aesthetic that works well with the historic fabric, with oak-framed additions by architect David Kendall, and interior decoration by Jill Holst. Surviving Arts-and-Crafts detail, such as the De Morgan tiled inglenook fireplace in the original dining room, combines strikingly with contemporary paintings and Italian furniture. Although a strong sense of history prevails framed photographs show the interior as it was in Noble’s day there is no doubt that this is a sophisticated modern hotel, with state-of-the-art fittings and communications systems, and elaborate facilities for conferences in the oak-panelled ballroom.
Perhaps the only drawback of staying a night in a really good hotel is that it’s so difficult to decide how and where to divide up the precious hours. I could quite happily spend all evening in my bedroom, but dinner in the former music room, where Lady Noble played hymns to her servants each morning, beckons. I choose a salad of grilled Craster kippers and roast venison with winter fruits from chef Jose Graziosi’s outstanding menu. With a grand cru Burgundy, it is one of the most memorable meals I’ve ever had.
Jesmond Dene House, Newcastle-upon-Tyne (0191?212 3000) www.jesmonddenehouse.co.uk).Prices are from £150 for a double room.