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A review of The Manor House hotel in Castle Combe in the Cotswolds

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a review of the manor house hotel in castle combe in the cotswolds

Everywhere I look, I interrupt a wedding planning meeting.

I’ve lost my partner and three-year-old daughter in The Manor House hotel in Wiltshire shortly after arriving and in every room and corridor on the ground floor I search I discover a beaming couple having a nuptials pow-wow with hotel staff.

I can’t blame them. For as hotels go, there are few venues anywhere in the land as beautifully elegant and romantic as this ivy-clad 14th-century Cotswold manor house, with its walled garden and quaint mews cottages.

The Manor House hotel in Wiltshire sits in manicured grounds by the Bybrook River, in the foreground in this image

The Manor House hotel in Wiltshire sits in manicured grounds by the Bybrook River, in the foreground in this image

The ground floor of The Manor House hotel is gorgeously rustic - full of boutique finery. Pictured is the beautiful Front Hall

The ground floor of The Manor House hotel is gorgeously rustic – full of boutique finery. Pictured is the beautiful Front Hall

(Though I have reservations about the slightly grubby flagpole at the front.)

And to complete the picture, it sits by a babbling river, the Bybrook, in one of the most picture-perfect, chocolate box villages in Britain – Castle Combe. 

Wedding photo heaven – and irresistible bait for Instagrammers.

Cars must drive very carefully through Castle Combe because visitors are prone to wandering its main thoroughfare in a daze, bewitched by the 15th-century stone cottages, Grade I listed 13th-century church and stone-canopied market cross and often stepping into the road without looking, smartphones and cameras held aloft.

Castle Combe is one of the prettiest villages in the land. The hotel sits just to the left of the road pictured here

Castle Combe is one of the prettiest villages in the land. The hotel sits just to the left of the road pictured here

Scenes for War Horse, Stardust, The Wolfman, Dick Turpin and 1967's Dr Dolittle were filmed in Castle Combe

Scenes for War Horse, Stardust, The Wolfman, Dick Turpin and 1967’s Dr Dolittle were filmed in Castle Combe

Hollywood film directors are keen on the aesthetics, too, including Steven Spielberg, who shot scenes for War Horse there.

The village was also used for Stardust, The Wolfman, Dick Turpin and 1967’s Dr Dolittle – and TV shows Poirot and Robin of Sherwood.

Castle Combe is truly a world within a world.

And so is the hotel.

I’m thoroughly enjoying searching for my family in the property’s snug rooms, with their dark-wood panelling and boutique finery.

In the end, I’m told they have ascended to our room, ‘Home Meadow’.

However, it’s not one of the hotel’s most romantic, bucolic chambers (pictured below).

Here the cosy antique Laura Ashely vibe recedes and we get a less lavish hint of DFS in the mix.

No complaints about the size – it’s big enough to host a lordly banquet (and to play hide and seek with a three-year-old) and we have two king-sized beds. Plus, the bathroom is impressive, with a standalone tub next to a TV mounted in the wall, a stunning rain shower cubicle with mosaic tiling and twin sinks beneath a slanting roof.

The sturdy wooden beams and the TV hidden in the main room mirror get a thumbs up, too.

These mews cottages are owned by The Manor House and contain some of the hotel's snuggest rooms

These mews cottages are owned by The Manor House and contain some of the hotel’s snuggest rooms

However, some of the panelling and furniture, the wardrobe for instance, is a tad ‘conference hotel’.

And it feels sparsely furnished – a wee bit. For instance, there’s a dead space in the top right corner by a little window, which I would fill with a big armchair. This could be a seductive spot for curling up with a good book.

And the expansive wall behind the beds is crying out for a collage of paintings or photographs. And the stone windowsill a nice cushion to perch on.

Some more rugs would help cosy-it-up, too. I sit on one of the beds and it begins to roll across the wooden floor. There is a large comfy L-shaped sofa, but no cushions (though I later see a June 2020 review picture online of the same sofa adorned with plump green cushions… ) and the style jars with the ornate TV cabinet.

It feels as if the medieval feng shui so pleasantly aligned elsewhere has fractured.

There’s no more time to play interior designer, though, as the babysitter has arrived. We have a table for two booked at the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Bybrook, where small children are not allowed.

Here, we’re back in extraordinary-land, thanks to the brilliant head chef Rob Potter and top-notch service.

The Michelin-starred Bybrook restaurant, where diners can experience exceptional dishes by head chef Rob Potter

The Michelin-starred Bybrook restaurant, where diners can experience exceptional dishes by head chef Rob Potter

One of Rob's lamb dishes. Ted describes his a la carte meal as a 'culinary fairground of finely tuned flavours'

One of Rob’s lamb dishes. Ted describes his a la carte meal as a ‘culinary fairground of finely tuned flavours’

Ted's Newlyn mackerel with Porthilly oyster, cucumber and caviar

The head chef's outstanding deconstructed and leftfield cheese course

Pictured left is Ted’s Newlyn mackerel with Porthilly oyster, cucumber and caviar. On the right is the head chef’s outstanding deconstructed and leftfield cheese course 

Rob has total mastery of technique and the very fine ingredients he works with. Every dish is an utter joy, with taste sensation surprises around every corner. A culinary fairground of finely tuned flavours.

We’re presented with buckwheat soda bread with cultured butter.

Yum.

Venezuelan araguani chocolate layered with banana and honeycomb

Fig with rosemary caramel

It’s a slice of Venezuelan araguani chocolate layered with banana and honeycomb for dessert, pictured left, and fig with rosemary caramel, right

Supreme talent: Manor House Head Chef Rob Potter

Supreme talent: Manor House Head Chef Rob Potter

Then Newlyn mackerel with Porthilly oyster, cucumber and caviar, and yuzu-cured Loch Duart salmon with radish.

Fresh and zingy.

Then it’s on to Cornbury estate venison with butternut squash and oxtail risotto fritter; and Wiltshire Downlands lamb with black garlic, violet artichoke and turnip.

Cooked to perfection.

Then we have an ingenious sort of deconstructed leftfield cheese course – a Brie-style Baron Bigod and truffle accompanied by scones, a little dish of honey and seeded crackers.

The waitress invites us to play around and mix and match the ingredients.

We mix, we match, we declare it yet another winner.

Pictured here is the Golden Leigh cottage suite - one of the hotel's most bucolic bedrooms

Pictured here is the Golden Leigh cottage suite – one of the hotel’s most bucolic bedrooms

The Lordsmeer Suite bedroom, decked out in soothing country-style furnishings

The Lordsmeer Suite bedroom, decked out in soothing country-style furnishings

An entry-level cosy room, which costs from £190 with breakfast included

An entry-level cosy room, which costs from £190 with breakfast included

Ted's Home Meadow room as photographed by a Tripadvisor reviewer. There were no cushions on Ted's visit. The top right corner is where he'd place an armchair to fill up the space

Ted’s Home Meadow room as photographed by a Tripadvisor reviewer. There were no cushions on Ted’s visit. The top right corner is where he’d place an armchair to fill up the space

The desserts – a slice of Venezuelan araguani chocolate layered with banana and honeycomb, and fig with rosemary caramel – are also both a triumph.

Beverage-wise it’s a lovely English sparkling wine by West Sussex-based Ridgeview to begin and a Tuscan red – a Bastianich La Mozza – to sip throughout.

It’s a nicely rustic number, but my (WSET 3-qualified) partner feels it doesn’t have enough fruit on the nose – the bouquet is mostly alcohol, she rightly points out.

It performs on the palette though and opens up as the meal progresses.

The only other brownie point I’m going to deduct is for not being asked if I’d like an aperitif when we’re seated. It’s always one of my favourite fine-dining moments, especially when fizz is suggested.

The waitress does suggest something sparkling, but water. 

The Manor House bar. There are 180 gins to try at the hotel - and drinks can be distributed throughout the ground floor

The Manor House bar. There are 180 gins to try at the hotel – and drinks can be distributed throughout the ground floor

These steps lead up to the hotel's elegant walled garden - a great place for aimless wandering

These steps lead up to the hotel’s elegant walled garden – a great place for aimless wandering

WHERE IS THE CASTLE? 

The Manor House says that many guests ask where the castle is today. All that remains of the structure, which dates back to the Iron Age, is ‘some stonework’, which lies amid vegetation about half a mile to the north west of the hotel. The castle was abandoned in the 14th century.

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We return to the restaurant for an excellent breakfast in the morning, gazing across the manicured lawns as we devour comforting Eggs Benedict and toast.

The service dips below Michelin levels, though.

One guest is given his orange juice just as he’s getting up to leave and I observe one of the waitresses literally running across the width of the almost-full restaurant into the kitchen at one point.

We suspect they’re a person down, because the staff that are there are seriously dedicated to the cause and polite to a T.

The multiple dining options include afternoon tea, where tiered cake stands are the order of the day

The multiple dining options include afternoon tea, where tiered cake stands are the order of the day

Winter is coming... and The Manor House looks particularly romantic with a dusting of snow

Winter is coming… and The Manor House looks particularly romantic with a dusting of snow

This is where Manor House guests' Range Rovers and Aston Martins swing in

This is where Manor House guests’ Range Rovers and Aston Martins swing in 

Ted samples a Castle Inn lunch and is duly impressed, especially with the homemade smoked sea salt butter

Ted samples a Castle Inn lunch and is duly impressed, especially with the homemade smoked sea salt butter

TRAVEL FACTS 

Ted was hosted by The Manor House, which has 62 rooms costing from £190 per room per night (based on Cosy room bed and breakfast). 

Email themanorhouse@exclusive.co.uk, call 01249 782206 or visit www.exclusive.co.uk/the-manor-house for more information. For information on The Castle Inn visit www.thecastleinn.co.uk.

Rating: rating showbiz 4

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To round off our weekend, we walk through the village and the ancient wood above it – at the recommendation of one of the super-friendly reception team – inspect the hotel’s eye-catching 18-hole golf course and have lunch at the hotel’s 12th-century gastropub in the village, The Castle Inn.

Again, it could be a tad more antique-y inside, but we very much enjoy our squash soup with chorizo; Sunday roast; fish and chips, and syrup steamed pudding with custard.

But the biggest hit is the rosemary baked potato focaccia with mouthwatering homemade smoked sea salt butter.

I’d eat scoops of it.

The staff are great, too – chatty and welcoming.

We amble back to the hotel via the main entrance, which takes you past a riverside sign indicating the ‘perfect photo opportunity’ for a picture of the property, along with Twitter and Instagram handles for the hotel and the group that runs it – Exclusive Collection.

The sign is spot on – it’s a great angle (with the flagpole hidden behind a lovely big tree). Given the pretty setting, though, it feels a bit tacky. However, such corporate whiffs are not strong enough to break the spell this bewitching hotel has cast over us.

This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk

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We show you how to make sense of the mortgage mayhem

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we show you how to make sense of the mortgage mayhem

Borrowers are facing mortgage mayhem as banks axe deals and hike rates. Major delays also mean homebuyers are at risk of missing out on generous stamp duty savings. 

But don’t despair — here Money Mail explains everything you need to know to navigate the chaos… 

WHY IS THE MARKET BOOMING NOW?

A stampede of home movers looking to cash in on the stamp duty holiday is wreaking havoc on the housing market. 

Confused?: Borrowers are facing mortgage mayhem as banks axe deals and hike rates

Confused?: Borrowers are facing mortgage mayhem as banks axe deals and hike rates

Many are desperate for more space after months of lockdown, and keen to make the most of the tax saving worth up to £15,000. 

Demand from buyers was already soaring before the property market was temporarily frozen in March and rocketed again when it reopened in late May. Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s announcement in July of no stamp duty on the first £500,000 of purchases completed before March 31, 2021, then threw fuel on the fire. 

Last week, official figures revealed house prices had surged in every region in August. But experts warn the rally cannot last now the Government is scaling back financial support for households and businesses. 

IS THERE REALLY A HOME LOAN DROUGHT? 

August was the busiest month for lenders in 13 years, with firms approving more than 80,000 mortgage applications, according to the Bank of England. In a desperate bid to curb demand, overwhelmed lenders are hiking rates and withdrawing deals so often that brokers can’t keep up. 

The number of mortgages available has halved since the start of the year, according to analysts Defaqto. 

The clampdown has particularly hurt those with the smallest deposits, as lenders know that if house prices fall they are at most risk of ending up in negative equity (where they owe more than their house is worth). But even those with down payments of 15 or 20 per cent have far less choice than before the pandemic. Many banks have introduced tougher lending rules so that only the most financially secure can get a mortgage. 

It means self-employed borrowers, those returning from furlough leave or workers who rely on bonus or overtime income are finding it tougher to get a loan. 

Last week the Bank of England warned that all borrowers could soon find it harder to get a mortgage as lenders prepare to raise rates and tighten lending criteria. 

WHAT IF I HAVE A SMALL DEPOSIT?

The pandemic sent mortgage lenders offering deals to borrowers with a deposit of 10 per cent or less running for the hills. 

Lockdown restrictions stopped surveyors from being able to enter borrowers’ homes and banks were unwilling to offer more risky mortgages without a valuation. 

But even when the housing market reopened, not all banks resumed lending to families with small deposits amid fears that rising unemployment could spark a house-price crash. 

One of the few remaining lenders accepting applications from borrowers with a 10 per cent  deposit, HSBC, was forced to withdraw from the market last month — but said the move was temporary. 

TSB, Coventry Building Society and Accord, part of Yorkshire Building Society, run mortgage fire sales where 90 per cent deals are made available for one or two days only. 

Currently, only one deal is widely available to these borrowers, compared with 16 in April, according to Defaqto. This is a five-year fixed rate at 3.99 per cent with Metro Bank. 

Nationwide is offering a two-year fixed rate of 3.49 per cent, or 3.54 per cent for five years for first-time buyers. But they must prove at least 75 per cent of the deposit has come from their own savings, ruling out deposits gifted entirely by parents. 

Regional building societies, including Darlington, Cumberland, Stafford Railway and Buckinghamshire are offering families with local postcodes a 90 per cent mortgage. 

IF I MISS THE CUT-OFF I’LL LOSE MY DREAM FLAT 

Amy Williams is rushing to buy her first home and save £4,000 before the stamp duty holiday ends in March. She says she will not be able to afford the deal if it is not completed in time. 

Amy, 28, had an offer accepted on a one-bedroom flat in Camberwell, South London, in July, but is still waiting to exchange contracts. She hopes to wrap things up by the end of November. 

Struggle: Amy Williams is rushing to buy her first home and save £4,000 before the stamp duty holiday ends

Struggle: Amy Williams is rushing to buy her first home and save £4,000 before the stamp duty holiday ends

Amy adds: ‘I had an offer accepted on the flat at the time the stamp duty holiday was announced. The timing couldn’t have been better. 

‘The process has taken much longer than I’d expected but I’m on the precipice of exchanging. We’re waiting on one final piece of legal paperwork and I’m optimistic I’ll get the keys in the coming weeks. 

‘But if anything goes awry with the sale now, and if the vendor were to withdraw, I’d be very nervous about being able to find a new property and complete in time to beat the stamp duty deadline.’

And Tipton & Coseley has joined Barclays by offering 100 per cent deals to borrowers whose parents agree to deposit savings or have a mortgage-like charge placed on their own properties. Borrowers with specific professions are also being offered 90 per cent deals. 

Teachers Building Society will accept applications from teachers with a 10 per cent deposit, while Reliance Bank will support key workers such as NHS staff, police and postal workers. 

TSB is offering first-time buyers with a 15 per cent deposit a more flexible affordability assessment to increase their chances of being approved for the loan. The bank’s five-year fixed rate is 2.99 per cent.

WHERE ARE THE BEST RATES?

Rates have risen for all but those with the biggest deposits since the beginning of March. 

Borrowers with a 10 per cent deposit are now facing the highest rates since 2015. 

Average two-year fixed rates have risen from 2.57 per cent to 3.76 per cent since the beginning of March, according to Moneyfacts. This means a £150,000 mortgage would cost £2,256 more in interest over two years, excluding fees, than it did at the start of the summer. But for families with a deposit of between 25pc and 35pc, average two-year fixed rates have fallen. 

And for those with a 40 per cent deposit, rates remain relatively unchanged at around 1.8 per cent. 

Monmouthshire Building Society offers the best two-year fixed rate for borrowers with a 25 per cent deposit, at 1.6 per cent, compared with a best buy of 1.19pc six months ago. 

Those who are lucky enough to have a 40 per cent deposit can access Halifax’s top two-year fixed rate of 1.28 per cent and HSBC’s five-year fixed rate at 1.44 per cent.

I COULDN’T GET A LOAN WITH A 10% DEPOSIT 

Wait: Laura Sears has still not received her mortgage offer

Wait: Laura Sears has still not received her mortgage offer

Laura Sears was hoping to complete on a two-bedroom shared ownership flat last week. But she has still not received her mortgage offer after applying for a five-year fixed deal from Barclays weeks ago. 

Laura, 30, who lives in East ­London, says she has been hit by a plethora of hurdles in her quest to get on the property ladder. 

She wanted a two-bedroom flat with a balcony and decent-sized kitchen not too far from her work for around £300,000 using a 10 per cent deposit. 

But lenders began withdrawing 95 per cent and 90 per cent deals leaving her unable to buy the property in Hornchurch. 

Her only option was to use the Government’s Shared Ownership scheme. She applied for a 25 per cent share of a £330,000 two-bedroom flat in Colindale, North-West ­London, and says: ‘I am chasing my mortgage broker for updates every two days — but he says there is a massive backlog.

‘I knew things were going to take a while and I was reluctant to tell people I was buying a flat in case I was tempting fate. Luckily the vendor says he is in no rush. Still, I hope to be in by Christmas.’

COULD DELAYS MEAN I’M LIKELY TO MISS OUT?

Experts say delays are so bad up and down the property chain that movers need to apply for a mortgage no later than November to be in with any chance of beating the stamp duty holiday deadline in March. 

It takes an average of 160 days to go from agreeing a sale to moving in — up from 95 days last year, according to property data analysts TwentyCi. And as the stamp duty deadline draws closer, experts fear delays could spiral further. 

As many staff have been furloughed or are working from home, banks and building societies are now taking weeks rather than days to review mortgage applications. Surveyors and solicitors are also warning of long delays as they struggle to keep up with the buying frenzy. Some legal firms have already stopped taking on new cases. And as solicitors struggle to cope with a 50 per cent rise in transactions, more than 300,000 sales are tipped to miss the deadline. Colin Bradshaw, from TwentyCi, says: ‘Solicitors are trying to deal with nine months’ business in six months.’

WHAT IF I NEED TO REMORTGAGE?

If your current mortgage deal is due to expire in the next two months, start the remortgage process now. Lenders are predicting more than £30billion of deals will be up for renewal at the end of the year, putting even more strain on lenders’ resources. 

A standard remortgage takes six weeks to complete, but brokers are warning it could take a further four weeks because of the bottleneck. To avoid falling on to your bank’s costly standard variable rate, which you pay once your mortgage deal ends, brokers are urging those with loans nearing renewal not to delay. 

The good news is that remortgage borrowers may find their new rate is largely the same as their old one, or it may even have gone down. According to Moneyfacts, the average two-year fixed rate now is 2.44 per cent. 

Compared to average two-year fixes in October 2018, you would be paying 0.05 per cent less. If your five-year fix is about to end, and you want to choose another five-year deal, you are likely to be paying even less. 

34920704 8886013 image m 23 1603831706353

The average five-year fixed rate in October 2015 was 3.31 per cent compared with 2.69 per cent now. 

Lloyds Bank is currently offering the lowest two and five-year fixed rates. At 60 per cent loan to value, they are 1.09 per cent and 1.33 per cent respectively. At 85 per cent, the two-year fixed rate is 1.80 per cent and the five-year is 2.17 per cent. All deals come with a £1,499 fee. 

If your circumstances have changed since the start of the pandemic, such as a reduction in your salary or you were placed on furlough leave, another lender may be reluctant to take you on as a new customer. Don’t panic. Your own bank is likely to offer you a new deal and some lenders give their existing borrowers better rates than new customers.

SHOULD I WAIT TO FIX MY RATE?

The Bank of England base rate is already at a record low of 0.1 per cent, but there are whispers it could be cut to zero or below to stimulate spending and lending. But that doesn’t mean mortgage rates will follow — and it’s highly unlikely you would ever be paid for having a loan. 

However, if the mortgage market starts to cool early next year, as expected, rates could begin to fall. 

Rachel Dixon, mortgage adviser at RH Dixon, said: ‘It has been a crazy few months. As we see demand subside over the coming months, rates will return to more normal levels.’ So it may pay to hold off locking into a fixed-rate deal. 

If you opt for a variable-rate deal in the meantime, these tend to have lower or no early repayment charges if you want to switch later. 

The cheapest 85 per cent two-year variable rate with no exit penalties is with West Brom BS at 2.34 per cent, compared to Lloyds Bank’s fixed rate at 1.8 per cent. 

Both are for remortgage only. 

Mortgage rates are still ultra-cheap compared to a decade ago when a typical borrower with a 10 per cent deposit might have paid 6pc as opposed to 3.99 per cent today. So if you can afford the repayments, you may prefer the peace of mind a fixed deal can offer.  

This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk

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ANDREW PIERCE: How darkly ironic that free school meals were a TORY idea… shot down by the Left

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andrew pierce how darkly ironic that free school meals were a tory idea shot down by the left

Who dismissed a ground-breaking report on a new initiative to extend free school meals to Britain’s neediest children, saying it was greeted with ‘at best eye-rolling and at worst exasperation’?

Some hard-hearted member of the Tory Party for whom those living in poverty have only themselves to blame?

A diehard critic of the welfare state entirely lacking in compassion?

On the contrary, those words were written by a respected critic on the Left-leaning paper, The Observer. Possibly he was unable to stomach the fact that the author of the report, Henry Dimbleby, happened to be a privileged Old Etonian, Leave campaigner and close friend of senior Tory politicians.

Potentially, it blinded him and other paid-up members of the liberal commentariat to the content.

Henry Dimbleby (above) - a privileged Old Etonian, Leave campaigner and close friend of senior Tory politicians - wrote a ground-breaking report on a new initiative to extend free school meals to Britain's neediest children

Henry Dimbleby (above) – a privileged Old Etonian, Leave campaigner and close friend of senior Tory politicians – wrote a ground-breaking report on a new initiative to extend free school meals to Britain’s neediest children

34921910 8886163 image m 73 1603837706313

Thankfully, someone who had first-hand experience of childhood hunger took Dimbleby’s report seriously. Step forward football star turned food poverty campaigner, Marcus Rashford (pictured)

Take this other barb, for instance: ‘When you get someone from a rich, privately- educated background to comment on issues they’ve never experienced, then the outcome will always be the same. The UK’s poorest people no longer need blunt, crude and top-down measures to alleviate their suffering. They need a system change to banish the scourge of poverty for good.’

That was the view of the Left-wing website The Canary.

Thankfully, someone who had first-hand experience of childhood hunger did take Dimbleby’s report seriously.

   

More from Andrew Pierce for the Daily Mail…

Step forward football star turned food poverty campaigner, Marcus Rashford.

Rashford is once again making headlines, with the Government on the back foot over the emotive issue of free meals during the school holidays.

The 22-year-old Manchester United player has succeeded in making Boris Johnson and his party appear utterly indifferent to the plight of needy children this Christmas.

It is a row that is inflicting huge political damage on the Tories nationally — shades again of the ‘nasty’ party — and causing rebellion among backbenchers. And yet it could so easily have been avoided. Indeed, it could have been a positive for ministers if only they had had the wits to exploit an opportunity.

For the free school meals initiative really was Tory made and minted.

What Rashford has been calling for is simply the implementation of the main recommendations of the Government’s National Food Strategy report, commissioned in 2018 by then Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, one Michael Gove. It was published in July.

Gove asked his close friend Dimbleby, the co-founder of the Leon restaurant chain, to write the report.

It was a considered choice, since Dimbleby had co-authored the 2013 government-backed School Food Plan, which led to the implementation of free school lunches for all children in reception and Years 1 and 2, and added practical cooking and nutrition to the National Curriculum.

After consulting with industry experts, academics and various government departments, Dimbleby came up with a succinct recommendation for this new report: the Government’s Free School Meal scheme should be extended to every child in a household where their parent or guardian is in receipt of state benefits during term time and in the holidays (by expanding the holiday clubs scheme).

The 22-year-old Manchester United player has succeeded in making Boris Johnson and his party appear utterly indifferent to the plight of needy children this Christmas. (Above, the PM in a cafeteria at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading yesterday)

The 22-year-old Manchester United player has succeeded in making Boris Johnson and his party appear utterly indifferent to the plight of needy children this Christmas. (Above, the PM in a cafeteria at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading yesterday)

Sound familiar? Currently, the meals are only available to the poorest children living in households with an income of less than £7,400-a-year. His recommendations would mean that 1.5 million more seven- to 16-year-olds could receive free school meals (taking the total to 2.6 million).

Rashford read Dimbleby’s report and re-tweeted the recommendations to his 3.7 million followers — and so a campaign to provide free meals during the summer was born.

He even contacted Dimbleby to praise him for his work and to seek advice on how to exploit the support he had ignited. The result was a government U-turn, an agreement to extend free school meals into the summer holidays and an MBE for Rashford.

Ever since, ministers have been on the defensive— attacked from all sides for appearing not to care about struggling families whose incomes have been hit by the new tiered Covid restrictions.

Last week, Labour was defeated by the Government in a vote to extend the provision of schools meals in the Christmas holidays.

So why on earth did the PM, Gove and co overlook its own recommendations and allow Rashford to seize the momentum — and, deservedly so, the glory — and to enable the Labour Party to champion the footballer as one of their own.

How ironic that those same critics of the Dimbleby report are hailing Rashford and his school meals policy that is rooted in the former’s recommendations.

Henry Dimbleby could hardly conceal his irritation on Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday: ‘I haven’t been backward in coming forward with ideas that I have been feeding into the Treasury, to [the Department for] Education and to No 10, ideas of how they could rapidly implement this by Christmas,’ he said. ‘But . . . the dark centre of government is invisible to me and I have no idea exactly what they’re working on as we speak.’

What Rashford has been calling for is simply the implementation of the main recommendations of the Government's National Food Strategy report, commissioned in 2018 by then Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, one Michael Gove. It was published in July. Gove asked his close friend Dimbleby, the co-founder of the Leon restaurant chain, to write the report

What Rashford has been calling for is simply the implementation of the main recommendations of the Government’s National Food Strategy report, commissioned in 2018 by then Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, one Michael Gove. It was published in July. Gove asked his close friend Dimbleby, the co-founder of the Leon restaurant chain, to write the report

In a withering denunciation of the official government line that needy children can be best helped through Universal Credit alone, he added: ‘This problem [of hunger] is real. It should go without saying that it’s serious. It’s immediate and it’s going to get worse.’

Later, he tweeted, ‘I’ve written a short note explaining why I recommended the three policies that are the focus of Marcus Rashford’s campaign’ and linked a seven-page precis of his National Food Strategy report. The row is the gift that keeps on giving for Labour, with its MPs reporting real ‘cut-through’ with voters in their constituencies.

And it seems that Labour leader Keir Starmer is preparing to embarrass the Government again by forcing a second Commons vote on whether to extend free school meals in the holiday period. While only six Tory MPs voted with Labour last time, the figure is likely to be far higher this time around.

More than 100 Tory MPs have complained that the issue has triggered a series of often unpleasant and violent threats from irate constituents. Many of them are privately seething with Downing Street after they were ordered to vote against the last motion.

At a time when Boris Johnson is at risk of his biggest internal threat — the newly created Northern Research Group of ‘Red Wall’ MPs who are rallying against the economic impact of the imposition of Tier Two and Tier Three restrictions — this fiasco could easily have been avoided if only someone at No 10 had realised what was in the report they had commissioned.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. This is an administration bereft of leadership in many areas, where incompetence is the order of the day and infighting preferable to action.

Cabinet ministers are taking chunks out of each other in an unseemly blame game over how Rashford ‘outsmarted’ them.

On the backbenches the atmosphere is dire, with Tory MPs lashing out. Mansfield MP Ben Bradley did his party few favours by suggesting some of the vouchers for free school meals would end up paying for crack dens and brothels but failed to produce any evidence to back up his claims.

Other Tory MPs argue that with public debt now at £2 trillion and counting, another £150 million for free school meals is surely not too big an ask.

As one senior figure told me: ‘If the Treasury can find £522 million for the Eat Out To Help Out scheme to support restaurants, why can’t it find the £150 million to feed kids to help out?’

Why indeed.

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SEBASTIAN SHAKESPEARE: Fury as Rugby School sells treasure trove of classic books

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sebastian shakespeare fury as rugby school sells treasure trove of classic books

 This was the place where Rupert Brooke and Matthew Arnold penned their first verses, and has spawned literary talents such as Alice In Wonderland author Lewis Carroll, Salman Rushdie and Foyle’s War creator Anthony Horowitz.

But Rugby School — setting for Thomas Hughes’s Victorian classic, Tom Brown’s School Days — has appalled alumni and academics alike by announcing that it is to sell off a treasury of nearly 300 books, including four Shakespeare folios, which are estimated to fetch £100,000.

Acclaimed novelist A.N. Wilson, who was at Rugby in the 1960s, is reduced to apoplexy, describing governors at the £37,000-a-year school as ‘complete vandals’.

Rugby School has announced it is to sell off a treasury of nearly 300 books including four Shakespeare folios

Rugby School has announced it is to sell off a treasury of nearly 300 books including four Shakespeare folios

‘It’s terrible. I would never dream now of leaving anything to that school because they would just flog it,’ he assures me, pointing out that next month’s auction follows the sale of much of the school’s glorious art collection at Christie’s, which raised nearly £15 million.

His horror is shared by Professor Michael Dobson, director of Birmingham University’s Shakespeare Institute. 

‘From being living books, housed in an institution with a strong Shakespearean heritage, in Shakespeare’s home region, they are likely to dwindle now into being mere investments,’ he tells me, pointing out that museum and university library budgets are currently under immense pressure because of the Covid pandemic.

Professor Dobson adds that the Rugby School collection, which includes first editions of such classics as Robinson Crusoe and Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, is now ‘more likely to vanish into private collections than to be consulted by experts’.

Peter Green, Rugby’s head — or Executive Head Master, as he is designated — explains the decision to sell the books by saying that the money raised will help fund ‘bursary support’.

The point is reiterated by a school spokeswoman. ‘Obviously, Rugby is a school, not a museum. 

Headmaster of Rugby School Peter Green explains the decision to sell the books by saying that the money raised will help fund ‘bursary support’

Headmaster of Rugby School Peter Green explains the decision to sell the books by saying that the money raised will help fund ‘bursary support’

The paintings were becoming impossible to look after and insure, and the Governing Body decided then — as they have now about these books — that they should be sold to benefit the current and future students by way of making bursary provision greater.’

Wilson is unconvinced. ‘They say it will be spent on a bursary, but how do you know?’ he asks. ‘Who can you trust?’

Not, evidently, the Royal Opera House, which controversially sold its David Hockney portrait of former chairman Sir David Webster last week for £12.8 million.

‘To sell is to betray a previous generation’s generosity,’ reflects another distraught Old Rugbeian.

 It’s full speed ahead for Clarkson’s farm shop

  Jeremy Clarkson can embark on a victory lap after seeing off parish councillors trying to thwart his burgeoning business at Diddly Squat Farm in West Oxfordshire.

Earlier this year, the former Top Gear presenter opened a farm shop, Squat Shop, but he soon got snarled up in a spat with Chadlington Parish Council, which accused him of flouting planning regulations and coronavirus guidelines, and causing haphazard parking. 

However, permission has now been granted subject to certain restrictions, including a reminder that he can stock only ‘local’ produce.

Motormouth Clarkson, who is worth £50 million, can barely contain his glee. 

‘I’d like to thank the council for being so supportive of what’s turning into quite a good little business,’ he tells me.

 Emily’s now a 20-week Gone Girl

While many women prefer to cover themselves up when pregnant , actress and model Emily Ratajkowski is determined to keep her full figure on display.

The London-born 29- year-old, who is married to film producer Sebastian Bear-McClard, is 20 weeks pregnant and happily showed off her new bump this week when she stepped out in New York wearing a tight black cut-out dress.

Emily Ratajkowski is 20 weeks pregnant and happily showed off her new bump

Emily Ratajkowski is 20 weeks pregnant and happily showed off her new bump

The English professor’s daughter, who made her Hollywood debut in Gone Girl playing Ben Af f leck’s clandestine lover, reveals she doesn’t want to know the baby’s gender just yet.

‘We won’t know until our child is 18 and they’ll let us know then,’ she says.

Is Hugh Grant mellowing now he has become a father? 

The Love Actually star, 60, who has five children — three by his wife Anna Eberstein — says he missed his family so much when filming his new TV series, The Undoing, in New York that he cried. 

He recalls: ‘At first, I thought what a fantastic opportunity to get away from my screaming children. But I missed them so much. 

Almost every scene I acted in made me cry. Once, the director Susanne Bier had to say: ‘Hugh, you’re only asking for a cup of coffee.’ 

 There’s a hole in your socks, dear Livia, dear Livia . . .

 Oscar winner Colin Firth’s estranged wife Livia — they split last year following her extra-marital affair — appears to be getting a case of cold feet.

The 51-year-old eco-activist, who encourages people to wear the same clothes repeatedly to make fashion more sustainable, yesterday laid bare the pitfalls of exhausting one’s wardrobe when she posted a picture of herself sporting pink socks so ragged they had huge holes in the heels. 

Livia posted a picture of herself sporting pink socks so ragged they had huge holes in the heels

Livia posted a picture of herself sporting pink socks so ragged they had huge holes in the heels

‘When they point out that I am too strict about the “beyond 30 wears” rule,’ she captioned it, admitting that her socks are ‘clearly too old’.

 Many millionaires bemoan the fate of their offspring, but hedge funder Sir Paul Marshall has revealed he is envious of his son Winston, a founding member of folk rock group Mumford & Sons.

 According to Sir Paul, whose wealth is estimated at £630 million, Winston has a ‘much better career than mine. 

The speed with which they went on with their first album to getting Brit awards and Grammys was amazing.’ 

 Keef gets his own cameo 

Talk about keeping it in the family. Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards has hired his son-in-law to shoot his music video.

Keef has re-released his 1992 solo song, Hate It When You Leave, and roped in his daughter’s film director husband, Jacques Naude, to help.

Naude, who married model Alexandra, 34, last year, depicts everyday scenes in the video, including a man mowing a lawn, a child learning to play the drums and young girls at cheerleading practice.

Of course, Keef, 76, features, too — sitting outside a house near fresh-cut flowers. ‘It’s something for your ears and eyes and for your hearts,’ says the rocker, giving his approval of Jacques’s work.

Young Getty shows voting is in fashion  

Her late great-uncle, oil billionaire Jean Paul Getty II, donated £5 million to the Tories.

Now artist Ivy Getty, who stands to inherit a chunk of her family’s fortune, is hoping to influence American politics with her wacky sense of style.

Artist Ivy Getty is hoping to influence American politics with her wacky sense of style

Artist Ivy Getty is hoping to influence American politics with her wacky sense of style

Ahead of the presidential election next week, the 25-year-old, who lives in San Francisco, posted a picture of herself in a leopard-print crop top and shorts teamed with a colourful bag and black face mask proclaiming ‘VOTE’.

‘I’m voting for Biden,’ she tells me. ‘I wear as much voting-related clothing to remind people to vote and register to do so.’

 ABBA’s Bjorn Ulvaeus wants a swift return to full-capacity concerts. 

‘We’ve seen pop stars streaming their latest songs live from their kitchen. Let’s agree on one thing — however talented they are, it’s boring. Boring!’ says Ulvaeus. 

‘As a former pop star myself, I take the liberty to say that. It will never be a substitute for a packed stadium or a sold-out theatre performance in the West End or on Broadway.’ 

Cue for an ABBA reunion tour, then?

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