#review: Luxury stay at private member club Babington House
By: Zaneta Cheng
December 29, 2022
A stay at Babington House, a Georgian estate belonging to private members club Soho House, means lounging in squashy sofas, long walks across verdant lawns and more local fare than you can fit in your belly. Zaneta Cheng gets a taste of a festive retreat at this picturesque country pile
Usually known as the locale for sun-dappled summertime country weddings and where the West Country set tend to stay over Glastonbury weekend, Babington House, the countryside estate which serves as spa, hotel and Soho House clubhouse for the Somerset crowd is perhaps less well known as a heavenly, winter bolthole for anyone looking for a cosy holiday getaway – far from the madding crowd and swaddled in the rolling hills of West England.
It’s dark already when our car crunches onto the gravel driveway. Everything is pitch black at 5 pm in November. There are no streetlights and the only sign that we’ve reached our destination are the glowing amber lights emitting from the long windows of the Georgian property. Truthfully speaking, I’m a tad discombobulated from the drive-in and am looking slightly bewilderingly for the entrance – though soon enough, I realise I needn’t have been.
A push of the main door into the foyer and I’m greeted with a roaring fire and the warm comforting din of busy, happy chatter from the adjacent rooms and Main Bar. It’s not quite Christmas when I’m there but it’s easy to imagine how a few tastefully placed Christmas pines would fit right into the ambience of the place. As enticing as the bar is after a three-hour drive from London, it’s a relief when the Soho House staff check us in and whisk us to our room directly upstairs from the foyer in the main house.
Having been staying at other Soho House properties in London during our visit, we open the doors to the familiar sounds of BBC Radio 3, which is fitting given the classic Georgian interiors. There’s so much to see and do, just in the room. The curtains bring in the surrounding natural landscape with birds and flowers embroidered onto the thick, wool-lined fabric. I learn that they’re made by Bennison, an English fabric company that also does the upholstering for the sofa at the foot of our imposing four-poster.
We find a copy of the Soho House book in the room and we set about identifying all the vintage pieces and fabrics to the strains of classical music from the radio, the crackle of the fireplace in the room and a plate of lemon cupcakes that were laid out to welcome us when we came into the room.
There’s not too much time to dawdle and after a quick refresh in the bathroom, which features a massive bathtub and walk-in shower, done to the exacting standards of the Soho House aesthetic, it’s back downstairs to the Orangery (Babington’s main dining area open all day) for dinner. The menu comprises the standard contemporary British fare and its ingredients come from local businesses in the Somerset region and Babington’s own walled garden.
We’ve made it and that, we decided, was a reason to celebrate so we plump for the local English sparkling alongside Irish oysters and Chalk stream trout. The dimly-lit dining room gets busy quickly and the convivial laughter and babble of what I subsequently find out to be a local crowd comprising members from around the West Country bounce off the floor-to-ceiling windows of the restaurant creating a snug, relaxing ambience.
When we head back upstairs, we pass by the Main Bar, the house’s curved wooden bar with large sash windows overlooking the garden. It’s a busy night and there are a few still sitting in the Library and the Study nursing drinks next to the open fireplaces. We regrettably just missed a bonfire the night before, which is one of the highlights of the house in wintertime. And there’s the cinema, which is open almost every night for screenings should anybody need post-dinner entertainment on the grounds. But for us, it’s time to hop into the shower and then into the four-poster to watch the flat-screen TV rise from a carved-out wooden slat in what seems to be a repurposed vintage credenza.
There is – delightfully – absolutely no sound at night at Babington. The curtains keep out the cold and sleep is as uninterrupted as a city slicker hopes the country might be. Only the cracks of light we’ve created by slightly pulling apart the drapes that were drawn for us at turndown let us know it’s day.
We wake up to a frosty, sunny British morning. There are no clouds in the sky and it’s, quite frankly, a gift. Walking out into the sprawling grounds after breakfast, we find Babington honey-hued in the sunlight. The property is near Bath, should anybody from out of town want to visit, but we’re content staying on the grounds. There’s a dainty jewellery box of a chapel right in front of the house across the lawn, framed by trees that look as though they’ve been there since William the Conqueror.
Most of the morning and early afternoon is spent walking by the lake watching ducks, marvelling at the astonishing number of bathers eschewing the heated indoor pool for the outdoor pool in eight-degree weather, peering into the rooms by the Stable Block and Coach House being serviced (every room seems to be slightly different) and strolling through the house’s walled garden, identifying the herbs and fruit that have gone into our rooms and dishes.
Lunch is forgotten as we order hot teas and coffees at the Cowshed spa to take in the garden and very soon it’s time for my facial appointment. It’s only when I walk through the long hallway and into my treatment room that it occurs to me that this might just have been an old cowshed and that perhaps the bottles upon bottles of shampoos, conditioners and body scrubs and washes might have all originated from this location. I ask and my hypothesis is confirmed. In the birthplace of Soho House’s body and skincare offering, I get to try their new Soho Skin range, a set of which is placed in every room of every Soho House hotel across the world.
Fresh and dewy from the treatment, I walk back to join the others only to catch them mid-way on a stroll themselves, taking in the unbelievably beautiful sunny weather. Feeling peckish, having skipped lunch, we make our way back to the house, passing by a family changing back into their shoes having borrowed the property’s wellington boots for a long stroll across the grounds. It’s only when we get to the Orangery that we find out Babington has a tradition of offering cakes at tea time and what a spread it is.
The table teems with cakes and scones. It’s hard to resist and soon our plates are balancing a mound of confectionery to have with vanilla rooibos teas. We try chocolate rolls and have a few more of the lemon curd cupcakes that greeted us in our room the night before. There are scones and clotted cream and berry jam that we had to have – a quintessential treat on a quintessentially British afternoon.
Time passes in the Main Bar easily. People watching is the main sport in the curved room and I am told that it was only two years ago in 2020 that Babington was refreshed by the Soho House design team on the occasion of its 22nd birthday by some of the crowd in the bar who have been members for just about as long. While there are plenty of AirPod-sporting professionals peering through glasses at their MacBook Airs, there are just as many sitting at the bar, whiling away the afternoon with friends or family, spilling out onto the steps that lead from the Main Bar to the grounds.
One can imagine how everyone would be outside standing by the outdoor grill and bar in the summer but the house takes on an infinitely more serene and intimate character in the wintertime. I’m pointed to photographs taken by Sam Taylor-Johnson that hang over the mirrored panels in the bar – one of Courtney Love and the other a self-portrait – which may or may not hint at the sort of revelry one might get up to in warmer climes. But there are also pieces by Sir Peter Blake, an English pop artist known for co-creating the sleeve design for the Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, created over a Christmas stay at Babington.
Our stay is a short one, and we leave on a more typical British morning – grey, blustery, with crows on the lawn, defiantly pacing despite a veil of rain. But now, having had our first brush with this Soho House- touched Georgian estate, tucked away in the West Country, we’ve agreed to bid a hearty farewell to city breaks in exchange for a taste of this country pile across every season.