'Squire' Robert Parker finds prayers answered in Northumberland
PUBLISHED: 12:56 04 July 2011 | UPDATED: 19:38 20 February 2013
Former church rector Robert Parker is now one of Northumberland's foremost hoteliers. Lisa Moore-Wilson discovers how he made the move from pulpit to the boardroom
Robert Parker and his wife Gina moved to Northumberland when they took over the ownership and began the redevelopment of three of the countys most beautiful and exclusive country house hotels - Doxford Hall, Eshott Hall and Guyzance Hall.
In what is a highly unusual career, Robert learnt his business skills as a member of the clergy, citing Basil Guy, Bishop of Gloucester, as one of his biggest influences. Like any other organisation, the Church has to manage people and projects and his management career began as Rector of Yate, near Bristol.
Responsible for overseeing a 250,000 project to build a new church and raising a further 120,000 to remodel the existing parish church into a community centre, he readily admits he learnt a lot of sharp lessons.
In 1986, he decided to enter the world of business full time but his attention to pastoral care and a sense of community has remained in evidence ever since; in line with current business thinking across the globe the focus is as much on giving as on profits.
His first venture was the Mount House nursing home in Shrewsbury. The formula proved a success and a second home, Church Stretton, in Staffordshire quickly followed. By the time the business, Mount House Ltd, was sold 22 years later, there were nine homes in total valued at 43 million. Robert is particularly proud that each home had its own salaried chaplain and he is still Chair of the Simeon Trust an organisation providing spiritual care in homes across the UK.
Talking to the Parkers, they are at pains to point out every member of staff by name and the contribution they make. Robert and Gina also help a wide range of local and international charities, with donations that range from providing a computer room for a local school to helping with aid projects in Mozambique and Idaho.
Robert himself had humble beginnings. His father was the local headmaster near Bakewell and his grandfather was a miner. As a boy he used to beat for the local squire and always wondered what it would be like to own and enjoy his own estate. When he sold the business, his bank manager encouraged him to make this long held dream a reality and he bought the Tedsmore Estate in Shropshire. It was then that fate stepped in and, flicking through a magazine, Gina came across a picture of Guyzance Hall and thought it would be a wonderful place to live.
Born in north Durham, she attended Newcastles Central High School and her fathers love of north Northumberland meant the family spent as much time there as possible. Two of the Parkers daughters attended North East universities, so they also are no strangers to the region.
Robert was quick to see that Guyzance could help Gina realise her dream of returning to her roots and be a way of financing the estate. A deal was done and Guyzance is now the Parkers second home and an exclusive venue for up to 20 weddings and events each year.
The house very much feels like a family home with the Parkers keen to recreate the feeling of having their own place in the country for each guest. Built in mellow gold Northumberland stone, it has a walled garden, tennis court, ballroom, heated pool and fishing on the nearby river. The Hall itself sleeps 24, with five of the estate cottages accommodating a further 24 people.
Having fallen for the pull of Northumberland, the Parkers have subsequently purchased Doxford Hall and Spa, an elegant four-star country house hotel near Alnwick, and Eshott Hall, near Morpeth, one the countys finest 17th century houses, now an exclusive 11-bedroom boutique hotel.
All the properties are designed to offer the highest quality accommodation and personal service. The target for the three very special venues was 140 weddings in 2011, and they are well on the way to achieving it.
Earlier this year, a major project at Doxford saw the original Georgian Hall incorporated into the main hotel, creating additional conference rooms, bedrooms and a new reception. Eshott will get a new walkway and an outdoor jacuzzi and Guyzance estate will be powered by a new 250,000 biomass generator.
Robert and Gina also hope to be able to give substantial sums to international, national and local charities. Felton Church is one of the first beneficiaries, now set up as a community centre open to residents seven days a week. And this October will see the launch of the Northumberland Music Festival , a ten-day long celebration of classical music at all three venues from October 28 to November 6.
Northumberland Music Festival
The inaugural Northumberland Music Festival is to be held over 10 days this autumn at three of Northumberland's finest houses, Guyzance Hall, Doxford Hall and Eshott Hall.
The programme will feature established musical companies and groups from around the country, including performances presented by Robin Newton, Head of Music at the nationally acclaimed Garsington Opera.
The festival is the brainchild of Robert Parker, who owns the three halls and who has a great love of all types of music.
The Northumberland Music Festival will feature performances of music from the complete range of interests, from Gilbert and Sullivan to Schubert and from grand opera to colliery bands. Performances will take place at all three venues between October 28 and November 6.
The locations will offer food menus that accompany the programme, so that pie and peas will accompany the brass band, and a Champagne supper will be available to toast the singers in the Gilbert and Sullivan concert.
A percentage of all ticket sales from the festival will be donated to three charities, Macmillan Cancer Support, Great North Air Ambulance, and HospiceCare North. Details about the concerts and how to book are on the Festival's Website, www.nmfestival.com . You can also contact the festival on 01668 283100 for further details.