“Paul’s hands-on enthusiasm and interest in what we want to do here is contagious; and his insightful wisdom is so reassuring at each meeting.”
This story began some eight hundred years ago in the High Middle Ages, when Knights fought for their King’s glory and were rewarded with whole villages in England’s green and pleasant land. Whether as the result of some heroic endeavour or simply to win favour has been lost in the annals of time, but somehow, Isenhampstead (as it was known then) became the property of the noble Cheyne family. And over the centuries their name has become inextricably linked with the land.
Early in the sixteenth century a Cheyne girl married the first Earl of Bedford (Sir John Russell) and, while the area remained in her name, it became the property of his family. The village of Chenies was also frequented by Henry VIII, who owned a house close to The Bedford Arms in those days; and Elizabeth I supposedly signed Mary Queen of Scots’ death warrant there. No doubt its ancient lands hold many more royal secrets besides…
Today, Chenies retains much of its romantic, stately charm and at its heart is the awardwinning country hotel, The Bedford Arms. Although nothing more than a babe in comparison to the village itself (at a mere 175 years old) the hotel has seen many changes in its own eventful life. It started as a private house, probably owned by a wealthy landowner of the time, eventually being converted to a bar and restaurant just before WW2, and later acquired by the Thistle Group of hotels.
The reluctant hotelier…
Like the history of the village and the hotel, the current owner’s pedigree has been generations in the making. After his father took over The Bedford Arms in 2012, Michael Ratcliffe (the fifth generation of the family in the hotel trade) is now firmly seated at the helm and steering the business forward into the twenty-first century.
Initially Michael was something of a reluctant hotelier and he determined to break the inevitability of his handed-down profession. His quest to forge an alternative career initially took him into the world of IT, although he had always taken the opportunity to earn a few quid working in the family hotel in his earlier years. But destiny was ultimately against him and, as his passion and interest in technology continued to grow, so the lure and historical beauty of The Bedford Arms finally won through and brought him home. And when dad retired, two years ago, he found himself seamlessly taking over the role.
The years of IT study were not wasted, however, and today Michael utilises the smartest software and operating systems to make sure his customers benefit from maximum efficiency. No stone has been left unturned in bringing a historic British country hotel into the modern era.
Rural beauty, country class and modern-day flexibility
With many extensions and amendments throughout the centuries, The Bedford Arms has seen more changes than it has monarchs on the throne. Today its guests are blessed with a fabulous oak-panelled restaurant to dine in; ten beautifully designed, traditional rooms; eight more modern, luxury rooms; and a large private room used for meetings and special events. One of the superior guest rooms even has a Jacuzzi. (I wonder what Henry VIII would have made of that?)
The hotel is set in three acres of glorious Hertfordshire countryside and is regularly booked for weddings, weekend breaks, evening meals, commercial events, private parties or the locals dropping in for lunch and a pint.
As a modern-day venue with an olde-worlde feel, in a historical setting, the business is run on a foundation of flexibility around its clients’ needs. The starting point for any request is that nothing is too much trouble, and a solution is there to be found. From hosting spy-games events and murder-mystery nights, through to business meetings and playing home-base to cycling and ramblers’ groups; the hotel is nothing if not adaptable.
Winning in the busyness business
The years have not always been kind to country pubs and hotels, with big nationals often swallowing up family-run enterprises and selling sameness to the masses. But where a location has everything on its side: charm, history, a commitment to the community, quality food, and (perhaps most importantly) smart management, there really is no stopping its potential. When Michael’s father, Peter, purchased the hotel from the Thistle Group (ironically, his former employer) he was reversing the trend and proving that family business still has an appeal. And there was no way his, initially reluctant, son was going to miss the opportunity to take the adventure even further.
Last year, through a previous contact who had started working at Meades Group, Michael was introduced to Paul Meades as someone who might be able to help him achieve his ambitions. After just one meeting it became apparent that there were opportunities, both on a personal and business level, that had been missed by the previous “big city’” accountants he had been using. Since that time the financial and operational efficiency of the business has been improved and new confidence to invest in further growth has been instilled. The team at Meades now looks after all of the hotel’s accountancy needs and Paul meets with Michael quarterly to advise and guide him towards his vision.
Michael says, “Paul’s hands-on enthusiasm and interest in what we want to do here is contagious; and his insightful wisdom is so reassuring at each meeting.”
The Bedford Arms is now so busy that they are planning to build a new extension that will increase the number of rooms available for guests: and Meades Group has also been instrumental in helping to structure this investment.
Oh, and one more thing…
As an award-winning business (Pub of the Year at the Bucks SME Business Awards in 2016 & 2017), the fame of The Bedford Arms puts it well and truly on the map in the region. As a successful local business, it also provides full and parttime employment to some thirty people (from chefs and housekeepers through to bar staff and management) and it is a beacon for quality dining to all those who have ever sat down in the restaurant.
But it still needs your help. Just like the town criers and travelling storytellers of yesteryear, perhaps you too could share the news of a very special hidden gem, tucked away in the ancient, royal and beautiful village of Chenies.