The owners of a popular hotel in Swaffham have put it on the market for £1.5m.

Strattons Hotel has become a Norfolk favourite after owners Vanessa and Les Scott bought the eight-bedroom manor house, off Ash Close, in 1990.

They carefully restored the building, which had previously been a boarding house, and used it as both a family home and as a hotel. They also restored several outbuildings, creating a bistro-style café and self-catering accommodation, but after 32 years have decided to put the whole site on the market.

Vanessa says that when she first saw the manor house, back in 1990, she almost couldn't believe it. “I remember saying ‘there isn’t a house like that in Swaffham’ but, sure enough, it was there," she says.

"It’s one of those little gems that are hidden in a lot of market towns, but luckily somebody has held onto the grounds – it is like a little green oasis in the middle of a very old street.”

At the time, Vanessa says the Grade II listed property needed major work, but she and her husband, Les, were unfazed.

They were fresh from the building trade, had completed three other renovation projects and had "caught the bug", she says. As lovers of listed buildings, it was a dream – a “mishmash” of architecture that spanned styles and ages, with outbuildings and land that they knew they could renovate.

“There was, we think, a malting barn on the site originally, and then somebody in the early 1800s built a mini villa,” says Vanessa.

At the time, she says there were lots of villas in the area, thanks to a revival of palladian architecture. With its Venetian and Diocletian windows, sedan steps, portico and semi-basement, Vanessa says the property mimicked other, much grander styled homes in the area, like Holkham and Houghton.

“All those people were doing the Grand Tour and seeing those things and bringing back the artefacts to go into their places, but ours is just a vernacular example of it. It’s quite sweet really, because it’s red brick, not stone, but it was still following that fashion.”

Vanessa says that the oldest part of the property was owned by a “very fashionable man in the town”, before two different extensions were added in the Victorian era. “It’s a real sort of mishmash of architecture but it just works, as these places do, because they just happen very organically.”

What also attracted the couple to the property is the lifestyle it could offer. “We were ultimately looking for somewhere that we could run as a business, that meant we would be at home so that our small children, who were six and eight at the time, could actually come home and we’d be there,” she says.

“We knew what it was like with two young children, where you sort of had to have partial childcare, and it just seemed like we were all ships that passed in the night. We wanted to change that lifestyle.”

Once they had bought the property, Vanessa says the first challenge was to find enough cash to begin the work, and, once they had, period building specialists Fishers of Fakenham replaced the roof on the villa building and restored the spalled brickwork.

“The brickwork was badly deteriorated and had been poorly repaired with cement render which had been coloured with brick dust,” Vanessa says.
Les, who is a carpenter by trade, painstakingly dismantled and overhauled all the window sashes – nearly 40 in total – and restored the two front doors to their original state, half-glazed, half wood. This brought in lots more light so they reinstated lost windows on the portico entrance too.

Between 1938 and 1985, the building had been owned by Mrs Gertrude Stratton. Although she later inspired the hotel’s name, they were keen to get rid of some of her other influences. “She’d divided it up into a boarding house during the war years so she could rent rooms and therefore you’d got pieces of cornicing missing, because she’d basically slapped walls up,” Vanessa says. “When we came in there, we got a craftsman to copy the original cornicing.”

Vanessa herself carried out superficial work, she says, like painting murals and walls and stripping floors, while Les did much of the rest. “He knows every inch of the building, really, because we’ve stripped it back and done a proper historical renovation of it,” she says.

They also hired specialist craftsmen, who completed the leadwork on the roof, and Mark Ready, a specialist builder in period buildings – and Vanessa’s brother – did the flint, brickwork and lime plastering.

Vanessa says that, to create the hotel, they used up “every single square inch” of the space and even renovated the once-derelict outbuildings. She and Les eventually moved out of the property into another home on the edge of town, which freed up more space, and their children, now adults, have also moved out.

Strattons has offered family and pet-friendly accommodation for over 30 years, as well as breakfasts, lunches and dinners, and won many awards for its service and style.

Its accommodation includes six luxurious bedroom suites, two reception rooms and two dining rooms. Outside it has two self-contained guest houses and CoCoes Café, a stylish bistro-style café complete with kitchen, customer toilets and an outdoor seating area. All of these offer potential for new owners, whether for personal or business use, or it could also be returned to use as a much-loved family home.

That’s the thing about Strattons; it is grand enough to be noticed, enjoyed, even to make you go ‘wow’, but it’s also modest enough to be a functional domestic space.

Many guests will also no doubt think fondly of the hotel’s vibrant and expressive interiors, which are bold and bright and mix traditional materials with eclectic designs.

Vanessa and Les met at art school, and have been constantly inspired by the building and the space it has offered. “It has provided the space and light for us to be creative,” says Vanessa, no doubt referring to some of its quirkier features: the hand-painted murals, the bold colours, the statement light features.

The gardens, too, have been overhauled. “In 2009 we had the front grounds completely redesigned by friend and garden designer Sue Huckle of Seven Acres Nursery,” says Vanessa. “It is a real triumph. It has an Italianate feel to it with pleached hornbeams, box hedging and skyrocket cypress trees.”

In fact, she says the setting itself might well be the most important feature. “Tucked behind the marketplace, surrounded by high walls which create its own microclimate – we successfully grow peaches, figs and cherries – the house is an oasis of calm and heritage. It really feels like you’ve stepped back in time.

“We think because it’s so beautiful, someone will care for it the way we’ve cared for it. After all, with any old house, you aren’t really the owner, you’re just the caretaker. I just hope the next person loves it as much as we do.”

Strattons Hotel is for sale with Sowerbys at a guide price of £1.5m.

Ash Close, Swaffham
Guide price: £1,500,000
Sowerbys, 01328 730340,

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