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Shakespeare Country may not seem like venue-rich territory at first glance, but look more closely and you’ll find a cluster of serious event spaces well worth exploring in The Bard’s back
Shakespeare Country: wattle and daub, trickling streams and country pubs, right? Yes, but that’s not all. What you’re missing is a list of event-ready venues that combine the charm of the countryside with up-to-date facilities and unusual teambuilding activities.
The location’s pretty handy, too. If you’re in London, it’s a little over an hour on the train from Marylebone station to Warwick. From Birmingham, it’s less than half that.
There is some conjecture as to where exactly the boundary of this land lies, so, to settle the matter once and for all, we’ve made you a map, complete with a list of our favourite venues.
1) Kenilworth Castle
One of the area’s major tourist attractions, the castle has been standing for nearly 900 years and is perhaps best known as the home of Robert Dudley, Elizabeth I’s lover. It can be booked for private functions and the main spaces include the Gate House for 30 people or, in the summer, The Stables for up to 100 guests. Larger events can be accommodated in a 260-capacity marquee, set up on a lawn near the impressive Elizabethan Garden.
All open fires, tapestries and oak beams, the Grade II-listed Wroxall Abbey will have you picturing scenes from Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. The venue’s two restaurants, Sonnets and Wedgewood, can be hired for events either individually or together, seating a total of 120 guests. Teambuilding activities are another strong suit – be sure to ask about the new mini-hovercraft racing.
The origins of this historic racecourse can be traced back to the 17th century, making it one of the oldest in the country. As you’d expect from a Jockey Club venue, the conference facilities are extensive, along with purpose-built banqueting, wedding and party spaces. The 150-capacity 1707 Suite, with its view of the winning posts and large balcony space, is a good choice for meetings.
4) Warwick Castle
He may have slain Harold, our last Anglo-Saxon monarch, but William The Conqueror did us a good turn when he commissioned Warwick Castle. The main house’s 130-capacity Great Hall is a fine spot for a themed (with actors ’n’ all) medieval banquet or a dramatic wedding. There’s a host of teambuilding exercises on offer too, with trebuchet building being the newbie package.
Just outside Leamington Spa is Eden Hotel Collection property Mallory Court. Another event-friendly location, the venue has a handful of well-appointed spaces, with the Knights Suite holding 200 seated guests. We’re particularly fond of the restaurant’s newly refurbished private dining room, which will hold 14 guests for an intimate dinner.
6) Menzies Welcombe Hotel
Some £2.5m was spent on sprucing this place up recently, revealing some of the building’s original features and installing furnishings that complement its Victorian architecture. The huge terrace space at the back of the property is a good bet for drinks receptions (it has a killer view), and there’s a host of dedicated event spaces suitable for conferences (maximum capacity of 250) and weddings.
If you’re keen to find an event space in Stratford-upon-Avon, take a peek at The Arden Hotel, just over the road from the Royal Shakespeare Company. The Arden’s restaurant, PDR, will seat 40 at round tables and there’s a clutch of other rooms for meetings. The property works closely with the RSC, handy when you’ve got a larger group of delegates to accommodate.
8) Royal Shakespeare Company
As with all theatres, the priority (in both the Royal Shakespeare and Swan auditoriums) goes to performances, so availability is necessarily limited. There are, however, a few other spacious rooms available year round which combine the best of the old mock-gothic building and the £112m redevelopment of 2010. For small meetings or dinner, we particularly like the private-dining Round Room (which seats 20 guests), tucked away in the corner of the top-floor restaurant. The views over the Avon are a definite plus.
This Grade I-listed Georgian mansion operates primarily as an art gallery, housing six permanent collections, with over 20 gallery spaces in all. The building and surrounding grounds make quite a backdrop for weddings, parties and conferences. The West Lawn is a good location for temporary structures, or the space can be booked for teambuilding activities.
10) Ettington Park
With its neo-gothic design, Ettington makes quite an impression as you arrive. Of the event spaces indoors, we’re big fans of the 100-capacity Long Gallery, with its arched timber ceiling – it was originally designed to be the museum for the family that lived there. For an intimate dinner or informal meeting, take a look at the 19th-century Chapel.
Dominating the reception area is the battered Land Rover Defender used in the starting sequence of Skyfall. Yeah, cool. The venue’s museum floor makes an atmospheric space for a drinks reception. At the rear of the mock art-deco building is a conference centre (with capacity for up to 600 theatre-style) and the offices of the Land Rover Experience. One of the team’s off-road aces will drive you around in a top-of-the-range Discovery 4 or Defender – or you can get behind the wheel yourself.
This article was first printed in Square Meal Venues & Events, spring 2013.