Rothay Garden Hotel History

The Early Years, 1850 - 1990

Originally built in the 1850’s as a private house, the six bedroom and one bathroom property that was to become Rothay Garden hotel was originally named Rothay Bank, being on the banks of the river Rothay. Like most grand houses of the day, this country house was built as a home for one of the landed gentry, presumably one of the wealthy land owners or mine owners, as this was a wealthy time for the Lake District, with copper, lead and slate being in big demand and tourism just beginning.

Rothay Bank first became a hotel or guest house in the 1960’s and went through many guises before becoming the property before you today. Ahead of its time perhaps, but Rothay Bank was at one point actually a vegetarian guest house in the 60’s! Then, under the next owners there were a number of long term residents (as was the way in those days), including one permanent resident - a spinster having two rooms on the second floor for her and her 12 cats!

Rothay Bank always enjoyed a good name as a modest but pleasing guest house, offering a very typical (of the day) British holiday. In the early ‘seventies, some friends of the owner and operator (Chris Carss), bought it and for the first time introduced fine dining to Rothay Bank and quickly enjoyed a big following. Up to this point, the dining room was in the front lounge and it was actually the lounges which overlooked the delightful gardens.

Along the way, different owners added extensions. The dormer window at the bridge end of the house was added at a very early stage, thought to date from around 1930 but certainly before the 2nd World War. The white roughcast garden extension was added in stages from the ‘60’s through to the ‘80’s. It started as a separate, single storey owner’s block, then the first floor dormers were added, then it was joined to the hotel, and Chris made it part of the hotel in 1993.

In the early ‘80’s the Garside family bought the hotel and seeing the value of promoting the lovely grounds, changed the name to Rothay Garden. In the late 80’s they operated Rothay Garden as a 2-star hotel, adding the conservatory restaurant and 5 riverside bedrooms, taking the hotel up to 21 bedrooms, which were unfortunately disparate in quality.

There are many pictures in the hotel which show the original building and its evolution. You can even see a framed brochure showing the restaurant in the front lounge!

Luxury in the Heart of the Lakes - 1990 to date

In 1990 Chris Carss bought the 21 bedroom property with investors. Their strategy was to reposition Rothay Garden as a quality 3-star hotel. To secure this objective continuous investment was required in both the fabric of the building and in the development of the personnel.

In 1993 the garden extension was converted to create a further 4 bedrooms and in 1996 the garden lounge and a further ground floor bedroom, together with public cloakrooms were added. This took the number of bedrooms to 26. In 1999 two of the smaller 2nd floor rooms were altered to make one large room and in this process the chimney (lost in creating the original dormer window many years earlier), was reinstated enabling the open lounge fire to be introduced. The hotel was given due recognition for its improvements in 1999, when it was awarded the Cumbria Tourist Board “Hotel of the Year.”

Rothay Garden saw the Millennium in in some style – only to suffer in the months to come like so many other businesses from the outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease in the countryside. However, things recovered quite swiftly, and in 2002, Chris bought out his co-directors and set about planning the future development of Rothay Garden. 2003 saw the re-development of the conservatory restaurant to a more contemporary style, Chris being keen to move from the “chintzy” feel that he had inherited and which, was so common-place throughout the Lake District. This was effectively, the template for the re-development of the whole hotel which was to follow.

2008 saw the bold decision to close the hotel for six months for a major £3 million redevelopment which created:- 5 new loft suites and an atrium style foyer, contemporary redevelopment of all bedrooms and public rooms, development of new kitchens and staff facilities and a comprehensive upgrade of the hotel. The hotel re-opened in July 2008 and was immediately graded 4-star by the AA. This development immediately proved itself, with occupancy exceeding expectations, and the next two years saw Rothay Garden not only trade well at this new quality level, but also win numerous hotel industry and tourism awards, including regional and national recognition for staff development, business management, caring for the environment and even “Best UK Hotel Brochure.”

This all prompted Chris and the team to push on with further redevelopment plans. The winter of 2010/11 saw the final £1 million phase come to fruition with all ground floor bedrooms on the riverside and garden side being re-developed into suites with the addition of sun lounges and the corresponding rooms above gaining balconies. Also, a major part of this development was the demolition of the conservatories and being replaced with a new Garden Restaurant which provided more tables and space to meet demand, in a stunning contemporary room overlooking the lovely gardens. The final part of this scheme was the development of a small (but perfectly formed) Riverside Spa, offering a Hydro-Spa, Herbal Pine Sauna, Aromatherapy Room, Monsoon Showers and Infra-Red Loungers. 

2018 saw Rothay Garden once again win Cumbria Tourism's "Best Small Hotel" award, and 12 months later, Chris Carss retired and handed over the reins to the team at Providence Hospitality, part of Fairtree International, who have a strong track record of owning and operating boutique and niche hotels and resorts in the UK and South Africa. With two other hotels in the Cumbria (Borrowdale Gates Hotel near Keswick and The Grange at Grange-over-Sands), and having retained many of Rothay Garden's key team members, Providence Hospitality and new General Manager Trish Thomas intend to cointinue to offer fine hospitality, excellent food and a superb welcome for many years to come!

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