Siblings who grew up in Coombe Abbey make emotional return - The Rugby Observer
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18th Aug, 2022

Siblings who grew up in Coombe Abbey make emotional return

SIBLINGS who spent part of their childhood living in a 12th century Cistercian Abbey in Warwickshire before it became a hotel enjoyed a nostalgic revisit after 50 years.

In 1970 Wendy Duckett and brother Kevin Clarke relocated from a small terrace in Manchester to Coombe Abbey, near Brinklow, when their parents were invited to launch the first medieval banquets, which are still popular to this day.

After finalising arrangements following the death of their mother, they made an impulsive decision to come back and revisit the historic destination, which is now a four-star hotel.

Nurse and mother-of-two Wendy, who has lived in New Zealand for 17 years, said: “It’s a very emotional time. After mum died earlier this month Kevin and I both looked at each other and said we would love to come back to Coombe Abbey. We felt it was a fitting time to reminisce.

“The hotel staff were fantastic. When I rang up to book an overnight stay I said: ‘Would it be possible to have two rooms on the left side of the hotel as we grew up there?’. The receptionist was quite excited. To stay in the same bedroom, I had as a child – wowzer! – and they put my brother in a hotel bedroom that used to be our old living room.”

Wendy and Kevin were aged seven and eight respectively when they moved into a section of the council-owned grade I listed building and 150-acre estate, which were under restoration at the time. Coombe Abbey Hotel opened in 1995.

Their parents, Len and Rena Clarke, worked with Historic Productions and were running medieval banquets at 17th century Worsley Old Hall in Greater Manchester. They were offered the opportunity to set up similiar banquets at Coombe Abbey. Their dad was also asked to become live-in caretaker-manager of the premises.

It was a tearful moment when Kevin and Wendy first arrived and opened the arched green wooden door into the hotel corridor which used to house their family’s three-bedroom self-contained flat.

“We have a lot of fond memories of growing up here,” Wendy added.

“It was a unique childhood – but you only appreciate it as an adult.

“Weekends were geared to the medieval banquets. We used to hide and watch all the guests arrive in medieval costume from the top of the stairs in our pyjamas. Our mum would be dressed up in a medieval-style gown and dad wore tights. They were always very busy.

“As children we had the run of the place; it was only us who lived in the house. We spent a lot of time outside exploring and playing in the park. There was a big hollow tree on the drive which you could climb inside – that was our den.

“The main abbey was just a shell back then – it was like a building site. There was a reception area and a little ice-cream shop, a children’s play area at the back and cottages where the gardener lived.”

The pair came armed with retro photographs from the three years they spent living in the abbey between 1970 and 1973 and original programmes for their parents’ medieval banquets.

Their family collection included a photograph of Wendy and Kevin as children posing on top of the unnervingly high hotel roof.

Wendy added: “We used to get told off by the lady who worked in the ice-cream shop for playing on the roof. We used to climb up from the monk’s quarters.”

Ironically, Kevin now works as a health and safety officer in Sheffield.

He said: “I also used to fish out of my bedroom window on the first floor – I never caught anything.”

The siblings enjoyed a further trip down memory lane as they walked around the hotel grounds.

Standing on the bridge at the front of the hotel dad-of-three Kevin, who was accompanied by his partner Julie, said: “I remember standing here with my cousin and watching bats fly under the bridge. We attended a primary school in Brinklow and used to walk half a mile down the drive every morning to catch the school bus. We did used to get the mickey taken out of us for our Mancunian accent!

“We feel very lucky to have this memory as part of our childhood. After moving from an end terrace house in Salford it felt vast!

“I always feel very proud to say I lived in Coventry at Coombe Abbey. We’ve been back a few times to look at the grounds but driving down from Sheffield we realised we haven’t stepped inside for 50 years!

“It’s amazing to be here and to see what a beautifully restored hotel it now is – it’s brought all the happy memories flooding back. We are looking forward to reminiscing some more over an evening meal in the hotel restaurant.”

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