Stephen ‘Oryszczuk’ (pronounced ‘Orange Juice’) follows in the footsteps of Chaplin and Olivier during a mini-break at the magisterial Great Fosters Hotel
He’s itching to ask, but isn’t sure whether he should. I am reviewing him, after all. In the end the temptation is just too great, and after some amiable banter, he leans in.
“Sir, if you don’t mind my asking, how exactly do you pronounce your surname?”
It’s a delicate approach, and I don’t mind in the slightest. I tell him, at exactly the same time Mrs O chooses to do likewise. Embarrassingly, we both pronounce it slightly differently. He nods politely but doesn’t look like he could easily reproduce that strange set of sounds we’ve just made. As it happens, that’s exactly what he needs to do, in order to settle a dispute.
“It’s just that we have a number of Central and Eastern European staff working here, Sir, and they’ve been arguing amongst themselves about how to say it.”
“Well, the last thing we want to do is sow discord,” I say. “Best tell them it’s pronounced differently depending on where you’re from.”
“Very good Sir,” he bows, Sir Humphrey-esque.
“What of the British staff?” I ask, a little mischievously. “How have they been pronouncing it?”
“They’ve not, Sir. That’s how the dispute began.”
“Don’t worry,” says the ever-helpful Mrs O. “It sounds a lot like Orange Juice, which we also answer to.”
“Talking of which,” he says with a spark, “would you care for a drink?”
It’s a lovely anecdote from a wonderful stay at a fabulous hotel. Located near Egham, Great Fosters well and truly warrants its name. And just like Blighty, it boasts a classy history. The Saxon moat bordering the Arts and Crafts garden, for example, dates from 500AD, and was built to keep predators from the livestock.
The hardback history books dish out more. The first known keepers were listed just less than 800 years ago. Centuries later, the manor house as stands today was built, before being used as a hunting lodge by King Henry VIII and subsequently by his daughter Elizabeth, whose royal crest still adorns the main porch. It has played host to the glitterati ever since.
Nearby studios Shepperton and Pinewood brought the stars of stage and screen, the hotel welcoming among others Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh and Ginger Rogers, whose mink coats were audaciously robbed while she was filming. Other notables include Peter Ustinov and Charlie Chaplin, the latter using hidden stairs (in the Tapestry Room) and a trapdoor (in the Nursery Suite) to wish his kids goodnight.
Yet it is a hard-nosed fact that hotels today cannot survive on past glories alone. So it is with great relief that I can report that Great Fosters doesn’t.
Being so close to Heathrow and the M25, and fresh from staying in some of the country’s top hotels, I’d had a horrible feeling that Great Fosters would disappoint. How wrong I was. From the hobbit-hole entrance onwards, it wowed and wooed us. Opt for the historic rooms and eat at the far-less-formal Estate Grill restaurant and you’ll have a ball. Watch out for the toilets, though, if in fact you can find them.
After you’ve enjoyed breakfast, head out into the wild, to the North Downs and to the summit of Box Hill, which was gifted to the nation exactly 100 years ago by Leopold Salomons.
For those with a yearning for more Jewish heritage, there is plenty to be getting on with. Egham was once home to the de Worms, one of a number of the county’s prominent Jewish families. Sir Moses Haim Montefiore, whose papers are now kept at the University of Southampton, once patrolled the county’s streets as Captain of the Surrey Militia between 1810 and 1814. And the wealthy Sassoons, of Iraqi descent, made Ashley Park their home.
Get a further dose of history in Windsor and Eton, the latter full of Chinese tourists and the former full of warped buildings and crooked pubs. I have no idea if there is any Jewish interest to either place, but regardless, they make for a fantastic day out.
Don’t get ripped off with £4/hour parking by the riverside though. Opt instead for the nearby train station car park, which is £2 for the day.
Spend the savings in one of the city’s boutique shops or, as in our case, on a mulled cider from one of the beautiful black-and-white pubs facing Windsor Castle, hoping to catch a glimpse of Queen Elizabeth, before retiring back to her namesake’s former bolthole, where the staff stands ready to greet you.
“Welcome back, Mr Apple Juice.”