Location: Frome an historic market town with honey-coloured houses
Perfect for: A traditionally English experience
Refurbished by its former owner (gay entrepreneur Ivan Massow) under the guidance of English Heritage, The Merchant’s House is quintessentially English without being chintzy. New owner Gina, couldn’t be more knowledgeable about the house (or the area). High ceilings, traditionally sprung mattresses, mural panels, and huge sash windows, and a flagstone-floored kitchen that runs the full length of the house. Downton Abbey’s Mrs Patmore would be right at home…
Arriving in Frome by bus from Bath (just a 30 ride away), we walk up the pretty cobbled road of Catherine Hill until we reach Whittox Lane. John Whittox was a wealthy local merchant (Frome was once a prosperous mill town) and in 1696 he built the huge Queen Anne property here that’s now known as The Merchant’s House.
We’re met by the owner, Gina, and shown through to our room, although not via the grand front door as we‘d hoped. The lobby area’s more modern than we’d expected of the property, with no period details, but Gina tells us that it is due for re-decoration.
Our room – one of two – is much more like it though. There’s a large carved bed and matching wardrobe, as well as a kidney-shaped dressing table with stool which, Monsieur 2 observes, is ‘very Downton Abbey’. By one of the huge sash windows which look out onto the rolling landscaped garden there’s a classic roll-top claw-footed bath, too. The overall effect is quintessentially English without being chintzy – we like it.
Picking up on our evident interest in architecture, owner Gina kindly offers to show us round. After falling into disuse in the last century the house was completely refurbished, under the guidance of English Heritage, by its previous owner – our favourite gay multi-millionaire financier, Ivan Massow.
The rooms are beautifully proportioned with high ceilings and mural panels, and formerly bricked-up windows have been painstakingly reopened – Ivan did a great job.
Back in our room, we freshen up in the little bathroom at the smart butler sink and change for the evening – the reason for our stay is a trip to the theatre in Yeovil to see one of our favourite comedians, Sandi Togsvig,
We arrive back to find that fresh milk has thoughtfully been left out for us – perfect for a bedtime cuppa. We like that there are a couple of jars of biscuits in the hallway to help ourselves from, too – much nicer than the stingy plastic-wrapped servings in some places we’ve stayed!
Climbing into the very comfy bed we notice how nicely old-fashioned it is, with a traditional sprung mattress and broderie anglaise eiderdown which all add to the stately home feel of the room. We’re also pleased to see carafes of water on our bedside tables – a welcome homely touch.
Waking bright and early we make a cup of tea and run ourselves a delightfully deep bath. There’s a whole range of lovely locally-made lavender products (our room is even called the Lavender Room) and a leisurely soak a deux is a really relaxing way to start the day.
Breakfast is served in the kitchen – and what an impressive kitchen it is, running the full length of the house. With its warming AGA and flagstone floors, Downton Abbey’s Mrs Patmore would be right at home.
We settle in at the table and are brought pots of tea and coffee. There’s cereal, piping hot toast and real butter, fresh fruit salad, pastries served warm from the oven, local cheeses and charcuterie, and home-made jams. It’s a very English take on a continental breakfast!
Frome is quiet as anything on a Sunday morning, but is thriving at other times. The artisan market – held almost every Sundays throughout the summer – is meant to be well worth a visit, as are the music and arts festivals that pop up here throughout the year. But we enjoy the peace, and roam the higgledy-piggledy streets of the hillside town, stopping to marvel at the open stream that runs along Cheap Street!
After lattes in a local coffee shop it’s time to head home; we pick up our bags from The Merchant’s House and head out through the beautiful garden to make our way to the station. We’ve enjoyed our stay, it’s made a nice change to spend the night somewhere traditional, cosy and homely rather than the more polished places we usually choose. We’ve also really appreciated Gina’s attentive, personal service.
Our only real reservation is the heavy premium for a single night’s stay, which we didn’t feel merited; our room was £160 for the night but would have been just £120 if we’d stayed for two or more. We understand the economics of businesses needing to drive longer stays but it felt oddly corporate given the otherwise family-run feel of the place.
We enjoyed our time with Gina at The Merchant’s House, and recommend it for travellers seeking a warm welcome, a great breakfast and a distinctively English experience. But avoid the supplement and make the most of it – explore Bath, Stourhead and the pretty surrounding towns – and stay for a two-night break, rather than one.
Remember to mention les Deux Messieurs when you book!
Our rating: It’s a 3.5 stars for the Merchant’s House, a great gay friendly B&B in Frome, Somerset, South West England.
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