The Hurst is a place you can write, far away from daily distractions. The house and gardens, surrounded by the forest-covered Shropshire Hills, were the former home of playwright John Osborne.
The 19th century building has been given a thoroughly 21st century renovation. All 16 bedrooms have a single bed and en-suite bathroom. The main workshop room has a hand crafted table for twenty and a growing library, and a lift gives accessibility to every bedroom. The centre staff are here to look after you and make your stay enjoyable and comfortable.
The grounds boast redwoods, wild orchids, surrounded by the forest-covered Shropshire Hills, designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The house sits within 26 acres of woodland, with a spring-fed lake and inspiring walks.
All your meals are provided during an Arvon courses. Food at The Hurst is sourced locally and sustainably wherever possible. There’s even a kitchen garden, tended to by our on-site gardener, where we grow plentiful crops of seasonal vegetables and fruit. You’ll help yourself to breakfast each morning, lunch will be prepared by centre staff and dinner is prepared by teams of course participants each evening, using the delicious recipes and ingredients provided.
“There is something about the natural beauty at The Hurst which supports the endeavour of writing, which makes wanderings and musings inevitable.”
— Grant recipient
"The rural setting and amazing surroundings jerked me right out of my usual I-don’t-have-the-time mindset, and left me feeling totally free of pressure, stress and hurry - it was completely liberating."
— Sadie Ryan
"I use a scooter most of the time and definitely The Hurst is beautifully accessible. I would find it hard to suggest any improvements at all. I think The Hurst is designed with the writer in mind and as such, all our needs are catered for."
— Kathrine Dale
"There is something about the natural beauty at the Hurst which supports the endeavour of writing, which makes wanderings and musings inevitable."
— Danielle Kerris
PHYSICAL ACCESS: The Hurst is the only house that is fully accessible to wheelchair users. There is access to every room via a lift. All communal spaces, including workshop spaces, have level access. There are no steps on the ground floor. All door frames measure the required 825mm, although the fire doors installed reduce this width slightly. All door handles are at an accessible height, with power sockets located at 500mm from the floor. There is an accessible toilet on the ground floor.
KITCHEN/DINING: Writers take it in turns to jointly prepare meals. If you are unable to do this, it is not a problem, you will get the opportunity to remove yourself from the rota when you book or contact us on the dedicated access email or phone number. All work surfaces are a standard height, but lower tables can be provided. There are base cupboards with utensils, crockery and other supplies at an accessible height. We have a portable step for those with restricted height to reach surfaces etc. For dining, we have a range of seating, benches and chairs. If you want to ensure that a particular type of chair is available, i.e. a chair with arms, please contact us on our dedicated access email or phone number.
LIFT: We have an eight-person lift: 630kg capacity.
BEDROOMS: All rooms are equipped with en suite bathrooms, six of which are wet rooms equipped for wheelchair access. You can bring a Personal Assistant with you if required, for no additional cost. You can choose this option on the booking form, or contact us on the dedicated access Email or phone number.
FIRE SAFETY: We have a buddy system for evacuation, and a separate, accessible exit from the building on the first floor if the writer is in their room.
OUTSIDE: The main entrance is accessible from the car park. A ramp with a railing runs along the side of the house to the main front door. The surface on the car park and ramp is paved. There is a level access terrace with seating.
NEAREST TRAIN STATION: The nearest train station is Craven Arms, 8.5 miles away. Both platforms are accessible but need to be approached from different roads. Taxi drivers will need to be told ahead of arrival which platform you are arriving on. We have phone numbers of accessible taxis and can organise this on your behalf – you can request this on the booking form or contact us through the dedicated Email or phone number.
THE GROUNDS: There are lovely parklands around the Hurst. Some of the pathways have level access and hard surfaces. There are some slopes. There is also some seating situated along the pathways.
Sir Walter Scott, AE Housman, Mary Webb, EM Forester… The Clun Valley in Shropshire is a very confluence of writers and their inspiration, and it was where John Osborne and his wife Helen chose to spend their retiring years.
His plays Look Back in Anger and The Entertainer, his screenplays, but above all his share in the profits of Woodfall Films, made him very rich. They escaped the noise of the south-east for the grand-if-neglected rural estate of The Hurst, a twenty-room 1812 house set in rich agricultural landscape. Surrounded by the Shropshire hills, the soft fertile valleys, their own fruit cages, the orchard and the still-partially-walled kitchen garden, John had chosen one of Housman’s “quietest places under the sun.”
They arrived in Shropshire with a menagerie, two horses, two donkeys and three dogs. These dogs were the children they never had. Sometimes they joined in uninvited. Taking a pre-dinner drink in the drawing room, you might be greeted by Helen head-in-hands announcing that the dogs had “tried your dinner.’’ You could hear the sound of plates being licked. Everything could be solved with a glass and a good meal. There were hours spent together in the womb of the kitchen, their acerbic wit writhing in the smoke of their cigarettes and cigars. In his last play Dejà Vu John draws upon The Hurst kitchen for his inspiration. The curtain rises on Jimmy Porter and a very different set of characters, but this lovingly detailed domestic scene is The Hurst.
If John had chosen The Hurst as a place of withdrawal to complete the second volume of his autobiography, Helen loved people and having “a Shropshire do” was an important part of her life. The house was a perfect place for their lavish entertaining of old friends, actors, writers and artists. Sue Mercer, the housekeeper recalls Eileen Atkins, Edward Fox, Emily Mortimer, Dame Maggie Smith, Sylvia Simms, Anthony Howard and Peter Bowles.
Ed Collier, one of the first Arvon Centre Directors at The Hurst, remembers her as “a wonderful and generous…host.’’ The Reverend Prebendary Richard Shaw – vicar of Clun – recalls: “My one memory of John Osborne’s hospitality is of champagne being always available in the kitchen – John would give me a tour of the gardens – they were wonderful – then it was into the kitchen for champagne – it did not seem to matter what time of the day it was – generous hospitality was always on offer!’’
Osborne died in 1994 deeply in debt, leaving Helen alone in the large house. Amongst the guests at their dinner parties had been ‘Grey Gowrie’, Earl of Gowrie. After politics and Minister of the Arts, he was Chairman of the Arts Council of England and responsible for allocating funds from the National Lottery. This fund was to solve Helen’s financial problems and to provide Arvon with a third base. An Arts Council Capital Lottery Grant provided the means to acquire The Hurst whilst guaranteeing Helen’s continued residence there.
The new venture was opened by Dame Maggie Smith in March 2003. Helen died January 2004 and was buried next to her beloved husband in St George’s churchyard, Clun.
An edited extract from John Osborne Entertains: Food and Drink in the Shropshire Hills, published by M&K Pybus, priced £12.95, to raise funds for Arvon.
Travelling by car
The Hurst is about 8 miles west of Craven Arms on the B4368 between Clun and Clunton. Head for Craven Arms on the A49, between Ludlow and Shrewsbury. At the Craven Arms Hotel, take the B4368, signposted Clun. One mile beyond Clunton, you will see a white house on your right. Just past this is a left-hand turn into our driveway. From Wales, or via Bishop’s Castle, head for Clun on the A488. In Clun, take the B4368 signposted Craven Arms. After 1 mile you will come to a left-hand bend with a black-and-white chevron warning sign – the right-hand turn just around the bend is The Hurst driveway.
Travelling by train
Craven Arms is our nearest railway station. It is on the main line between Manchester and Cardiff, with connections to London, the Midlands, the North and South-West England.
We ask participants at The Hurst and The Clockhouse to arrange their own travel from and to the station. We recommend the following taxi companies:
Rez’s Cab: 07487 899102
Wolfcar: 01584 856690 M: 07812 207615/07864 824406
Rocket Ron: 07890 904732
Please see the accommodation, food and accessibility page for further information.
COURSES AND RETREATS AT THE HURST
Sep 26-Oct 1
Residential Writing Week: Starting to Write
Taking on the blank page
Residential Writing Week: Fiction Work-in-Progress
Staying the course
Tutored Retreat: Poetry
The Marvellous Journey
Give your writing the time and space it deserves with Arvon’s dedicated Writers Retreat at The Clockhouse. The Clockhouse is open year-round, set in the grounds at The Hurst.