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 en-suite bathrooms. Most rooms have a single bed, though there are a few doubles. 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 Hurst has the most comprehensive facilities for disabled people, with wheelchair access to every room via a lift, with all rooms equipped with ensuite bathrooms, five of which are wetrooms equipped for wheelchair access.
Arvon welcomes writers with disabilities. If you have any specific access requirements, please discuss with us prior to booking and we will do our utmost to accommodate your needs. All communal spaces, including workshop spaces, are accessible to people with mobility issues. Each centre can accommodate a personal assistant or carer if required, and if there are spaces available.
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
There are rail connections to London, Wales, the North and South-West England from Craven Arms station, eight miles away.
The nearest station is Craven Arms, eight miles from The Hurst. It is a fairly well-serviced station on the main line between Manchester and Cardiff, with rail connections to London, the North and South-West England.
Please see the accommodation, food and accessibility page for further information.
Centre Director: Natasha Carlish
Assistant Centre Director: Donna Salisbury
Assistant Centre Director: Jo King
Centre Assistant: Anna Taylor
Senior Centre Administrator: Dan Pavitt
The John Osborne Arvon Centre
Tel: 01588 640 658
COURSES AND RETREATS AT THE HURST
Apr 29-May 4
Poetry: Towards a Collection
Navigating a maze of your own creation
Finding your way through the woods
Creative Writing and Wellbeing
Enhance your ability to flourish
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.