ABOUT THE HOTEL
Welcome to The Speech House
The hotel is an unmissable historic building that has been a part of the Forest of Dean’s scenery since 1669. Set in the centre of the forest, this historic former hunting lodge is surrounded by one of the only surviving ancient woodlands in England.
Whether you’re visiting this beautiful location for a weekend break or to explore one of the many walking or cycling routes, The Speech House is a stop you have to make.
Why not pop in for our very traditional afternoon tea with fine-bone china in the Orangery, or even stay a night in one of our impressive 7 foot Master Four Poster bed suites, to really get an understanding of the character this wonderful establishment beholds.
The hotel in an independent family-run hotel and we look forward to giving you the warm and friendly welcome The Speech House is appreciated for locally.
We are happy to show you around and give you an insight into the historic elements of the building, there are many original items still available to view. We have shared some of the highlights to look out for below. We hope you enjoy reading about our hotel’s history and distinct character.
Gill, Peter & Naomi
The Hands Family
The Hands Family & Hotels – How it All Began!
Peter and Gill Hands started their business “Tauber Hands Ltd”, shortly after getting married in February 1986.
Their first business, The Hyperion House hotel was a small 18 bedroom 2 star hotel in Fairford, Gloucestershire, which they purchased and quickly developed into a very successful 3 star 26 bedroom hotel with a popular restaurant.
Naomi, currently Operations Director at the Speech House was born in 1988 in Fairford, and lived there with Peter’s daughter, Amanda. Shortly after having sold the Hyperion House the family moved back to Hereford.
Having made this decision to opt for an “easier” way of life they invested the proceeds from the sale of the Hyperion into Breinton Court, a self-catering leisure complex on the banks of the River Wye, just outside Hereford . Katy, their second daughter soon appeared, and Breinton Court also became the family home for the next 31 years.
Whilst at Breinton Court, Peter and Gill went on to purchase “The Bell Hotel “opposite Tewkesbury Abbey in 1992 and having sold it in 1995 took a short break until 1997 when they purchased the Heritage Park Hotel in the Rhondda Valley a 44 bedroomed hotel with a health spa and large conference and banqueting facility for 250 guests.
They sold the Heritage Park Hotel in 2005, thinking they would take a break for a while but after 5 years of Peter taking over as Chairman of “Visit Hereford” for three and a half years and Gill doing some consultancy work, they couldn’t get rid of the “Hospitality Itch”.
In 2010, they decided to have one last hurrah and invested in the wonderful historic Speech House.
Ten years later, in 2020, their daughter Naomi, joined the family business. Having grown up in hotels, and then working in London for the past 10 years in marketing, she decided it was time for Mum & Dad to start considering the idea of retirement. Naomi, who has a keen interest in mountain biking and the outdoors was appointed “Operations Director”, and is bringing new ideas to The Speech House. She has a broad knowledge of the industry, and looking to bring new thoughts and ideas in to keep the Speech House as the premier hotel in the heart of The Royal Forest of Dean.
The Speech House Hotel truly is a Hands family business, with Katy’s art and paintings all around the building, and Amanda holding her weddding at the hotel in 2021!
The other new addition to the Management Team is Luca, Peter and Gill’s adopted Lucas Terrier who can often be seen around the hotel. Luca was made “Director of Dog Friendly Visits” He has been given his own Instagram page and become quite a favourite with the guests, both two and four legged.
Dine in a real Court Room
The Verderer’s Court is the most historic room in The Speech House where judgements took place over 300 years ago. The Verderer’s Court is now Verderers’, our fine dining restaurant. Many original features of this room still exist and even sit in the same position they have for many years including the original raised gallery. Book at table at Verderers’ during your time in the Forest of Dean and taste the history for yourself.
A brief timeline history of The Speech House
The Speech House was originally built as a hunting lodge for King Charles II in 1669. It was here that Verderers court, for the protection of vert and venison was held. The first recorded use of the new Court was in 1676 when there was a swanimote held before two Verderers.
In the days preceding the passing of offences to the magistrates courts, The Verderers had powers to deal with misdemeanours in the Forest. They could even sentence people to hanging on the gibbet located outside the building. In addition they could order the transportation of offenders and floggings, the whipping beam still exists in one of our bedrooms.
In 1688 there was a riot protesting against the events that happened in The Speech House. The riot caused serious damage to the Speech House costing £219 & 10 Shillings, today this would be nearly £20,000!
From 1858 The Speech House was let by the Crown as an Inn, however the courtroom was still being reserved for Verderers when required.
Some extensive work was made to The Speech House between the years of 1881 and 1883. The front west of the building remains completely original, however the east of the north wall now dates from 1883. The original stones of the demolished sides were preserved and used in the front end of the hotel.
From 1914 the local Magistrates Court began to deal with any offences concerning venison. However, if caught attempting to escape with the Forest’s Royal Deer, the Verderers were still able to sentence the offender to hanging.
Here the appointment as a Verderer is for life until the individual is unable to carry out his duties. However the Court sits on average only 4 times a year when matters concerning the Forest are discussed. The Verderers receive no payment but are by statute entitled to a Doe and a Buck a year from The Forest, a bundle of wood and a bag of coal. However, no one on record has claimed this right to date.
Don’t miss this when you visit the Speech House:
Original Open Fireplace
The original open fireplace remains as it always has been in the Court Room, although now gas fuelled.
There are nineteen pairs of antlers that decorate the walls as they have for centuries.
Carved Oak Chairs
These chairs were donated by the Crawshay family to the Verderers and date back to 1820. Eighteen years ago they were stolen from this room and went on a journey around Spain and Portugal, ending up a few years later, in an auction house in London. The auctioneer seeing the quality of the chairs checked with the police stolen arts squad and subsequently, two Verderers went to London, identified them and they were recently returned to their rightful home in our very own Verderer’s Court room.
These paintings are dated and registered in numerous directories as being circa 1690 – 1710. ‘The Bed Chamber’ by Italian artist Bernedetto and ‘Hunter at Rest’ by an unknown artist. The artworks are believed to have a Dutch / Flemish influence.
Royal Coat of Arms
The Verderer’s Brass Plaque of the Royal Coat of Arm and the card advertising the Courts proceedings are located in the Court Room.
Two Oak Trees and Obelisk
In 2014, we were honoured to be asked to host HRH Earl & Countess of Wessex for lunch. During their visit and they went on to plant two oak trees across the road at the front of the Speech House and unveil a plaque on the Obelisk which had been refurbished for their visit.
The spades used by HRH Queen Elizabeth and HRH Prince Phillip in April 1957 when they planted the two oak trees across the road on the western side of the building. These were used again by Prince Edward when he planted the trees in 2014.
The Original Low Raised Court Gallery
These days the Verderers work closely with the Forestry Commission and local authorities. They comment on planning applications whether to do with gravel extraction or building applications within the forest. They liaise over the various tree diseases that are affecting the Ash, Larch, Oak and Chestnut. They also discuss the issues of the Wild Boar believed now to be in excess of 2,000, and the potential damage they are doing to the local environment. Generally their business is anything that has or could have a detrimental effect on the forest.