Sturminster Newton, Dorset
by Sarah Shuckburgh
Old-fashioned hospitality and
country pursuits in a family-owned manor in rural Dorset.
Plumber Manor (pronounce the B - this isn’t to do with
plumbing) has been home to the same family since it was
built by Charles Brune the early 17th century. The hotel’s
genial and talkative proprietor, Richard Prideaux-Brune,
inherited the house at the age of 22, and has run it as a
hotel since 1973. He is often asked by guests if the manor
was once his family seat, and he replies that it still is -
he and his wife Alison brought their children up here, and
they still live here. It certainly has the comfortable feel
of a family house - a huge sagging sofa shows the wear and
tear of many children‘s somersaults, and family portraits
hang in the three dining rooms and around the large
first-floor gallery. Richard Prideaux-Brune gave us a guided
tour of his ancestors, including a great-grandmother who was
one of her generation’s great beauties, and some of the
grander Prideaux cousins, from Padstow, Cornwall. One
painting, of his own children, featured the huge sofa before
The setting is idyllic and utterly rural. The Jacobean manor
house is built of Dorset stone, and is surrounded by lawns
and tall trees. The Devilish Stream runs through the garden,
and beyond lie miles of peaceful rolling countryside. This
is Blackmoor Vale, described by Thomas Hardy in Tess of the
D’Urbervilles as the Vale of the Little Dairies, a lush and
beautiful landscape where Tess finds (short-term) happiness.
Little has changed here for centuries - a nearby bridge over
the Stour river bears a 15th century sign warning that
anyone injuring the bridge will be transported for life.
There are six bedrooms leading off the first-floor gallery
in the manor house, and a further ten in cleverly converted
stone stables across the lawn. The bedrooms are large, warm
and comfortable. On the first day, we failed to find our
tea-making equipment, successfully hidden inside a cupboard.
When we did find the tray, we were disappointed by the
sachets of long-life UHT milk, but delighted by the
delicious home-made biscuits.
Reasons to stay here:
1. Hunting, shooting, fishing, riding and golf - available
2. Free stabling for guests’ horses.
2. Dogs - there are two resident labradors, and visiting
dogs are welcome in the ten stable-yard rooms.
3. Local places of interest include Milton Abbas,
Shaftesbury, Sherborne, Cerne Abbas, Athelhampton and
Stourhead house and gardens.
4. Visit places described in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the
D’Urbervilles - the Vale of the Little Dairies, Tess’s
cottage, the Dew Drop Inn, and Stourcastle (Sturminster
Newton, where Hardy wrote Return of the Native).
5. Unspoilt Dorset countryside and coastline.
Not suitable for:
1. People looking for designer chic - this is more like a
2. Spring half-term breaks - the hotel is closed throughout
3. Dog-haters - when we stayed here, most of the stable-yard
guests seemed to have brought their dogs, including us.
“Eating in, eating out”
The chef is Brian Prideaux-Brune, younger brother of the
proprietor. Plumber Manor first opened as a ’restaurant with
rooms’ and diners come here for traditional English dishes
made from fresh Dorset ingredients. The dessert trolley is
Dorset DT10 2AF
Tel: 01258 472507
Fax: 01258 473370
Prices: doubles £110-£170
First published by Travel Intelligence Ltd