The History of Seaham Hall

Behind the detail

Contemporary luxury meets classical elegance

About Seaham Hall

As well as a range of individually styled, luxurious suites, which offer stylish and spacious surroundings, sumptuous seating and all the mod cons you can imagine, Seaham Hall is home to the award-winning Serenity Spa. Widely considered as one of the best spas in the North East, Serenity Spa is inspired by Far Eastern healing and wellness rituals, and is a tranquil, calming and truly inspiring space which promises to engage the senses and nurture the soul.

Seaham Hall also represents luxurious dining at its best. Whether you’re looking to experience the very best in British luxury dining or enjoy exciting authentic Pan-Asian cuisine in an equally extravagant location, Seaham Hall and its restaurants are amongst the most exclusive places to eat in Durham. Our ever changing menus feature only the freshest, local ingredients, while our dedicated team and fabulous location promise a unique and truly unforgettable dining experience.

Step back in time

Our History

1791

Seaham Hall was built

Seaham Hall was built by Ralph and Judith Milbanke on the site of Seaham House.

1814

Lord Byron

Lord Byron first visited Seaham Hall in 1814. A year later, his daughter the Hon Augusta Ada Byron, later Countess of Lovelace, and commonly known as Ada Lovelace was born.

1821

The Marquess of Londonderry

In 1821, as a consequence of failing health and increasing financial problems, Sir Ralph Milbanke sold Seaham Hall estate to soldier, politician and Irish born nobleman Charles Vane, Baron Stewart for £63,000. Having married the impossibly wealthy heiress Lady Frances Ann Vane-Tempest in 1819, Charles Stewart (as he was then), second son of the 1st Marquess of Londonderry, took the surname Vane by royal licence and used his bride’s immense fortune to acquire the estate with a view to developing the surrounding coalfields.

He quickly added a large northern wing to the house, containing kitchens and servants’ apartments, and also financed the building of the harbour at Seaham, hoping to rival the nearby port of Sunderland. In 1822 he succeeded his brother and became the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry.

1914

World War One

At the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, the Londonderry family placed the house at the disposal of the British Army to be used as a military hospital. The hospital was furnished with 112 beds and treated 3,534 patients over the course of the conflict. Seaham Hall was returned to the Londonderry family on 31 March 1919.

1922

Spey whisky and U.S. prohibition

In May 1922, the Londonderry family auctioned off the contents of Seaham Hall and left the property uninhabited. This provoked a rather unusual chapter in the house's history - it became the secret bottling and distribution centre for Scotch whisky.

At the centre of this astonishing new role for the house was Sunderland man Alec Harvey, a descendant of John and Robert Harvey who had started distilleries in Glasgow in the 1770's. Having served in the Great War he had now established himself as something of a local entrepreneur, trading in livestock, household goods and significantly, Scotch whisky.

Knowing Seaham Hall was now completely unoccupied and had an extensive network of cellars, Harvey quickly spotted a commercial opportunity and, because of his family connections in Scotland began using the empty house to both store and bottle Spey whisky.

In the dead of night, he would smuggle the whisky down to Seaham Harbour and load it on ships bound for the Bahamas, from where it was redirected to New York and Chicago during the height of US prohibition. Harvey would later claim his customers included renowned bootlegger George Remus and gangster Al Capone. He also exported Spey whisky to the Far East, effectively establishing the brand worlwide and making himself a small fortune.

Interestingly Spey whisky already enjoyed a long association with Seaham Hall - to celebrate his wedding to Annabella Milbanke in 1815, Lord Byron had sent a bottle of this rare single malt to his good friend King George III.

Distilled under license of the Historic Royal Palaces at Aviemore in the Scottish Highlands, the exclusive and highly sought after Spey Royal Choice Whisky is now available at six specific venues in the UK - the tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Banqueting House, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace and (thanks to Alex Harvey's celebrated exploits) the Seaham Hall Hotel.

1927

Seaham Hall in public hands

In 1927, the Londonderry family gifted the house to Durham County Council and £20,000 was spent converting it in to a sanitorium for those suffering with tuberculosis. When it opened on 25 February 1928, it had 80 beds for women and children and a children's orthopaedic ward was added in 1929.

In 1931, the council invested a further £30,000 - adding a new west wing with 52 more beds and an operating theatre, together with a new staff annexe (Byron's court) to the east of the main building. This new annexe offered quarters for the medical officer, the matron and had 26 bedrooms for nurses and other staff.

By July 1948, the local Hospital Board took over the management of Seaham Hall and added a cardiothoracic ward. It remained a hospital for 30 years.

1952

The first hospital radio

Reverend Paul Wigfield, through the kindness of local music shop Calverts in Seaham, borrowed records and played them over the internal headphones and called it "Radio Therapy" instead of Radio Luxembourg. As a result, this became the first hospital radio.

1985

Another change in business

The building lay empty and unloved for six years until it was bought by the owner of a successful Sunderland based engineering firm, Mr Kusia Jalal. The Iraqi-born entrepreneur was determined to convert the deteriorating, yet still imposing, house into a private hotel. In 1985, the lovingly restored house was reopened as a private hotel.

1991

On the market

By 1991, Seaham Hall was on the market again. This time it was purchased by local GP Dr Mullier who planned to operate Seaham Hall as a residential nursing home. As part of his refurbishment, he added a huge hydrotherapy pool for the elderly, in what was once the drawing room.

Sadly, this venture proved unsuccessful, and the business went into liquidation in 1995. This meant that Seaham Hall was dormant once again.

2001

Spotted from a distance

Sunderland born Tom Maxfield had enjoyed a spectacular business career. He joined burgeoning Newcastle based enterprise software company Sage in 1984 as Sales Director, and helped establish it as a successful multi-million pound global operation. Having become a main board director, he left Sage in 1997 after the death of his wife, wishing to find a new purpose in life.

A fortuitous flying lesson took him over Seaham Hall that very same year, and he recognised the potential of the dilapidated building below. He bought the whole estate with the objective of turning it in to the North East's first 5 star hotel.

After four years of hard work, and a considerable financial investment, Tom unveiled the luxurious Seaham Hall Hotel on 19 March 2001. Thereafter, he opened the purpose built Serenity Spa in the grounds in December 2002.

2008

Seaham Hall is sold

With many entrepreneurial projects in hand, Tom decided to sell Seaham Hall in March 2008 to Von Essen Hotels who operated 27 other luxury hotels around the country, including the historic Cliveden House Hotel in Buckinghamshire and the magnificent Royal Crescent Hotel in Bath. Despite a fabulous portfolio of luxury hotels, the Von Essen group gradually earned a reputation for Fawlty Towers style bungling and poor service that led to several of its hotels being axed from The Good Hotel Guide. However, Seaham Hall retained its 5 star status.

2012

The finest 5 star hotel in the North East

Von Essen Hotels hit financial troubles in early 2011, and the hotel and spa was ultimately acquired by an independent hospitality organisation in April 2012. It set up Seaham Hall Management Company Limited to run the business and has committed considerable funds to ensure Seaham Hall's long term future and ensure its position as the finest 5 star hotel in the North East of England is secure.

For the best rate guaranteed

Book directly with us

Enjoy beautiful views over our estate, relax in the luxurious comforts of our spacious suites, and indulge in an unforgettable culinary experience in one of our uniquely extravagant restaurants. And what's more, when you book directly on our website you can take advantage of our best rate guarantee.