CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Surrey Life today CLICK HERE

Historical author Hilary Mantel on her perfect Surrey weekend

PUBLISHED: 17:09 07 January 2011 | UPDATED: 22:21 06 October 2014

Historical author Hilary Mantel on her perfect Surrey weekend

Historical author Hilary Mantel on her perfect Surrey weekend

One of the UK’s most respected historical authors, Hilary Mantel was the winner of the Man Booker Prize for 2009. A long-time Surrey resident, when it gets to the weekend she likes nothing better than to immerse herself in the county’s wonderful Tudor history

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine January 2010


Writers don’t have weekends. That’s not as sad as it sounds. Often, with the close of business on Friday, when the telephone stops ringing and the e-mails stop pinging, it’s my chance to immerse myself in the world of Tudor England, and in particular those remains of it that lie all about me in Surrey.

My last novel, Wolf Hall, followed the fortunes of Henry VIII’s adviser Thomas Cromwell, who was born in humble circumstances, son of a blacksmith, and who rose to be Henry’s Minister of Everything. I’m now working on the sequel, The Mirror and the Light, and keeping a close eye on what the archaeological excavations at the ruins of Woking Palace reveal about the Tudor court.

This moated site by the River Wey has a magical atmosphere – I’m torn between wanting people to flock there on open days and see for themselves, and wanting the crowds to stay away so that it retains its fragile, out-of-time quality. There’s been a house on the site since the 13th century – Henry’s grandmother Margaret Beaufort lived there, and he rebuilt it into a princely establishment.

Here in Surrey, we’re surrounded by Henry’s hunting grounds and the remains of the homes of his lords and courtiers. As we drive around at weekends, picking up the shopping, and perhaps dropping in for lunch at the White Hart in Pirbright, or for dinner at the Inn @ West End or the Cloche Hat in Chobham, I’m haunted by the thought of the generations who have danced and laughed and mourned at Sutton Place, now in private hands, and Loseley Park, open to the public – all sites within easy reach of where I live in Knaphill, between Woking and Guildford.

Surrey History Centre
If there are any interesting talks at Surrey History Centre in Woking, we’re only ten minutes away. I’m lucky enough to live in a bit of Surrey history myself – we have an apartment on the top floor of the converted Brookwood Hospital, built in Victorian times as an asylum.

My study is in the old clock tower, and I love to spend time on our balcony, which catches the sun if there is the slightest ray, and looks due south towards Guildford Cathedral on the skyline. Thousands of houses have been built on the hospital’s land, and once the view was brutal and raw, but year by year the landscape changes for the better, the young trees flourishing and the foxes visiting by night. The height of the building puts us above the line of light pollution, and at any hour, at any time of year, I might pop out to scan the night sky.

I’m a late sleeper, and my ideal weekend is spent surrounded by the newspapers till well into the afternoon. If we’re walking, it’s probably in what’s now known as the ‘Royal Landscape’ – we have a season ticket that lets us in to Savill Garden, the Valley Gardens, and allows us to park by the lakeside in Virginia Water. My husband detests gardening as much as I do – but we love it when other people have done all the work.

By night, we’re theatre-goers – we often find that, between the Yvonne Arnaud in Guildford, Woking’s Ambassador Theatre, the Rose at Kingston, Richmond Theatre and the Orange Tree, we have the chance to see opera and ballet as well as plays, without going into London – but if we do want to go up to town, Woking’s fast rail link takes us there in 25 minutes. We can be home in bed by midnight, and wake up to an easy Surrey Sunday.

More from Surrey Life


With The Great British Bake Off back on our screens the nation is falling in love with baking once again. Head pastry chef at Pennyhill Park, Sarah Frankland, tells us about what it takes to make it as a professional

Read more
Yesterday, 10:51

Wrap up in your favourite coat and scarf, grab your sparklers and a warming drink, and enjoy one of these fantastic firework displays taking place in Surrey for bonfire night

Read more
Yesterday, 10:49

Home to outstanding architecture, ambitious community projects and arts ventures that are putting these villages firmly on the map, East and West Horsley are among our county’s most desirable addresses

Read more
Yesterday, 10:43

Chertsey’s best-kept secret, the Great Cockcrow Railway, steamed into a half-century this year

Read more
Yesterday, 10:34

A taste of Korea has swept into the beautiful market town of Godalming as Bada sets out its stall with a tapas-style fusion of seafood, traditional dishes and spice

Read more
Mon, 16:06

With friendship as the central theme in Adele Parks’ new book, Zoe Richards met up with the bestselling author and her publisher, Kate Mills, to find out how these two Surrey dwellers have discovered a successful working relationship, and become firm friends too

Read more
Mon, 11:37

Great things to do in Surrey this weekend: art exhibitions, walks, concerts, theatre, places to visit and other events and ideas.

Read more
Mon, 00:00

As the twilight falls, the magic begins… There’s something for everyone at Christmas at Kew – and we’re giving you the chance to win one of five family tickets for two adults and two children to the Preview Night of Christmas at Kew on Wednesday 21 November 2018

Read more
Friday, October 12, 2018

We round up 10 of the most beautiful photos of Surrey shared on Instagram this week…

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Good table manners have long been a source of national pride but in this modern age of social media are our longstanding traditions being left behind? Rebecca Younger visits the stately Beaverbrook estate for a lesson in British etiquette

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Whether you're looking for fine dining, pub grub or exotic dishes, eating out in Surrey has something for everyone. Here's our guide to the best local restaurants and pubs

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The spookiest time of the year is fast approaching! We pick some of the best events to celebrate Halloween in Surrey

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

From well kept secrets, to chilled out locations, Redhill is a good spot for a bite to eat. We round up some of the best restaurants…

Read more
Monday, October 8, 2018

From October 11 to 14, the great and the good of professional golf will tee up at Walton Health Golf Club for the 2018 British Masters. We shine a spotlight on the club as it ends an extraordinary year

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest

Follow us on Twitter

Like us on Facebook

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search