Some 10 years ago on a hot summer weekend, I was leaving London on the M4 motorway, which runs towards the West Country. Stuck in holiday traffic, I decided to loop off for lunch at Cliveden, one of England’s most famous country house hotels, to let the jam ease. On pulling up at Cliveden, the doorman said there were no tables. I was suspicious at the way he looked at my car and my fretful toddler. With the crunch of Cliveden gravel rasping at my ego, I called up and asked to be put through to the hotel restaurant direct. Yes, ma’am, said the person who picked up the phone, they had tables. Did I know what time I might be getting here?

Cliveden’s management company has changed since that encounter, but good old British snobbery still lingers in England’s provincial hotel culture. We have poked fun at it since the 1970s sitcom Fawlty Towers, while also happily marketing our national habit for airs-and-graces, knowing that our Downton Abbey heritage sells. Some of this country’s...

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