Former highwayman's hotel to become rehab centre

Scole Inn pictured on a fine day his month, looking no different than it did in the 17th century.

The 360-year-old hotel could become a rehab centre under plans submitted to South Norfolk Council - Credit: Archant

It has hosted lords, a king and highwaymen... and is even said to be home to a ghost.

But it could be closing time for one of the region's most historic hotels, with developers planning to convert it into a rehabilitation centre for professionals and sports stars suffering with addictions.

The plans for the Grade I listed building, on the Norfolk-Suffolk border at Scole, have prompted opposition from neighbours who was to preserve the property as it is.

The hotel was formerly known as Scole Inn but now trades as Diss by Verve.

Under the new plans, it would become "Verve House" and would offer treatment for alcohol misuse, sex addiction, gambling, co-dependency and eating disorders, through therapies, yoga, and 'motivational interviewing'.

The planning application for the change of use - submitted to South Norfolk Council - says that clients would range from "first responders, professional sports people, lawyers, judges, corporate employees".

King Charles II, by John Michael Wright

King Charles II, by John Michael Wright - Credit: Wikipedia/Creative Commons

It adds: “The new proposal as ‘Verve House’ will continue to offer accommodation, where clients will stay for a matter of days, with a week being the average. 

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“During their stay, they will be offered help and counselling to address their particular addiction. 

“The restaurant will stay fully operative, but for the guests only.”

The owners say changes to the property will be "minor".

Alan Crowest, Licensed Trade Consultant, TW Gaze and Mark Reuben, MD Verve Hotels shaking hands afte

Alan Crowest, Licensed Trade Consultant, TW Gaze and Mark Reuben, MD Verve Hotels shaking hands after the sale of the Scole Inn - Credit: Archant

However, neighbours have spoken of their sadness at losing the inn, with many calling for the application to be turned down. Of 33 responses submitted to the council, six are in the support of the scheme, with the rest objecting.

One said: "The Scole Inn is part of the heritage of the area. The use as a rehabilitation centre is completely inappropriate in a small village.

"It will also remove from public use a building which has been frequented by the local community for nearly 400 years."

However, supporters argued the plans would help protect the building, ensuring the money is there for its maintenance.

An old print showing the Scole Inn sign that had no equal in England, according to Sir Thomas Browne

An old print showing the Scole Inn sign that had no equal in England, according to Sir Thomas Browne. - Credit: Archant

The hotel currently has 24 suites, which would be reduced to 20, with four rooms being used for counselling, nurses and a massage room. A banquette room will be used for group therapy.

Existing staff are expected to be retained with new consultant psychiatrists, counsellors and support staff recruited.

A statement to SNC on behalf of Verve said the transition was necessary because the hotel has not been profitable for several years.

The Scole site would be the second hotel converted into a rehab centre by Verve, after the Hare and Barrel in Watton last year.


A history of the inn

The Grade I listed building was constructed in 1655 as a coaching inn called the White Hart.

Up to 40 coaches a day called at the inn during its 17th and 18th century heyday, when it also served as a post office.

The hostelry also featured a vast round bed which could sleep 30 travellers at a time.

The two fireplaces in the bar are said to be the largest in East Anglia.

In 1671 Charles II is said to have eaten breakfast at the White Hart, while Lord Nelson once slept here.

In the 1780s, it had a less reputable guest - a highwayman named John Belcher who used the inn as his headquarters.

On one occasion he is said to have ridden his horse up the stairs to hide in a bedroom while being pursued by the law.

A ghost called Emma, or the White Lady of Scole, is said to haunt the property.

She is reputed to have been murdered by her jealous husband while staying at the inn in the 1750s.

Emma's husband accused her of having an affair with a highwayman also staying there.

She now appears wearing a grey dress and bonnet and is always crying.

The building was called the Scole Inn for many years until bought by Verve in 2017.