As written by Samantha Mattocks for nourish magazine issue 01, out September 2021. For more information on my work, please click here. All photography © TOPO
Nestled away in Harleston is The Old Post Office – TOPO for short. Behind the thick historic walls of this Grade II listed building can be found a beautiful space where owner Claire Myers-Lamptey has worked hard to transform this characterful property into a place of luxury. From afternoon teas to spa days in the Hammam to private dining nights and wine tastings, TOPO truly is south Norfolk’s hidden gem. Samantha Mattocks went to find out more.
Arriving at the front door of the brick building I have driven past so many times, I am amazed to find the treasures inside. Opulence is around every corner of this boutique hotel with three guest rooms that sleep up to 12. Owner Claire Myers-Lamptey greets me with a huge smile and warm welcome, before showing off the many possibilities of this escape from the daily pressures of life.
“I already owned TOPO and was working on renovating it when the first lockdown happened,” smiles Claire. “I was splitting my time between my family in London and Norfolk, and we just relocated last March. I have always loved this part of the world, and it seemed natural for us to come here during that time. However, while my family moved back to London, I decided to change my life and stay here! Fortunately, my children are in boarding school so come up during the holidays, and Derek, my husband, is here most weekends, so it works well. I have loved becoming more and more involved in the local community.”
Claire’s children are 16-year old Demi, 14-year old Carl, and 12-year old Dior. When he was younger, Carl was a chorister at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, and sang at the weddings of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle, and Princess Eugenie to Jack Brooksbank. “Our royal connections go back to the time of Queen Victoria,” explains Claire. “My great-great grandfather was a king in Ghana, and they used to write to each other. Derek is of Nigerian royal descent, and for Carl to end up at Windsor Castle was very special indeed.”
Claire has now, however, settled into a life in Norfolk and as we talk, Carl and Dior come and clear the recently-vacated rooms before cleaning them and getting them ready for the next guests. “I love opening up TOPO to not only residents but also local guests,” smiles Claire. “I have had so much fun working with local vineyards, chefs, and businesses to ensure that we create the very best experience for our guests. I also spent a lot of time ensuring that all the rooms had every detail needed to make coming here a truly special experience.”
Indeed, the three bedrooms are a great mix of luxury and practicality. The twin-bed Shakespeare Room, filled with antiques, has a serious ‘wow’ factor, the family Waveney Room – that can sleep up to eight in sumptuous king-sized bunk beds – and the super king Gurney Room with its Middle Eastern influence.
“We had to have the best room named the Gurney Room – after all, the building was built in 1790 as Gurney Bank,” explains Claire. “On merging with Barclays Bank in 1886, the National Post Office took ownership, hence the name now – the Old Post Office. At the time TOPO was built, concrete had just become commercially available and one of the many unique features in this building is the spiral concrete staircase, built to impress clients. The Gurney Room was the Manager’s Office and thus from what is now the en suite, there is access to the old bank vault. That door now no longer opens as I have turned the vault into something very special indeed.”
That something special comes directly from Claire’s heritage as she is part-Lebanese – a Hammam spa. “Hammam in Arabic means ‘spreader of warmth’,” explains Claire. “It is like a sauna, but it uses steam instead of dry heat for relaxation and a deep cleanse spa. Guests are encouraged to exfoliate, and massage – and then as part of the treatment, we have two brilliant holistic masseurs, Richard and Julie, who then come and work their magic.”
The Hammam Spa has aromatherapy scents and chromatherapy lighting and can be used to reduce stress and anxiety among many of its health benefits. Open to locals and residents alike, the spa proves popular – especially as part of one of Claire’s Arabic Day Experiences that lasts for five hours for groups of five or more. Greeted with an Arabic afternoon tea, the experience includes use of the Hammam Spa with a spa kit, a massage or pedicure, and a belly dancing class. Lebanese mezze and complimentary flower alcoholic/non-alcoholic cocktails follow making this a great experience to share with friends or enjoy on a hen do.
“We have a lot of hens coming here,” says Claire. “With the guest rooms all on one floor, and the full use of the space downstairs, we are able to offer an all-inclusive experience that our guests love – and we love to see them having fun, too! Our job is to make sure that everything is organised, that they have all that they can need, and more, and that we send them off with a brilliant breakfast the following morning!”
Food is central to TOPO. All guests checking in receive a complimentary cream tea on arrival, that can be upgraded to afternoon tea, and breakfast is also included. Afternoon tea is important to Claire. She has a Facebook page, the Great British Tea Party, where she writes about afternoon tea and British culture, with a following of over 100,000. “Essentially, this is where it all began – TOPO, my passion for giving people a taste of luxury away from their norm. And I love afternoon tea! Ours are made freshly onsite in conjunction with Karen from The Tea Bicycle. Curiously, Karen’s mother was housekeeper for The Gurneys and provided the family with afternoon teas!”
Claire also makes use of the many great local producers by offering, for example, chauffeured wine tours. “We have Flint, Chet Valley, Wyken and Winbirri Vineyards all on our doorstep,” she explains. “It is like a mini Napa Valley in California, and we love to send our guests on these tours. And you don’t have to be staying here either to take advantage of them – we are happy to organise these for everyone.”
A new feature that is coming soon, for guests and public alike, is TOPO opening for dinner in the evenings. “I have been working with Purple Plum Catering and we have a chef, Stephen McNair, who will be cooking locally-sourced three-course menus for us from autumn onwards,” says Claire. “We are finalising the menus now, but from what we have tasted, they are going to be amazing!”
Other events coming up include a private launch of Miss Dior, Justine Picardie’s latest book. Claire explains: “Justine moved to Norfolk a couple of years ago and was editor of Harper’s Bazaar. She has a book launch at Jarrold’s in Norwich in late September and we plan to do an event here. We have so much lined up over the coming months, it is all very exciting.”
As I leave this peaceful haven and return to the bustling streets of the market town, I think about the oasis that I have just discovered. From afternoon tea to flower crown making to belly dancing to pure unadulterated relaxation, TOPO has something for everyone. It is also the perfect night away from the pressures of daily life, offering the ideal place for a mini-break, an escape, and a different routine – one that is filled with delicious food, unparalleled luxury – and a vibrant dose of fun!
Find out more at www.toponorfolk.co.uk