Stardens was a nightclub in a country house in the former Bishop of Herefords summer palace. It was owned by Gerry Delaney and his wife Eileen. Fate was unkind to Gerry. The Stardens Country Club was severely gutted in a fire on June 6th 1980. He promised to rebuild it as a club, but the custom never came back. Tragically Eileen then died from cancer in 1982, aged just 45. With his sons Paul, Nick and Joe, Gerry decided to convert the building into six luxury apartments.  He told the Citizen in December 1985 that he was rather sad that his attempts to restore and renovate Stardens into a restaurant and club again had failed.

17th October 1979

The Citizen, 18th September 1980 – “Jinx” club re-opens after fire: The owner of Newent’s “jinxed” Stardens Country Club is hoping this weekend will mark a change of fortune. Mr Gerald Delaney re-opens his club tomorrow night – three months after fire caused £250,000 damage to the premises.

Mr Delaney, who used to own the club in partnership with Mr George Blott, will not forget the month of June in a hurry. The fire broke out in the Rockafella disco during the early hours of 7th June – the 14th birthday of Mr Delaney’s son, Gerald and the day Mr Blott and his family were due to go on holiday. Next night thieves looted the club stealing cash from a cigarette machine and gaming machines.

Manager Mr Paul McCaldon said it had seemed as if there was a jinx on the club. “First there was the fire, then the robbery and later a series of family accidents. It seemed like a mass depression. Now we are hoping for a bit of good luck.

The Cinderella disco, a modern annexe to the 18th century building, was not affected by the blaze.

The Citizen, 7th August 1981 – One man’s bid to rebuild gutted manor by Tony Marcovecchio: Fifteen months ago a disastrous fire gutted the historic Stardens manor house at Newent – leaving nothing but bare walls and tons of useless rubble. The 250-year-old Gothic building, used as a country pub, blazed like a torch. In hours priceless panelled ceilings, stained glass windows and delicate plaster friezes were no more than ashes. And an even bigger blow was to follow – the owners found they were disastrously under insured. Experts who sifted through the ruins estimated it would cost nearly £500,000 to restore the building to its pre-fire condition.

“It was a disaster” said co-owner Gerry Delaney. “The insurance pay-out would not have even covered the cost of putting the roof back on. It seemed the only sensible thing to do was to demolish the remains and cut our losses.” But then Gerry thought again. Reluctant to see the building vanish forever he bought out his former partner’s share and set himself the incredible task of single-handedly rebuilding the house – parts of which date back to 1720.

“It had taken us four years to build up the country club and disco business and I did not want to see it go overnight.” Having once worked as a decorator in his native Liverpool, before starting a career as a restauranteur and club owner, he felt he had at least some of the qualifications required. The first job was to get some cash flowing into the business to enable a start to be made on the rebuilding. The disco was reopened in a modern wing that had only suffered smoke damage during the blaze. The next stage was to construct the massive roof timberwork which is just being finished after more than a year’s solid effort. “I had some help to start with and my sons still help when they can but I have done it mostly on my own.”

Working 12 hours a day, seven days a week, living with his family in caravans on the site, Gerry has built and felted thousands of square feet of roof – surviving hair-raising falls in the process. But now he faces another problem. More than 50,000 tiles were destroyed in the fire and he has the task of finding replacements. “I just cannot afford new tiles and, anyway, it would take too long to replace them. My desperate need is for around 8,000 second-hand Welsh slates as I must get the place watertight before the winter.” Already scouring demolition sites and ‘for sale’ columns, Gerry would be delighted to hear about any source of supply. “I have set myself a target of a year from now for re-opening the building as once the roof is on I can begin restoring the rooms one at a time,” he said.

He has already made a start on the interior, re-glazing the intricately shaped windows in the restaurant. “I had a quote of £1,500 from the experts for the job but I could not possibly afford that so I did it myself for less than a third.” Without any experience of the skills required, breaking more glass than he used, the job was eventually done. One of the main features of the old house was its old windows so knowledge he can cope with the job is welcome. “I might have some trouble with the stained glass as materials are very hard to come by. I am just hoping some will turn up somewhere.”

Most of the rooms were panelled and there Gerry has been fortunate in getting the seasoned wood required. “I bought all the pews from an old church in Liverpool and I will use the wood from those.”

The plan for the building when completed is for a country hotel and restaurant. So confident is Gerry of finishing his self-imposed task that he has already started buying curios to decorate the corridors. Stuffed birds, suits of armour and even a huge stuffed crocodile are stored in the blackened building awaiting the phoenix he hopes will rise from the ashes. “The next 12 months are going to be one hard slog, but I am determined to see it through,” he said. “This time next year Stardens will be open again – looking even better than it did before.”

Saturday 9th June 1984

Planning application: Forest of Dean District Council. Week ending 15th November 1985: Mr G. Delaney – change of use of Stardens Country Hotel, Newent, to six residential flats.

The Lydney Observer: Friday, December 13th 1985 – Stardens Hotel Into Flats: A Newent Hotel gutted by fire in 1980 is to be converted into six flats North Forest planners agreed last week. The site is Stardens Country Hotel, Tewkesbury Road, Newent.

The Citizen, Saturday 19th April 1986 – A palace restored. Gerry sees end to his nightmare: (by Simon Harwood) The expression “to hell and back” is hardly too strong to describe Gerry Delany’s battle against a string of tragedies – a nightmare that has touched the hearts of the people of Newent. He suffered heartbreak from the destruction of his business and the death of his young wife and stress from constantly living with the possibility of financial ruin. But he has struggled through – politely rejecting sympathy and remaining the eternally cheerful former nightclub owner, as he rebuilt his life during six difficult years. Now Gerry Delaney believes he has found the first chick of light at the end of his nightmare tunnel.

His dream of rebuilding Stardens Country Club – his once elegant home and business gutted by fire in 1980 – constantly threatened by lack of funds, has won the financial backing of Barclays Bank. Gerry says he feels that a great weight has been lifted from his mind. “Now at last I feel my life has taken an upturn. It is difficult to put into words how happy I felt when the bank manager said he could help.”

The former nightclub owner earned the backing by teaching himself building skills and, on a very limited budget, scouring the country for suitable materials to use on a 260-year-old listed building. Now Stardens, which echoed to the sound of music for more than three decades, is to revert to the quieter splendour of its days as the Bishop of Hereford’s summer palace.

The gardens will be restored to their former glory. The building will become a block of luxury apartments – likely to fetch around £40,000 apiece – and backed by the bank to the tune of £15,000 each. Gerry Delaney said: “Now at last I can bring people in to help with my work. Until now I have had to manage with my three sons and a few friends. We should by the summer be able to realise a project that has been my ambition since the fire.”

“My late wife Eileen shared that dream. In her long struggle against illness she used to symbolise her love of the family and Stardens in a spreading cedar tree in the grounds – I will never sell the apartment that overlooks that tree.”

During renovation work, corn dollies and a dead bird were found behind loose bricks on the staircase – almost certainly good-luck charms placed there by the early 18th century builders.

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