Period Property of the Month - January 2011
Elenud Price visits a spectacular home near Harrogate which is now earning its keep in a number of ways.
Anyone for B&B?
There's nothing glamorous about living in a stately home," says Clare Oglesby. "I might be swanning about arranging the flowers one minute but I could be cooking breakfast for 23 the next."
Clare and her husband Mark run Goldsborough Hall, five miles from Harrogate, as a venue for weddings and other functions and as a bed and breakfast - a rather up-market B&B, it must be said, with eight feet four-poster beds in bedrooms the size of a small ballroom, Robert Adam fireplaces and 11 acres of garden.
Saved from the drooling jaws of developers in 2005, Goldsborough Hall's last incarnation had been as a nursing home before lying derelict for two and a half years before Clare and Mark bought it. Built in 1625, the house had later been acquired by the Lascelles family, coming into its heyday in the 1920s when Viscount Lascelles married HRH Princess Mary, then Princess Royal and only daughter of George V and Queen Mary.
By 1929 when Lascelles succeeded his father as Earl of Harewood and the family moved to Harewood House, Goldsborough Hall had enjoyed alterations inside and out. Princess Mary made 120 feet long herbaceous borders backed by beech hedges running down to the Lime Tree Walk, a quarter of a mile of avenue that was planted by her guests - half the crowned or coroneted heads of Europe.
"We originally put in a bid for the house as a bit of fun," says Clare. "But as negotiations drifted on and the threat of it being chopped up into flats became real, it just became a totally emotional committment - all heart and no head. We had no idea what we were going to do with it, or how to finance its renovation."
At some point in their first year in the house, "whenever it rained, somewhere would leak," with Clare pregnant and no heating for four months, the Oglesbys decided that the Hall would make a great venue for weddings. "We began with three," says Clare, "but each of the couples also wanted to stay over so the following year we made a bridal suite and then more members of the wedding parties wanted to stay. At the same time we realised there was a huge demand for high-end B&B, with Harrogate being a year-round centre both for business and tourism."
Nowadays the ground floor is used for functions and dining, with the six palatial bedrooms and ensuite jacuzzi bathrooms situated on the top floor, while the Oglesbys live on the middle floor with five bedrooms, Princess Mary's private sitting room and a kitchen.
With renovations so far costing £2 million and employing ten full time staff with local boys and girls for waiters as and when, Clare and her husband estimate that 50 weddings a year at weekends and B&B during the week are sufficient to keep the project ticking over, provided both of them are equally hands-on.
"That's when I get to take over the breakfasts or work in the garden," says Clare. "Mark project-manages all the renovations, runs our wedding car business and is Chief Disaster Averter - such as the time when all the manholes packed up and started brimming over an hour before a wedding. Mark is expert at rodding drains now! And thank goodness, when a tank burst - actually during a wedding - and the back stairs turned into a gushing waterfall, Mark staunched the flow."
When one of the housekeepers went to turn down the bed for imminent B&B guests on a warm summer's evening and found the bedroom swooping with pipistrelle bats, Mark was up there like a shot, armed with their children's fishing nets. Rather more discomforting was having to bang on the door at 2am when an aquatically-minded couple had, in their exuberance, caused the bath to overflow and rain through the Oglesbys' ceiling below.
"B&B is certainly an eye-opener," says Clare. "One couple departed leaving half a tub of whipped cream in the fridge and a bottle of oil labelled 'Hot Hooters'! And then there's the times we found handcuffs, the policeman's helmet, and er... other accoutrements."
Most of Clare's time, however, is spent restoring the garden. She and the head gardener have replanted the long double herbaceous borders in Gertrude Jekyll style and she is currently working on the two acre woodland, clearing the brambles and deadwood, planting amelanchiers, tiarella and anemones. "At the end of March this year we opened for the National Garden Scheme and had 1,600 visitors, raising over £6,000 for Macmillan Nurses," says Clare. "Princess Mary first opened the garden herself for the NGS in 1928, a year after it was founded. We'd like to think that she would have been proud of our efforts."