For more than a decade, the restoration of Princess Mary’s former home of Goldsborough Hall has been a labour of love for Clare and Mark Oglesby. Now they want to share it with others. Catherine Scott reports. Pictures by Gary Longbottom.
Clare and Mark Oglesby were looking for a four bedroomed detached house close to Harrogate. They ended up buying an 80-roomed stately home in need of a lot of love and investment.
“We were living in Tockwith at the time and we were just tentatively looking to see what was on the market in the Harrogate area,” says Clare. “I had my mind on a old vicarage and we were looking through the local paper, turned the page, and there it was, a 40-bedroomed stately home, and we fell in love.”
It was the history and importance of the Grade II* listed building as much as the potential for an amazing family home set in a picturesque North Yorkshire village that attracted the couple.
“I have lived in Harrogate all my life and even had friends who lived in Goldsborough, but I had never come across the Hall or heard about its amazing historical importance. It was a nursing home at the time so there was no reason really for me to notice it,” says Mark, who met Clare on a fishing trip in Alaska when she was working at The Field magazine in London.
“I was supposed to be going out to Alaska with Mark’s father, Arthur Oglesby, who was a world authority on angling. But he was taken ill and couldn’t go and so Mark went instead. I remember not being particularly pleased as I presumed Arthur’s son would be in his 50s. I was wrong.”
The couple met up when they were back in London and, the rest, as they say, is history. Clare decided to move to Yorkshire to be with her husband where she fell in love a second time, this time with Goldsborough Hall and its story.
“Growing up we’d visited Harewood and Ripley Castle but didn’t know anything about Goldsborough – it is incredible to think it is 150 years older than Harewood House. Harewood is the ‘new build’ compared to Goldsborough,” says Mark.
Built around 1620 for Sir Richard Hutton, acting Lord Chief Justice, Goldsborough Hall was occupied by Cromwell’s army while they destroyed Knaresborough Castle.
It was later remodelled in the 1750s by the eminent architects Robert Adam and John Carr of York. Goldsborough Hall came to fame in the 1920s as the former residence of HRH Princess Mary, the Queen’s aunt), who lived here after her marriage to Viscount Lascelles, later the 6th Earl of Harewood.
The hall had been in the Lascelles family since the 1750s and had been the childhood home of the Viscount. Princess Mary’s son, George, the 7th Earl of Harewood, was christened at St Mary’s Church, Goldsborough (adjacent to the Hall) on March 25 1923. Attending the christening were King George V and Queen Mary with the Archbishop of York presiding.
During the Second World War, Oatlands School, now the site of St Aidan’s School, was housed at the Hall. Princess Mary’s husband, the 6th Earl of Harewood, died in 1947, leaving massive death duties. This coupled with the death of his father 17 years earlier and the end of the war, forced the Lascelles family to sell the Goldsborough Estate a few years later, thus ending over 200 years of family ownership.
The Goldsborough Estate was sold in 1952 to the Boyers family who ran Oatlands School. It was later sold to BUPA who converted it into a nursing home until it was closed down in 2003. So by the time the Oglesbys went to look round Goldsborourgh had seen better days.
“You could see the potential,” says Mark. “But it has been a nursing home and then been left empty. I owned a telecoms business at the time and I thought I could move the office into the ground floor and we could live on the first floor.”
However there was one problem, plans were already under way to turn Goldsborough Hall into a home for children with severe learning disabilities. But when it came to planning, the developers didn’t turn up and, due to the amount of local opposition, the proposals were thrown out.
“More than two years had gone by and in that time the building had deteriorated rapidly,” says Mark.
There was water pouring through part of the historic ceiling, Virginia creeper had infested the inside and outside and rats and squirrels had taken up residency. Despite their passion for the building, the Oglesbys realised it would be a far bigger project than they had originally anticipated, to restore it to its former glory.
“I had just sold my business and we could have afforded to buy it, but we realised it needed millions spending on it. So we took the difficult decision to walk away,” says Mark.
A few months later they got a call from the estate agent saying that unless they bought the Hall it was going to be sold to a developers who was going to split it into flats.
“We realised if we didn’t buy it then we were signing its death warrant. We felt a huge sense of responsibility that we had to be the one to save and restore it for future generations. But it needed both of us to agree,” says Mark.
“I remember walking down the path and sitting on the fence and we looked at each and knew we were going to buy it,” says Clare, who was five months pregnant with their daughter Charlotte when they bought the Hall.
When they moved in a few weeks later it was barely habitable. They patched the roof, got the heating working, built a makeshift kitchen and did up the downstairs toilet which Clare said was indescribable.
“People thought we were mad,” recalls Mark. “Most people inherit a stately home which has been in the family for generations and all the responsibility for its upkeep that comes with it. It takes a certain kind of idiot to volunteer to take that on.”
Once they had their dream, the Oglesbys realised they had to find a purpose for the Hall.
“We had fallen in love with the historical importance and we had to find a way not only of preserving that but passing it on to others.”
They didn’t want to just open it to the public and so they came up with the idea of holding weddings.
“The first year we had three very brave couples who chose to have their wedding here,” say Clare. “The grounds were still in a state and we covered over the worst bits, but they worked really well.”
Goldsborough Hall’s charm, as well as its undoubted importance in the history of Yorkshire and the country, is that is manages to maintain a family homely feel while having the grandness of a stately home lived in by royalty. Another reason that everything the Oglesbys have done at Goldsborough over the last 11 years works is because it has grown organically.
“Everything has to evolve,” says Mark. “We have never had a 10 year plan, or anything like that. Everything we have done is because there was a need for it.”
After the success of the first weddings, they realised they were on to something and the following year did 12. They now have 30 to 40 weddings a year.
“Couples kept asking if they could stay the night,” says Mark. “We hadn’t really thought about it, but we had plenty of rooms to go at and so we decided to renovate one of them into a bridal suite.”
“The rest of the bedrooms were still in a terrible state, but we painted the doors and locked them so no one would know.”
As demand grew so over a number of years they renovated the other rooms all with state of the art bathrooms and televisions, but with the history of the rooms maintained.
“We want people to be happy when they are here and people like to experience and enjoy the history of the rooms but the also want five star luxury. It is about getting the balance right.”
So they became a very luxurious B&B.
“I would cook the breakfast and Mark would serve them,” remembers Clare.
At first the couples would organise their own caterers, but the Oglesbys realised that they would be judged on the quality of the food and service and so they chose a preferred caterer.
“No sooner had we appointed them they announced they were closing down. So we decided to take on most of their staff and do our own catering.”
But it wasn’t until 18 months ago that they decided to open the dining room in the evenings which means the AA rosette restaurant is now open daily to guests and non-guests for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and evening meals.
More recently they have invested in biomass technology to heat the house and converted a former coach house into six more bedrooms and two private dining rooms.
“The buildings were linked by a not particularly nice part of the building and so we created the orangery,” explains Clare.
Not only does the orangery create a link between to two parts of the building it gives the Oglesbys yet another space for people to dine or hold functions.
“We aren’t a hotel, which does confuse some people,” says Mark who admits it is difficult to categorise what they have created at Goldsborough.
“We get some fantastic reviews on TripAdvisor and then the odd one saying that we claim to be a five star hotel. We never have. We offer five star accommodation and a unique opportunity for people to stay and sample a piece of history.
“We like to refer to what we offer as a stately stay.”
But as well as this Goldsborough is very much still a family home. The first floor is a large apartment where Clare and Mark, 10-year-old Charlotte and 21-year-old Lucy (Mark’s daughter from a previous relationship) live.
“Our private apartment is the last thing to be renovated,” laughs Clare. “Although I do get to wake up every morning in Princess Mary’s bedroom looking out over 12 acres of stunning gardens. We know we are extremely fortunate.
“Charlotte understands that we share the rest of the house with the guests and when we have a wedding here we usually go out.”
Along with photographs of Royal residents and guests to Goldsborough in the public part of the hall, are family photos of the Oglesbys.
“We want people to feel at home here,” says Clare.