Keepers of the family home - for 23 generations

Burton Agnes Hall has been described as “the perfect English house” and for one family, they are lucky enough to call it home.

Simon and Olivia Cunliffe-Lister, along with their four young children, live in the late Elizabethan, early Jacobean house, near Bridlington, which has been in the family for 23 generations.

Burton Agnes.Olivia and Simon Cunliffe -Lister,relax in the main hall.Picture Richard Ponter 140817a

Burton Agnes.Olivia and Simon Cunliffe -Lister,relax in the main hall.Picture Richard Ponter 140817a

Simon inherited the property when he was just 12 years old from Marcus Wickham-Boynton, or “Uncle Marcus” as he knew him.

Simon explained: “Marcus was the last of his branch of the family.

“He didn’t have children and his older brother had died during the war, so there were no immediate heirs to the estate.”

Marcus died in 1989, aged 90, and with Simon being so young, his mother Susan took on the running of the estate.

The family lived between Burton Agnes and their home in Masham, adjusting to a new way of life.

Simon continued: “The house had been open to visitors since 1950, so in that respect things didn’t change.

“But when we arrived they still had staff, including a butler and a cook.

“Meals were always at set times and Marcus would have always changed for dinner into black tie, even if he was alone.”

Simon, who went on to work for Lloyds TSB in London, married Olivia in 2004 and they moved up to Burton Agnes a year later.

They now run the estate as a family, with Susan still closely involved, particularly with the gardens.

Simon said: “My mother’s big creation was the walled garden.

“In 1989 it was just a plain vegetable patch with sheep grazing in it.

“It now has a yew maze, jungle garden and giant games. It was designed very much as an interactive garden a young child would enjoy.”

Produce from the walled garden is now used in the café, with home-grown chard, Brussels sprouts, Jerusalem artichokes, strawberries, peaches and figs on the menu.

Susan can often be found out with the team of four gardeners, tending to the beautiful grounds.

Simon said: “It’s a great place to speak to visitors. My mother has often had people asking if she’d like to live in a place like this, thinking she was staff.

“You also get to see people of all ages enjoying the gardens, which is wonderful. My mother once saw a group of elderly nuns playing hopscotch!”

The house and gardens are fully open to the public from April 1 to October 31, but events are planned throughout the year.

These include an Easter egg hunt, classic car rally, gardeners’ fair, jazz and blues festival, children’s picnic, Michaelmas Fair and Christmas opening.

Simon said: “We have 55,000 visitors a year, with roughly half of them coming from April to October.

“The others, we have to work a bit harder for. To make somewhere like this work, you have to engage with people.”

So at Easter, the family and other helpers scatter 20,000 chocolate eggs in the woods for eager youngsters to find.

At Christmas, the house delights visitors with its stunning, traditional decorations, with the 60-strong team of staff going all-out to create a magical environment.

Olivia Cunliffe-Lister said: “Christmas is amazing – it’s when everything comes together.

“It’s definitely my favourite time of year. The house really comes alive - it’s the perfect backdrop for a variety of interesting and unusual decorations.”

With around 5,000 to 6,000 visitors last Christmas, Burton Agnes has become special not just to the family, but to others who have taken it to their hearts.

Olivia said: “For a lot of people, it’s become a home from home. You see people settled with a book, or children playing and running around.

“The house has become part of other people’s family traditions and part of their own history, which is very touching.”

The house was built between 1598 and 1610 for Sir Henry Griffith and has 15 rooms that are open to visitors, along with eight private bedrooms for when family and friends come to stay.

The house is stunning, but perhaps its most engaging characteristic is that it is still used as a family home. Meals are served in the dining room, and even in the Great Hall on special occasions.

Simon and Olivia were married at St Martin’s Church, next to the house, and had their wedding reception in the hall and grounds.

They even had their first dance on the Grand Hall’s dining table, after being lifted up by a group of opera singers who were posing as waiters.

The building offers many surprises and secrets, with spectacular décor, furniture and artwork adorning every room.

You can feel the building’s past as you walk through its corridors, but you can also sense the present and future, as each generation has added its own touches, such as contemporary artwork.

The Cunliffe-Listers are proud to share their family home, with entry charges ploughed back into the upkeep and maintenance of the house via the Burton Agnes Hall Preservation Trust.

Simon said: “We’re tremendously grateful to people who come and visit, it keeps the place alive.

“It would be really sad if somewhere like this wasn’t shared and appreciated by people.”