It’s been a labour of love for an American millionaire who has spent years travelling the globe in search of the finest antiques and most meticulous replicas.
Allerton Castle’s gothic grandeur, painstakingly rebuilt after decades of decay and a devastating fire, is worth an estimated £11.5m.
And it has been given as a gift for the public to enjoy.
“This is to preserve it,” said Dr Gerald Arthur Rolph, who bought the castle in the 1980s. “It’s now owned by the people of England. It being here with a glass wall around it isn’t right. It has to be enjoyed by people.”
The Grade l listed castle, near Knaresborough, has a rich history dating back centuries. It’s even fabled to be the inspiration behind the nursery rhyme, The Grand Old Duke of York, as the ant-like activity of workers ascended a 200-ft high hill to construct its Temple of Victory.
But it fell into disrepair before being handed down to a 12-year-old boy in 1965, a grandson of Lord Mowbray who had to wait 18 years before inheriting the funds for its upkeep. And when Dr Rolph, an American businessman, bought it in 1983, it was in a dilapidated state.
“It was absolutely derelict, on the brink of being torn down,” he said. “There was nothing.”
Dr Rolph, inspired by its ageing grandeur, has dedicated years of his life and no small measure of funds, to restoring Allerton Castle to its former glory through a foundation set up for this purpose. He has travelled the world to find cherished antiques in-fitting with its gothic style, meticulously studying every aspect to ensure its authenticity.
Delicate tables are from Paris, chairs from Brussels and, remarkably, vases found in Fort Lauderdale. There are hand-carved gargoyles on the doors, wooden pigs playing harps on the a dresser, and strikingly bold colours reminiscent of its gothic history in the ballroom.
“A wedding here is just as it was,” adds Dr Rolph. “The candles are lit, there is music playing and everyone is properly dressed. It’s like going to a country party from the 1850s.”
It hasn’t always been a smooth ride. There is the question of the much-debated Allerton Incinerator, an “abomination” in Dr Rolph’s eyes, the tower of which can be seen over the estate’s landscaped gardens.
And a fire in 2005, which ripped through part of the castle and destroyed several rooms, undid much of his unflinching hard work. But Dr Rolph rallied, commissioning carved marble fireplaces from China to replace those destroyed in the blaze while the Music Room, complete with cherubs on the ceiling, features his own collection imported from Florida.
“He has put everything he has into this castle,” said his nephew Colonel Donald Lee Rolph, who is to carry on the mantel as senior trustee. “When the fire hit in 2005, he didn’t just stop. No, he took the reigns and started again. He rebuilt it again. This was his vision.”
Now, Dr Rolph says, he is 84 years old and the time has come to secure its future. Dignitaries from across the district were invited to a ceremony last night to celebrate its rich history, with a surprise announcement to be made that it has been gifted freehold to the foundation.
“It’s important to the community,” said Dr Rolph. “It was built, as a Cathedral is built, by local people who were fairly impoverished. It was their pride.
“I’ve always been interested in preserving our heritage - without it, what are we?
“I’ve enjoyed doing it. To me, people are takers. We need to start giving back to our heritage. This is just my way of doing it.”
The freehold ownership of Allerton Castle has now been given to the Gerald Arthur Rolph Foundation for Historic Preservation and Education.
Colonel Donald Lee Rolph, senior trustee, said this means an enormous amount to the staff who have “put their hearts” into its restoration.
“We wanted to make sure that this is continued,” he said, adding that he is committed to further restoration and educational development. “Everyone can come here. This is a venue for people to use. To me, something like this needs to be out there for people. It shouldn’t be held back.”
The castle is open to the public between Easter and October, on afternoons on Wednesdays and Bank Holiday Mondays.