Camblesforth Hall: How a couple with a premature baby turned an abandoned Yorkshire country house into a dream wedding venue

A determined Yorkshire couple used lockdown to save Grade I listed Camblesforth Hall and turn it into a wedding venue and stunning family home, Catherine Scott writes.

When Naomi Ward’s husband sent her an email saying her dream home was on the market just down the road there were just two obstacles – she had just had their premature baby daughter Beatrix and the property, Grade 1 listed Camblesforth Hall, was in a state of disrepair.

“It had been abandoned for more than ten years so you can imagine the state. There was a tree growing in one of the bedrooms and the roof was badly leaking. It was almost put on the Heritage at Risk Register. But it was just so beautiful and in need of so much love and you could see what it could become – not just as a family home but as a business.” To fund the renovation it needed something. “We went back and forth with ideas but kept coming back to the fact it would make a really beautiful wedding venue.” Camblesforth Hall, dates from around 1690 and has been attributed to acclaimed local architect and craftsman, John Etty.

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The Wards have a mechanical building services business which they built up from just the two of them into a multi million pound business and had worked on Grade 1 listed buildings before. “I have the design ideas of how I want it to look and Byron has the mechanical know how and he will tell me what’s possible,” says Naomi. Their only experience of property renovation was the first home they bought together – a tiny one up one down in Fulford which they stripped back. “I learnt how to tile and plaster, Byron learnt to plaster ceilings, so we had an idea but when you add in the Grade 1 listing all the plaster has to be lime and you can’t just strip the tiles out you have to work within the confines of the listing.”

Naomi Ward pictured at Grace 1 Camblesforth HallPicture by Simon HulmeNaomi Ward pictured at Grace 1 Camblesforth HallPicture by Simon Hulme
Naomi Ward pictured at Grace 1 Camblesforth HallPicture by Simon Hulme

In November 2019 they got enough money together to buy the property. The first job was to make sure there was a clean and habitable room for the couple’s young daughter Beatrix who was born at just 28 weeks. "It took about a month to get a room clean enough for a baby who was crawling,” recalls Naomi. "We made one room that was a princess sanctuary for her. While we lived in just two rooms in the house with the fires going to try to keep warm.”

But by now it was lockdown which in hindsight worked in the Ward’s favour. “Our other business had almost shut down and we couldn’t go into the office so we put everything into it. If lockdown hadn’t happened I don’t think we would have done it. With everything we had been though as a family when Beatrix was born we wanted to create something for her future and also to have the chance to give something its life back. It was and still is a huge risk but we realised we would never get that opportunity again.”

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Naomi is a history buff and, when not physically helping with the renovation work, she spent her time at auctions and charity shops, giving a new life to furniture no nobody wanted. Other furniture was inherited from grandparents.

Naomi Ward in the bridal suiteby Simon HulmeNaomi Ward in the bridal suiteby Simon Hulme
Naomi Ward in the bridal suiteby Simon Hulme

After making the Hall habitable, their attention turned to the barns where they wanted to create their dream wedding venue which would help pay for the renovation of the Hall which they view as a 20 year plan. But being in the grounds of the Hall they were still confined by the grade 1 listing which meant Naomi scrubbed all the beams by hand with just water as they they waited for planning permission to convert the barns into a wedding venue for 100 around a private courtyard which was approved in May 2021. Wedding parties, who book for three days, have exclusive access to the grounds and the hall’s swimming pool and tennis court. At the same time they were renovating the derelict ‘guest wing’ in the Hall to create a stunning bridal suite and guest bedroom both en-suite, for the bridal party. The first wedding took place in May 2022 – the first of six that year. They are only allowed 30 events in any one year.

Here Naomi’s creative flair is clear to see. “I think it helped that I was watching Bridgerton at the time so I did steel a few design ideas. I knew exactly what I wanted for the bridal suite. I knew I wanted it to be grand but warm, historic but also welcoming. I got lots of textured wallpaper samples until they worked with the colour schemes I wanted.” They had to install radiators, and a local seamstress made the pelmets and drapes. But it is in the en-suite bathrooms that Naomi could let her imagination run. “I wanted to give a little nod to the different periods of the house.” So the guest bathroom is a nod to the 1920s with the walls in Farrow and Ball Pelt with one wall in Graham and Brown wallpaper. “The bathroom in the bridal suite has a Victorian influence with a striking mural painted on the dark blue walls. “I was struggling to know what to put on the walls. I’d spent ages scraping the layers of paint off the fire surround and we were running out of time and then I saw a post of Gemma Blake on Instagram painting a mural on a wall and I knew it would be perfect.”

On the top floor, which would have been the servants quarters, craftsmen are hard at work creating a guest apartment which will include three bedrooms inspired by people who would have lived and worked on the estate – the governess, the gamekeeper and the head housekeeper. There is family bathroom and kitchen.

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They have used local tradesmen where possible. The family living room has been relatively untouched other than the addition of a stunning rug from the Merchant Taylors Hall in York that a friend was selling. “My parent’s got married at the Merchant Taylor’s Hall in York and so when they asked what we wanted for Christmas for the house I asked for the rug and it fits perfectly.” The other furniture in the living room, such as the two sofas, came with them from their Barlow home as well as filling the bookshelves with books. In second family room Naomi painted the existing pink walls blue. “We just wanted to make these rooms a bit more us but we once the weddings are more self-sustainable we will go back and slowly bring it back to the way it was.”

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