When Mark and Clare Oglesby walked into Goldsborough Hall for the first time in 2005, they were entering a house steeped in history.
The Jacobean mansion had been a nursing home for over 20 years, and empty for a further two. It was in dire need of renovation, infested with Virginia creeper, rats and squirrels, and the once-beautiful gardens planted by a royal princess were in a state of neglect.
Now it is a house transformed - the gardens have been restored to their 1920s heyday, and the staterooms and bedrooms have been refurbished as luxury B&B and wedding guest accommodation. The library, drawing room and orangery are open for afternoon tea, lunch and dinner bookings.
The Oglesbys have recently laid out a new kitchen garden and built a glasshouse to supply fresh produce for their restaurant, and are working towards the day when the gardens will be regularly open to the public.
So, has this somewhat hidden stately home near Knaresborough returned to the glory days when the King and Queen were frequent visitors?
The history of the hall
Goldsborough Hall was built at the start of the 17th century for the Hutton family. When the Civil War broke out, the Huttons were in the thick of the action, as Sir Richard was governor of Knaresborough Castle. When Oliver Cromwell's Roundhead armies besieged the castle, they occupied Goldsborough Hall by force. Sir Richard was later killed in battle.
He had no male heirs, so the house passed to his daughter Elizabeth and her husband's family, the Whartons. They arranged an advantageous 'cousin marriage' between their daughter Mary and Robert Byerley, the son of Elizabeth's sister Anne and her husband, and the estate thus entered Byerley ownership.
Robert Byerley was a well-travelled soldier whose war horse, a captured Turkish stallion called the Byerley Turk, was the founder of the modern thoroughbred used as prime bloodstock for racing. Byerley Turk returned to Goldsborough with Robert after the pair retired from military service, and was put out to stud on the estate, where he died and is buried.
Robert and Mary had five children, but all died childless, so the estate was eventually put up for sale. The buyer was Daniel Lascelles, whose family owned the Harewood estate. Although the Earls of Harewood lived at Harewood House, Goldsborough became their secondary residence, and was used for widows and heirs-in-waiting for 200 years.
In 1922, it became the home of royalty, when Princess Mary, the only daughter of King George V, arrived. She had married Henry Lascelles, the heir to the earldom, and Goldsborough was to be the couple's first marital home.
Their sons George - later the seventh Earl of Harewood, who died in 2011 - and Gerald were raised in the house. The brothers were first cousins to our present Queen, and George, at the time of his birth, was sixth in line of succession to the throne, although by the time of his death he had dropped to 46th. It was St Mary's Church in Goldsborough that hosted the christening of King George V's first grandchild, a ceremony attended by the monarch.
The family lived happily at Goldsborough until 1930, when Henry inherited his father's title and became the sixth Earl, and they moved into Harewood House. They left a legacy at Goldsborough, as Princess Mary was a keen horticulturalist who spent a great deal of time on the hall's gardens - work she continued at Harewood. King George and Queen Mary often visited Goldsborough, staying in the mansion and enjoying trips to local beauty spots such as the Plumpton Rocks pleasure gardens, which are still open today as a visitor attraction.
Goldsborough is sold
A school in Harrogate was evacuated to Goldsborough during the war, and the owners later offered to buy the building from the Lascelles family, who needed to divest themselves of some of their holdings following the payment of crippling death duties. It was sold in 1952, and the estate village was auctioned off a year later.
The school, Oatlands, closed in 1966 and the hall was subsequently sold to several private owners. An earlier luxury hotel conversion project never materialised, and by 1983 it had become a nursing home for the elderly. It was deemed impractical for modern care needs and shut in 2003.
From empty shell to thriving business
Clare Oglesby describes her new home as being in a 'terrible state' when she and her husband Mark moved from the village of Tockwith in 2005. When they first began house-hunting, they envisaged perhaps buying an old vicarage.
Instead, they purchased a crumbling stately home.
"It was very dilapidated. The gardens looked awful - the beech hedge hadn't been cut in five years. The herbaceous borders that Princess Mary planted were full of weeds and nettles, as were the rose gardens, and you couldn't even walk through the woods."
Clare is an experienced gardener, and the neglected grounds became a major restoration project for her.
"We trimmed the beech hedge first, and then spent a whole summer planting up the borders again by hand. We wanted to return them to the style of the 1920s, so we took inspiration from Gertrude Jekyll, one of the leading garden designers of the period. It's old-fashioned cottage gardening."
The hall's old kitchen garden had been sold off in the 1970s, so the Oglesbys decided to create a new one on a patch of derelict land, and they also built a new glasshouse. Today, the fruit and vegetables are picked daily by the chefs and served in the restaurant.
Currently, the gardens are open to the public on just a few days each year, but Clare plans to increase access in future. In 2020, the hall will be open for three spring 'snowdrop days' and in June for a showcase of the rose garden. There are also two National Gardens Scheme charity events in March and July - the house first opened under the NGS banner in Princess Mary's day and the tradition has been resurrected.
"We're not quite ready to open regularly yet, but in a few years we hope to be."
The house itself now has 17 guest bedrooms - the hall hosted its first wedding in 2006 and grew 'organically' as more suites were brought back into use.
"Running the bed and breakfast has been brilliant - we love it. Guests choose you and they are really blown away by the history of the house and the royal connections. They love the lime tree walk, and the King and Queen's plaque."
The restaurant is open to non-residents, although guests have full run of the house and grounds. The couple are hoping to develop a courtyard and add an indoor pool and sauna in future.
"Afternoon teas are really popular now, they've become much more of a 'thing' and Sunday lunches are still popular too.
"Unlike inside a National Trust property where you can only look, here you can sit and eat in the rooms where a King dined."
Mark Oglesby points out that the couple are motivated not by a desire to create a lucrative business, but by their wish to preserve the house and give it a 'reason to exist'.
"It's very much our home, not a giant visitor attraction. We saved it from developers and now we want to create a unique way for people to experience a stately home and enjoy the history and the setting.
"It's a labour of love - we are saving heritage but we are so privileged to be here. We often joke that it's killing us, but what a way to die!"
Mark ticks off a list of the estate's incredible historic features - the 300-year-old eastern European tree believed to be the oldest example of its species in Britain that they are 'fairly certain' was planted on the grave of the Byerley Turk; the cherry trees sent to Princess Mary by the Emperor of Japan as a wedding present; the lime planted by the Queen Mother (they have never been able to establish whether the Queen, who was four years old when her aunt and uncle left the house, ever visited Goldsborough).
"You've got the whole of The King's Speech in the history of Goldsborough - it's like a Who's Who of the 1920s."
The house still hosts prominent guests - Prince Harry visited a few years ago, apparently unaware of his family's connection, while Sir John Major has stayed several times, and compared the idyllic setting to Chequers, the grace-and-favour country retreat used by British prime ministers.
Surveying the new kitchen garden, with its 5,000 square feet of raised beds almost fully planted and its huge glasshouse, Mark is already looking to the future.
"It's been quite a project - by next year it will all be planted up. Our food miles are just feet and inches here!
"We are continually developing, looking for more parts of the property to restore, for ways to make Goldsborough more accessible and to add interesting features."