Malton finds recipe for regeneration

Tom Naylor-Leyland has achieved his ambition to make Malton the food capital of Yorkshire and has more plans for the market town, as he tells Sharon Dale.

Tom Naylor-Leyland
Tom Naylor-Leyland

He may be heir to one of Britain’s land-owning dynasties and his childhood home makes Castle Howard look small, but Tom Naylor-Leyland is nothing like your average old-school aristocrat.

Although he wears the uniform – tweeds and brogues – he is friendly, informal and radiates a genuine warmth. He even signs emails with kisses and is not in the least bit snooty, although he is very, very posh.

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His family has historic land and property interests all over Britain, most notably in Malton, Wentworth, near Barnsley, and in Cambridgeshire, where his father, Sir Philip Naylor-Leyland, is based. Tom, 32, who grew up at the gargantuan Milton Hall, near Peterborough, is set to inherit this enormous responsibility but was encouraged to express his creativity and follow his heart before working for the family “firm”.

Tom Naylor-Leyland

“My parents were very kind. They encouraged me to do my own thing. I wasn’t particularly academic but I enjoyed art,” says Tom, who went to art school and later studied silversmithing. He also got his pilot’s licence and had spells working as a butler at Duke’s Hotel at Christie’s and for Labour MP Kate Hoey, although food is his great passion. He lights up when he talks of his time working in the kitchens for top chef Sally Clarke, who really fired his interest in cooking and quality ingredients.

While not the conventional path of agricultural college or Oxbridge and the City, it turned out to be the perfect grounding for his first job, which was to reinvigorate the Fitzwilliam Malton estate. It has been in the family since 1713 and includes much of the residential and commercial property in Malton town centre.

“I was getting involved a bit more in the family business and I came up to Malton as my father and the estate were trying to think of ways to promote the town. We came up with food as a theme as this is an agricultural area with great producers. It is something I am obsessed with. I am a keen amateur cook and I love coming up with my own recipes, so it wasn’t hard to get excited by the idea.”

The Malton Food Lovers Festival was launched in 2009 and attracted 1,500 people. Tom, who is married to Alice 
and has a baby son, Billy, saw the 
potential for growth and moved out of London to live in a flat over the bookies 
in Malton.

“I had lived in London for 10 years but I knew I couldn’t bring about change unless I lived here. I wanted to get to know the place better as I’d only visited briefly as a child as there wasn’t a family home with the estate,” he says.

He had a great foundation on which to build his dream. Malton has a host of independent traders, including butchers, a fishmonger, bakers, delicatessens and a confectioner, and there are many producers nearby, such as the famous Ginger Pig farm, cheese-makers, artisan bakers, breweries and Britain’s most northerly commercial vineyard.

He and his team persuaded top chefs to attend the annual food festival, while Alice, a fashion and lifestyle blogger (MrsAliceinherPalace), baked hundreds of cupcakes, and his mother took a stall. In 2012 Antonio Carluccio was so impressed, he pronounced Malton the Food Capital of Yorkshire.

“That was a real boost and we decided to become more ambitious after that,” says Tom.

Last May saw the fifth food festival attract 25,000 visitors from all over Britain. The town also hosts monthly food markets with Yorkshire produce, cookery demos and live music.

They also created a jewel for the “capital” crown in The Talbot, a top hotel with a restaurant run by chef James Martin, who grew up in the area. What had been a £29 a night hostelry was transformed in a two-year project that cost £4m.

“The estate was a property business not a hotelier, but it’s what the town needed so we took the ambitious decision to go ahead, says Tom. “My father and I oversaw the interior design and I hung every picture in this room. We wanted it to have a family feel.”

Their latest ventures are also a departure from the norm. The Malton Cookery School opens in May and he and the team are forging ahead with the “Made In Malton” project, which is providing purpose-built premises for artisan food producers who want to relocate to the town. The Brass Castle Brewery was one of the first to take up the offer.

“Each producer who relocates will be allowed to brand their product with the new ‘Made In Malton – Yorkshire’s Food Capital’ badge,” says Tom, who now divides his time between Yorkshire and Cambridgeshire.

“It should bring in new industry and jobs to the town and in future we’d like to run Made In Malton tours that will bring in more visitors.

“That’s what being a food town is all about, stimulating new business and footfall.”

It helps that the estate owns the bulk of the commercial property in the town centre and can pick and choose tenants.

“During the recession it would’ve been easy to have more charity shops, and while there is nothing wrong with them, too many would not have been right for the town. The plan is to make Malton even more attractive.”

That includes planting five-metre high trees and turning a small section of the Market Square car park into an alfresco dining space in the summer. Also on the list for this year is “Operation Cosy”. He and his mother, Lady Isabella, plan to add more pictures, china, sculptures and meaningful nick-nacks to The Talbot.

Looking ahead, there are plans for turning the old livestock market into a new retail quarter with a medium-size food retailer like Booths or Waitrose.

But first they have to fight off Tesco. The estate gifted land to the council to create Wentworth Street car park in the 1950s and now the local authority wants to sell it to the supermarket giant. It is a move that will affect the independent shops in the town and no doubt destroy much of the progress made in the last few years. Tom is trying to stay positive.

“It really gets me. Malton is one of the few towns that is thriving and that’s because we don’t have a big supermarket.

“We will fight them and I refuse to be negative,” he says, pointing at some new branding that includes a We Love Malton logo.

The response is surely “who wouldn’t?”. There is a lot to love. The food offering is fantastic and there’s a lot more besides, including independent department store R. Yates and Son, the family-run cinema and canvas specialists G. Woodall, not forgetting the horse racing tradition and some fine trainers.

“It makes me feel very proud to see how much the town has improved in a short period of time. It’s been a real community effort led by the estate,” says Tom, who adds: “My next ambition is to see a Michelin-starred restaurant here.”

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