A flat above a pet shop doesn’t sound nearly “des res” enough for someone whose family owns half of Malton and much more besides.
It’s not as bleak as it sounds though, not at all. The five-bedroom property is charming, spacious and full of period features. Although Tom Naylor-Leyland refers to it as a “flat”, a better description would be “gorgeous Georgian apartment”.
Tom, 34, who oversees the Fitzwilliam Malton estate, moved from his country house in nearby Settrington so he could live in town and he has no regrets. He meets me with arms full of fruit and veg that he has bought from Paley’s greengrocers just yards from his front door, and his larder is packed with locally-sourced goods, including freshly roasted coffee beans, fish from the fishmonger, beer from the microbrewery and spices from the deli.
“I love living here. Everything I need is within a couple of minutes’ walk, you get to know the shopkeepers and there is this wonderful sense of community,” he says.
A self-confessed “foodie” who loves to cook, he has helped turn Malton into the “Food capital of Yorkshire”. The estate now hosts a monthly food market and there is an annual Food Lovers Festival that last year attracted 30,000 visitors. The cookery school is doing well as is the Talbot Inn restaurant.
The latest Fitzwilliam venture is Talbot Yard, a former coach house converted into premises for artisan food producers. It is home to the Roost coffee roasters, the Bluebird bakery, butcher Paul Potts, Groovy Moo, which specialises in Italian-style gelato made with Yorkshire cream, the Brass Castle Brewery and a fresh pasta maker. Living among all this is heaven says Tom, who is keen to preach about what he practises.
The Fitzwilliam estate, which owns 60 per cent of the commercial property in the town and 50 residential units, has started to upgrade its rental flats and is converting dead space above shops and offices into apartments to let.
The idea is that living above the shops will appeal to a diverse range of tenants, including those who want to live in a rural market town, those who want a shop and a flat for a lifestyle business, and others who want a cheaper alternative to the much higher rents in York. The cost of the Fitzwilliam flats range from £345 per month for a one bedroom to £550 for a two bedroom. York is a 20-minute train ride away while Leeds is a direct 40- minute journey.
“We had one family who came to the food festival and they loved the place so much they moved here. They liked the sense of community and their rent is half what it was in York,” says Tom, who has always followed a creative path. He went to art school and later studied silversmithing. He also worked in the kitchens for top chef Sally Clarke, who fired his interest in cooking and quality ingredients. The buildings on the estate are now benefiting from his interest in design.
The properties that he is renovating are mostly Georgian and Victorian and have retained their character, but he is keen to upgrade the interiors and is sparing no expense on getting the right look.
His own flat features original sash windows that have been restored and there is a handmade kitchen along with a bathroom that has wow factor thanks to a roll-top bath. There is a new fireplace and open fire and all the wallpaper and soft furnishings are from local interiors specialist Nine to Eleven.
The five bedrooms are beautiful and have come in very handy for accommodating celebrity chefs, who star at the food festival. Prue Leith, Valentine Warner and Levi Roots have all stayed over with Tom.
The property is set over three floors and there are lots of stairs, spindles, landings and half landings, making the place perfect for a game of a hide and seek that will no doubt delight Tom’s children. He and his wife, Alice, a fashion and lifestyle blogger, have a son, Billy, three-and-a-half, and a baby daughter, Nancy, four months.
Their main home is in Cambridgeshire, but Tom lives in Malton during the working week. “We wanted the interiors to feel homely and they do, though we have haven’t quite finished them. The decor is really Alice’s thing and she has been busy with our baby. I am happiest when I am in the kitchen wearing my apron. I love cooking and find it very therapeutic,” he says.
Tom does contribute to the furnishings thanks to his penchant for vintage finds. He is a regular visitor to the Shambles antiques shops and to Greyhound Antiques above Malton Relish. It’s where he sourced the enormous jug in the kitchen, the fireguard, various ceramics and pictures from, along with his latest find, a collection of old vinyl.
“I love vinyl it sounds so much richer. My favourite music runs from the 1940s to the 70s. I like Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, all the classic old stuff,” says Tom, whose love of vintage also extends to his wardrobe. He buys many of his handmade clothes from Old Town Clothing in Norfolk, a working men’s outfitters that uses moleskin, canvas and linen and stocks braces. He tops it all off with a tweed cap that makes him instantly recognisable as he bounds enthusiastically round town.
He has been there for eight years now and being part of the estate’s team is good practice for when he takes over from his father, Sir Philip Naylor-Leyland. His family has historic land and property interests all over Britain, most notably in Malton, Wentworth, near Barnsley, and in Cambridgeshire, where Tom grew up at the enormous Milton Hall, near Peterborough.
The Fitzwilliam estate has been in the family since 1713 and the Naylor-Leylands have plenty of ideas on how to continue its reinvigoration. One of the latest is a short film entitled A Love Letter to Malton by father and son film makers Finn and Jim Varney.
Now that the town seems to have seen off a bid to open a huge Tesco, the estate is revisiting plans to turn the old livestock market into a new retail quarter with a medium-size food retailer like Booths or Waitrose.
“I’d also like to bring more food specialists here and the flats are all part of the equation,” says Tom. “If we have more people living in the town it will mean more custom for our shops and producers. It’s a virtuous circle.”
For more details on the town and to see the mini film, visit maltonyorkshire.co.uk