Owners of Thirsk Hall promise 'not to ship in talent from London' as gallery and sculpture park plans are approved

A family that has held the title Lord of the Manor of Thirsk for nearly 300 years has detailed its plans to throw open the grounds of their ancestral home to the public and transform the market town into an incubator and destination for culture.

Thirsk Hall
Thirsk Hall

Willoughby Gerrish said Hambleton Council’s approval of proposals to create a sculpture park, art gallery and glamping site in the grounds of Thirsk Hall was the first stage of a wide-ranging ambition which would generate funds to maintain the Grade II*-listed property.

Mr Gerrish, whose wife Daisy’s ancestor, MP and merchant Ralph Bell, bought the hall in 1723, said while the three-storey Georgian property and its parklands had been “quite private, with just a few events”, it was now hoped to attract visitors all year round.

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Rather than see visitors come to Thirsk for an hour or two, the Bell family say they want to give them the opportunity to explore the town for a whole day.

Mr Gerrish said: “We are very lucky in having an unusual house that is essentially in town, but it has this 20-acre green space behind it. We are really keen to use that for various events and for local firms to do partnerships with us. The cross-pollination is an important part of this.

“We’re lucky to have some great sculpture parks and art museums in Yorkshire, but there’s nothing in this area, so we are trying to set up a culture hub in Thirsk.

“Really what we have done is turn it into an art gallery part outdoors. Gradually we will build more and more things that tie in with that.”

Mr Gerrish said having just received consent to turn one of the agricultural barns into an art gallery, visitors would be welcomed all year round to indoor events such “high-brow shows”, featuring loans from museums and other artworks.

A common thread running through the spectrum of interconected plans the family has for the site, which includes hosting a music festival in September and a literary festival next year, is that the venue should provide a platform for local people to showcase their artistic abilities.

Mr Gerrish said while the music festival would be directed by renowned composer Benjamin Ellin it would include a community day in which children performed and family concerts.

He said plans were also afoot to launch a sculpture competition in which a student woud be commissioned to create the winning artwork for the park, which features sculptures by the likes of Michael Lyons, Austin Wright, Geoffrey Clarke and Gerald Laing.

He said: “There is a huge amount of talent around the local area which I think with a bit of encouragement and a platform the opportunities are there. We don’t just want to ship in a whole load of talent from London. The whole point is to get locals, and especially youngsters, to show what they can do.”