Restored to glory: The Yorkshire stately home gardens and the Royal connection

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Ninety years ago Princess Mary decided to open the gardens of her Goldsborough Hall home to the public. Now the current owners are set to mark the occasion with a special exhibition. Catherine Scott reports.

Walking around the grounds of Goldsborough Hall it is easy to imagine Princess Mary discussing the opening of her gardens to the public.

Princess Mary and her husband Viscount Lascelles lived at the hall from 1922 to 1930 and on July 4, 1928 they decided to invite the public in as part of the newly-formed National Garden Scheme which has been founded in England the year before.

The NGS was founded in 1927 in England with the aim of “opening gardens of quality, character and interest to the public for charity”. That year more than 600 private gardens were opened and more than £8,000 was raised.

When Princess Mary opened the gardens the following year she was in very good company. Along with Goldsborough Hall, opening in 1928 were Rode Hall in Cheshire, Knebworth House Gardens, Llysdinam in Powys, the Fellows Garden, Trinity College, Cambridge and Rotherfield Park in Hampshire, all of which are also celebrating their 90th anniversary year.

Since her move to Goldsborough Hall in 1922, Princess Mary, said to be a keen gardener, and her husband Viscount Lascelles (later the 6th Earl of Harewood) had made quite a few changes to the house and gardens.

Many newspapers from the 1920s reported Princess Mary’s love of gardening: “The gardens at Goldsborough Hall have been considerably improved and enlivened with additional flower beds since her marriage. Roses are among her favourite flowers, and a rose garden is among the new features at Goldsborough, where beds filled with highly coloured flowers extend just outside the windows of the house,” reported the Brisbane Courier in September 1928. From a friend in Yorkshire, reports the Adelaide Chronicle in 1929, “... the gardens have always been very fine, but Princess Mary has altered them a good deal, and has taken endless trouble to get the best effect with her flowers, so as to have the herbaceous borders in continual bloom.”

She created a vista to the south with the planting of the walled terrace and the beech avenue, with herbaceous border centred around a sundial. The Lime Tree Walk, planted by royalty from 1922-1930, was almost complete, with 24 trees out of 34 (and only 10 still to be planted 1928-30). The Emperor of Japan had given Mary some Japanese cherry trees as a wedding gift, though they would still have been in their infancy in 1928.

On that opening day in July 1928 she had an overwhelming response. The takings on the day were £180 12s 6d, enough to buy a house these days. And if entry to the gardens was charged at a shilling, that’s over 3,600 people. Princess Mary opened the gardens the following two years, until 1930 when she moved to Harewood House, following the death of her father-in-law, the 5th Earl. The NGS still has the record of the Hall’s entry from 1928 it even shows the names the Viscountess and Viscount Lascelles crossed out and replace the HRH Princess Mary, Countess of Harewood and The Earl of Harewood, presumable when the old Duke died.

Today the current owners, Clare and Mark Oglesby, who bought the derelict hall in 2005, consider the gardens the completion of Princess Mary’s vision and were determined to spend as much time and energy restoring it as they have the grade 2 listed hall that they now run as a hotel and restaurant.

The beech hedges lining the herbaceous borders are fully grown and the 34 trees which make up the Lime Tree Walk have matured, as have the Emperor of Japan’s cherry trees.

The herbaceous borders have been replanted in a Gertrude Jeykll style, the rose garden replanted and a new afternoon tea terrace built in 2012 planted with ‘Yorkshire Princess’ rose named after Princess Mary.

“I found out that a rose grower had created the Yorkshire Princess, which is how Princess Mary was known, for Harewood House and wanted some for Goldsborough,” says Clare.

Three British champion trees and one Yorkshire champion tree stand tall over the gardens.

In addition, the overgrown woods have been cleared to let the spring bulbs, snowdrops and winter aconites shine through. The glasshouse in the kitchen garden is in the process of being rebuilt and the veg garden revitalised under by the Hall’s highly skilled organic head gardener Mark Waller. The produce will be used in Goldsborough’s restaurant and wedding venue.

Although the gardens weren’t opened again to the public after Princess Mary moved to Harewood House, the Oglesbys were keen to reintroduce the tradition and in 2010 they rejoined the NGS and were surprised by the results.

“We didn’t have any idea how popular it would be,” says Clare. “My parents open their garden and we thought it would be lovely to once again open Goldsborough’s gardens to the public, but we were surprised by how many people were interested.”

Since then numbers have somewhat calmed down to a steady 400 visitors who get the chance to see for themselves the gardens Princess Mary would have walked twice a year when the Oglesbys open their ground.

Visitors travel more than 100 miles to see the Yorkshire garden.

“They are all so knowledgeable,” says Clare, who lives in a private apartment in the hall with Mark and their daughter Charlotte. “They ask lots of questions and I do my best to answer them with the help of our gardener. It is just lovely to share what we have helped create here with other people who are really interested, although it does have to work around the business.”

For the Oglesbys Goldsborough is a real labour of love and they are constantly developing what they have to offer. They have recently added four new bedrooms, including fuly accessible rooms for people with disabilities.

“We never stand still,” says Mark. “There is always something to do here. We have plans for an indoor swimming pool at some point in the future.”

And this year, to mark 90 years since Goldsborough first joined the NGS, the Oglesbys have something special planned for their opening on July 22.

Mark has been on the internet locating old postcards of the Hall and its grounds. Mainly through eBay he has located many from the late 1920s, which he has restored, blown up and had framed. They now hang in the Hall’s 16 bedrooms, which are open to paying guests.

“To mark the 90th anniversary we plan to have the black and white photographs on easels around the grounds as close as possible to where the original photograph would have been taken so that people can compare what it would have been like in the time of Princess Mary and now.”

Goldsborough Hall grounds will be open 
as part of the National Garden Scheme on July 22 from 12-5pm. They will be holding a photographic exhibition of black and white images of the gardens and hall from the 1920s. Tickets and prices adults £5; children free. Dogs on leads welcome. Refreshments available in the Orangery. www.goldsboroughhall.com