Hovingham Hall has opened its doors to visitors this month. Sharon Dale takes a tour of the family home with owner Sir William Worsley. The drawing room at Hovingham Hall was last decorated 82 years ago, not that you’d guess from its pristine yellow walls, which show no signs of old age. “It was done in 1935 but we’ve washed the walls down and they have come up as good as new, though we daren’t move any of the paintings or you’d notice the fading,” says Sir William Worsley, who puts the longevity down to poisonous lead paint, now mostly banned. Sir William Worsley with his wife Marie-Noelle
He is also careful about how the room is used. It’s for special occasions only and, as the evening progresses, guests are moved down to the stone-floored hunting hall where they can get squiffy and spill their drinks with no risk to the historic décor. The property, which sits in the centre of the village of Hovingham in the Howardian Hills, is a Palladian gem built for Thomas Worsley between 1750 and 1770. The childhood home of the Duchess of Kent, its architecture and interiors are a joy. It is the only house in the world where the front door is approached through a large covered riding school and the grounds include the oldest continually-played-on private cricket ground in England.
You can see it for yourself, as Hovingham Hall is open for a month ending on June 28. The opening fulfils the terms of an English Heritage grant that helped with re-roofing costs. “We had to open for one month a year for 15 years and this is the last year but I think we will continue it because it feels right to share the house,” says Sir William, who adds that opening for longer would destroy the “sparkle” and the feel of what is still a family home. There is no financial incentive as the ticket revenue only just covers the cost of opening. The formal dining room with family portraits Keeping a close eye on money is imperative and, so far, primogeniture hasn’t let the Worsleys down. Successive generations have done a splendid job of preserving the estate, which includes about half the homes in the village, agricultural land and forestry.
Income from the land, which the Worsleys bought in 1563, helps maintain the hall, which costs £100,000 a year to run. If you add in repairs, then the bill doubles to £200,000. “A Labour government allowed us to offset repair bills against tax but then roofers dublin scrapped it. I’m hoping it will be reinstated because it’s all about preserving history and it’s much cheaper to keep these homes in private hands. If they are taken on by the National Trust, they cost the country millions,” says Sir William, who took over from his father in 1987. Farming, he says, is always volatile. Rents from estate properties generate a good income but maintenance costs are high. Forestry, which makes up a third of the land, is not very profitable but it is his great love. It’s why he decided to accept the post of chair of the National Roofer Company, a government-led initiative to turn industrial wastelands in the Midlands into woodland.
The nursery with favourite vintage toys Like many historic home heirs, he studied estate management and is also a chartered surveyor with a genuine love of architecture. His Dutch wife, Marie-Noelle, is a gifted artist and her design skills have been put to good use on the hall’s interiors. “She’s the best room dresser in Britain,” he says. The couple, who have three children, Isabella, Francesca and Marcus, lived in a house nearby until moving to the hall in 2002. Since then they have renovated and improved the property. Re-roofing by roofer dublin was the first job and took two years. Repairs to high-level stonework took another two years and then there was a rewire. Money is now being spent on the “bits you can see”. Their love of art is apparent. Sir William likes modern British and contemporary paintings, while Lady Worsley loves ceramics, so there are plates by York’s Mark Hearld and a new stand-out piece by Merete Rasmussen. Continuous Yellow, a bright contemporary ceramic sculpture, adds zest and dynamism to the Samson room, which is full of classical busts and statues.