Home where Beryl used her head to launch business is up for sale
Entrepreneur Beryl Otley is selling the country home near York that spawned the Get Ahead Hats empire. Sharon Dale reports.
HUNDREDS of women will recognise these pictures of Dutton Farm and they’ll no doubt raise smiles and happy bursts of nostalgia.
Among the memories will be weddings, christenings, garden parties and the fun of finding the perfect hat for the occasion with the help of Beryl Otley.
Beryl is an unforgettable force of nature with a great sense of fun and her famous hat hire business was born and based at her farmhouse, near Hessay.
The property, now up for sale for £950,000, proved perfect for the venture. It is in a tranquil setting just off the A59 near York, with a host of outbuildings.
When the millinery burst out of the spare bedroom, one of the buildings became the gallery for Get Ahead Hats, which was launched in 1986 after Beryl struggled to find a hat to wear for her daughter’s wedding. The idea was a huge hit and she decided to expand through franchises aimed at farmers’ wives.
“It was the ideal opportunity to contribute to the farm income, plus it was a bit of glamour and a way of meeting people. As time has gone on, some of these women have become the main breadwinner,” says Beryl.
Her founding boutique has moved to nearby Hall Farm and is now run by Samantha Abbey, but Beryl remains a consultant for the business, which has 18 outlets and a head office in Blackburn run by Sarah Rhodes.
One of the secrets of the company’s success, she says, is that customers enjoy going out to the countryside to shop.
“I knew our house would be perfect,” she adds. “It is a little oasis and there’s plenty of parking.”
She and husband Barry bought the 18th century property in 1980. It was semi-derelict but it had potential and plenty of space for them and their three children.
“This place had great challenges and although some of the renovation work had been done it still needed an wful lot of work,” she says.
The four bedroom farmhouse is stunning, with an interior that mixes classic country with contemporary style.
“I threw myself into renovating the house and we used local companies including Chapel Kitchens in Nun Monkton and Brindleys. I’m not keen on oldfashioned things. I’m not a beam and nook and cranny person so it’s quite modern. It’s all very well kept. Barry and I are big believers in keeping things up to standard both in business and at home. Once you start letting things slide that’s it and that’s one of the reasons we are downsizing.
“We are getting older and we don’t want to find ourselves in a position where the house is too big and too much for us and we’re pushed out. I’m thinking ahead to a time when we might not be able to drive or get about,” says Beryl, a very sprightly 71.
Although it is a roomy four bedroom house, there is planning permission to extend and double its size. Its eight acres have been transformed into a paddocks and an Olympic size manege along with south-facing gardens and woodland that reflect Barry’s love of horticulture and wildlife.
He has planted scores of trees and shrubs, restored the old orchard and created a ha ha and ponds.
The old stable that was converted into a showroom for the hats is still there and the site has permission for commercial and retail trading.
“This place has had hundreds of people through the doors looking for hats and they wore the carpet out twice in the house before we converted the stable. I enjoyed every minute. I’ve met some lovely people,” says Beryl, whose energetic, entrepreneurial spirit was inherited from her parents.
They graduated from a condemned cottage to running the village shop in Upper Poppleton before launching a plant nursery.
She followed in their footsteps and, together with her brother
HOME BASE: Beryl and her husband Barry have transformed this Hessay farmhouse into a beautiful family home. It also has permission for use as commercial and retail premises.