‘This house was scruffy. Faded grandeur, big time’

GREAT ES­TATES In­her­it­ing a slightly tatty home and 2,000acre es­tate called to mind the fam­ily motto: ‘It will be bet­ter’ . By Eleanor Doughty

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Property -

At first glance, Carl­ton Tow­ers looks more like a Cam­bridge col­lege than a fam­ily home. The im­pos­ing Vic­to­rian stately pile, with its clock tower and a se­ries of grand rooms – the Vene­tian draw­ing room, card room, and pic­ture gallery – stands apart from the other prop­er­ties in nearby Selby, North York­shire.

Its own­ers, on the other hand, couldn’t be more down to earth. Lord and Lady Ger­ald Fitza­lan-howard – Ger­ald and Emma to their friends – have lived at Carl­ton for 26 years. In­side, dogs run about: there are three, Frank and the Fonz, both black labradors, and Sprout, a Jack Rus­sell. Fam­ily pic­tures, jumpers and news­pa­pers lit­ter the en­trance hall and kitchen.

Lord Ger­ald, 56, is the younger son of the 17th Duke of Nor­folk (and brother of the present duke, who lives at Arun­del Cas­tle in Sus­sex). He and Emma mar­ried in 1990 and they brought up their three chil­dren, Arthur, 26, Florence, 25, and Grace, 23, at Carl­ton.

The house isn’t gen­er­ally open to the pub­lic, ex­cept on spe­cial oc­ca­sions, but in­stead is avail­able to be hired for all sorts of func­tions: wed­dings (up to 70 a year, and there are 18 bed­rooms to go around), pri­vate din­ing ex­pe­ri­ences, team build­ing week­ends and par­tridge shoot­ing. But it is still a home, and Ger­ald has re­cently started a vine­yard in the old Vic­to­rian walled gar­den. “I was out at six this morn­ing, prun­ing,” he says ex­cit­edly, wield­ing some se­ca­teurs.

This isn’t just a pas­sion project: with pinot noir on one side, and chardon­nay on the other, which will be made into sparkling wine even­tu­ally, it’s a tidy lit­tle busi­ness ven­ture. “We’ve got a cap­tive mar­ket here,” says Emma, re­fer­ring to the wed­ding busi­ness. “If they like it we can sell it to the brides. They can get the bot­tles cus­tomised if they want.” It’s slightly sur­real: the vine­yard is in the mid­dle of a 2,000acre es­tate that is just four miles from Drax power sta­tion, which has the high­est gen­er­at­ing ca­pac­ity of any in the UK, and pro­duces about six per cent of the coun­try’s elec­tric­ity sup­ply.

The Sta­ple­ton fam­ily, from whom Ger­ald is de­scended, has owned the Carl­ton es­tate since 1301, and there has been a house on the site ever since. In 1777 the grand wing and clock tower says Ger­ald. “Now it’s split off from the house, we’ll never get it back. My brother has got three sons, so only if there’s no male heir two gen­er­a­tions down and the el­dest daugh­ter be­comes Lady Beau­mont will it split out again.” It would take a deed of par­lia­ment to trans­fer it over. “It’s a great shame – it’s a Beau­mont house, and it’s sad that the ti­tle has split. It would be quite cool to be Baron Beau­mont.”

While to­day’s Carl­ton is as cosy as it comes, Emma ad­mits that the cou­ple’s early years in York­shire were bleak. The house they in­her­ited was very old-fash­ioned. “The rooms were very scruffy, noth­ing was en suite,” she says, ges­tur­ing around their sit­ting room, the floor strewn with dogs. “This room had naked light bulbs and floor­boards, and ragged rugs. It was faded grandeur, big time.”

Carl­ton, Ger­ald says, was never a par­tic­u­larly rich house. “There weren’t end­less ser­vants in the old days, but they had a cook, who man­aged to poi­son the bull by giv­ing it the scraps, and two gar­den­ers, rather than five, and just one but­ler.” The fam­ily still kept up ap­pear­ances, how­ever. “Back in the day they grew peaches in the walled gar­den,” Emma says. “Ger­ald’s grand­fa­ther would get them shipped to Lon­don in the Rolls-royce. They weren’t wealthy, per se, but they some­how had the life­style that aris­to­crats were sup­posed to have, with a Rolls-royce and a five-storey house in Knights­bridge.” The rea­son for the car, Ger­ald chuck­les, is “be­cause it saved on train fares – they had eight chil­dren to get up and down to Lon­don”. The fu­ture of Carl­ton is se­cure. Ger­ald and Emma’s el­dest son Arthur, who runs Fitz and Fro, a men’s shirt com­pany, will “prob­a­bly take it on. Be­cause there’s no ti­tle it doesn’t mat­ter, it’s for who­ever wants it,” says Ger­ald. His par­ents are putting no pres­sure on him. “If you do, that’s screw­ing up his life a bit,” says Emma. Not that the cou­ple have plans to va­cate just yet. “If there was a lovely dower house on the es­tate then we might move into that, but there isn’t,” Ger­ald smiles. “We’ll be here un­til we die, prob­a­bly.”

‘They had a Roll­sRoyce be­cause it saved on train fares for the eight chil­dren’

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