Brodsworth, South Yorkshire

PUBLISHED: 22:30 14 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:30 20 February 2013

Gordon Wilkinson, farm manager at Bilham Grange on the estate inspects a wheat field

Gordon Wilkinson, farm manager at Bilham Grange on the estate inspects a wheat field

Brodsworth is an estate village, of Brodsworth Hall in South Yorkshire. Janette Sykes calls in at the hall which is undergoing major refurbishment and talks to some of the villagers PHOTOGRAPHS BY GRAHAM LINDLEY

On a clear day, claims head gardener Dan Booth, you can see York Minster from the summer house at Brodsworth Hall.Whatever the weather - and let's face it, sunny days have been few and far between this year - thoughtful renovation of its 15-acre gardens has enhanced or opened up stunning and varied views wherever you look.

Dan and his five full-time gardeners have done a sterling job in restoring both formal and informal areas of parkland to their original mid-Victorian glory since the long-term project, instigated by owners English Heritage, was launched in 1995.

Thirteen years on, around 2 million, including 400,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, has been invested in reclaiming classic areas such as the formal gardens, rockery, grotto and rose pergola, and three-quarters of the work has been completed. With most of the structural improvements in place, much of what remains to do is cosmetic, concentrating on restoring the garden's woodland margins with their characteristic evergreens - species such as holly, yew and Portuguese laurel, to provide interest all year round.

Further finishing touches are also needed on borders flanking the North Drive and target range. 'When we started, much of the garden was very overgrown and had been neglected since the First World War,' explained Rotherham-born Dan, 25, who trained at Askham Bryan College in York.

'The grass around the hall was cut and the roses looked after, as they were the favourite flowers of the last owner, Sylvia Grant-Dalton, but the rest was a wilderness.' While this brought bonuses for wildlife - around 150 species of birds have been recorded by the RSPB - it meant that most of the garden had to be virtually rebuilt and replanted to restore original features to the way they looked between 1860 and 1901.

Highlights include the Alpine garden, largely planned by senior gardener Kevin Tansy, which has been planted in 'regions' to represent the countries where the original owners, the Thellusson family, went on holiday and the grotto, with its unusual mix of plants, ranging from dwarf conifers to cordylines and species geraniums to tree ferns.

The original ironwork of the rose pergola has been restored and a herbaceous border with later flowering plants reinstated, while the wilder rose dell boasts around 75 naturally occurring or hybrid species, including the intriguing Rosa beanii, with its bamboo-like leaves and plain, five-petalled white flowers with yellow centres.

The hall itself is equally fascinating, an eclectic mix of traditional and modern that was home to the Thellusson and Grant-Dalton families from the 1860s to 1994, and, along with the garden, was given to English Heritage in 1990.

Perhaps one of its most endearing characteristics is that it has been left as it was when it was lived in, so visitors can see everything from original mid-19th century wallpaper to an authentic Victorian kitchen that was used by officers when the Army requisitioned the house during the Second World War. Brodsworth Estate has 1,100 acres of agricultural land, and according to farm manager, Gordon Wilkinson, based at Bilham Grange Farm, the village is a fantastic place to live.

'I'm originally from Halifax, but moved down to this area 29 years ago,' he said. 'I lived in Marr for a while then came to Brodsworth about 21 years ago. The village has a real mixture of people now, with older families, including retired farmers, and newer ones who have moved in and commute to other places to work.

'It's a great place to live because you have all the benefits of cities such as Doncaster and Sheffield, yet when you're here you're surrounded by beautiful, gently undulating countryside. A lot of people who visit Brodsworth are pleasantly surprised by how pretty it is.'

Brodsworth born and bred, retired tenant farmer Geoffrey Morrell, 76, and his wife Pearl once farmed at Elms Farm, and now live at Setaside Cottage, Pickburn Lane. Their daughter Anne and son-in-law Dennis are now tenants at the farm, though Geoffrey still lends a hand with the arable crops, which include oil seed rape, corn and peas, plus sheep and pigs.

'Life here has changed a bit in my lifetime,' he said. 'It's a lot easier at work on the farm because everything's mechanised. I still help when I can, and make myself a nuisance!' Geoffrey grew up on Elms Farm and remembers vividly the time when, like Brodsworth Hall, the Army requisitioned it during the Second World War. 'Our house was the officers' mess, and my mother had to provide cooking utensils. They used to come down for lunch and dinner and they had their own chef, who we knew as Fred, who had been the cake chef at the Savoy Hotel in London.

I also remember going to film shows at Stanley's Farm on Thursday nights, and seeing all the stars of the day on screen, such as Tessie O'Shea and Tommy Trinder.' Neighbours Frank and Muriel Wilson live at Fieldfare Cottage, Pickburn Lane. They met in Settle when Frank was serving on the War Agricultural Committee and Muriel was a Land Girl. Frank, 87, from Barnsley, first came to work at Brodsworth in 1937, then returned after the war. He worked at Bilham Grange for 50 years, progressing from farm worker to farm manager.

It's 22 years since he retired, but he stays active by working every weekday morning as gardener at Garden House. 'It's a lovely, peaceful place to live,' said Muriel, 86, originally from Ilkley. 'It's right out in the country, with no noisy neighbours and nothing to worry about.We've no intention of leaving!'

Brodsworth Hall will be home to The Enchanted Garden from October 24th to November 2nd. This sublime evening experience sees the resorted Victorian gardens bathed in beautiful light with a surprise around every corner. For details see www.english-heritage.org.uk

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