In the last newsletter, Sue Geenwood (Founder of The Great Blog Wreck Of The Week) gave us tips on how to find a wreck of our own. This time she speaks to Byron & Naomi about the journey from wreck to wedding venue.
Way, way back in November 2019. You remember – before the masks; before the shortages in building materials; before panic-buying of houses with gardens. Way back in November 2019, Byron and Naomi Ward bought a rambling country mansion with two acres of land.
Camblesforth Hall, to be precise, just outside Selby and around 15 miles from York. Obviously, the story doesn’t end at that point - they bought a big house – hurrah! Because these things are always way more complicated than anyone expects at the beginning of their wreck-buying journey.
For Byron and Naomi, now joined by baby Beatrix, the complexity began with discovering plans to build a housing estate next door. So they bought that land too – another 12 acres – followed by 18 months of negotiations with planning officers (Camblesforth is Grade I listed) and the attachment of 27 planning conditions to the project, finally moving into the Hall in August 2020.
Since then, they’ve spent every evening and most weekends on renovating and repairing this beautiful, beautiful country estate. “I wanted a new project,” Byron told me. “I liked the idea of taking on big project. I’ve got a lot of energy, maybe too much. We’d just had our little girl and I wanted space for her to run around.”
They’d got the keys to Camblesforth in June 2020, but baby Beatrix had arrived early, at 28 weeks: “She was very sick, so we waited [to move in]. We wanted everything absolutely disinfected before we brought her home”. This summer they got to celebrate Beatrix’s second birthday in the Hall’s gardens with family, and the chickens and sheep Naomi has introduced to the gardens.
Byron is what your dad would have called a “self-made man”. He and Naomi are both from York, meeting through work.
“I was not that good at school and left at 16, starting and dropping out of three college courses. I was a bit of a bum!” he said. “I ended up working for one of the engineering contractors who did work at the hotel I worked at and then, at 22, started doing it myself. I was your typical man in a van and Naomi did the accounts, marketing and office admin. Now, 12 years later, we’ve got 50 staff and a £6million turnover.”
The Hall is only the couple’s third home together, going from a two-bedroom terrace in York to ten-bedroom Camblesforth in ten years. They were able to buy it as a second home initially, taking on a mortgage to renovate the barns and do the work needed to turn part of the site into a wedding venue.
“When we came to see the Hall, we saw the outbuildings and the real potential to run a lifestyle business from home. Before we bought it, we did a pre-app with the local authority to see what type of business we could get away with. We had lots of ideas and the council said: ‘wedding venue’.”
It’s taken time – final sign-off on the planning applications only arrived in August 2021 and in-between they needed listed building consent to do essential work on the roof and windows, replace crumbling leading on soakaways, and deal with a tree growing out of a rain water pipe and through a window. “Touch wood, the roof isn’t leaking anymore!”
But the planning delays, and that Grade I listing, have brought particular challenges. Such as a beautiful, sweeping staircase painted a yucky orange-brown at some point in the past and which – because of its listing – may need to stay that way if specialised paint sampling doesn’t reveal a nicer original colour.
Meanwhile, Naomi has been working on setting up the wedding business – dressing rooms for publicity photographs and developing and running their Instagram and online media. A grand chandelier sets the scene in the dining room and she’s gradually introducing a vintage country house aesthetic throughout each room.
(Dining Room Before and After)
The mustard and yellow dining room was one of the first to be tackled by Naomi: “We went through the entire colour palette before deciding on green. Most of the items have been acquired from auctions, however the sideboards were my Nanna’s and the dining chairs came from my Gran. I hope they would approve of their new home!”
With four weddings already booked and a wedding fair due to take place at the Hall in November, the race is on to make up renovation time after the two years it’s taken to get
“It’s a 20-year project,” said Byron. “Our daughter’s bedroom came first – that was paramount. Then making the living spaces comfortable. Now it’s getting the barns ready so we can be comfortable marketing it as a venue. Next year we’d like to do the swimming pool and the tennis court.”
A TV company has spotted the potential too – both in the Hall and in its hard-working owners – and filming has already started for a potential Channel Four series next year. The Hall is also now listed as a venue for film shoots and is the stunning backdrop location for Clyde Syde’s music video.
For Byron and Naomi, Camblesforth Hall is more than a project, more than a lifestyle business, and more than a publicity kick; it’s their home. It’s the rediscovered berry garden they’ve picked fruit from this summer; it’s the newly-tended lawns where Naomi runs a local toddlers’ club; it’s the excitement of finding messages from previous occupants; it’s the nine-o-clock “wine-o-clock” glass together after another crazy day; and it’s the space – all that space – that Beatrix will grow up running around.
To check out Sue's website click here!