THE passing of the mantle of the Worsley baronetcy on the death of Sir Marcus Worsley has coincided with a major landmark for the family of Hovingham Hall.
In April, Sir William Worsley, the 6th baronet and the 12th generation of his family, will mark 450 years of the family’s ownership of the estate.
Although the title has been his for just a few weeks, Sir William, nephew of the Duchess of Kent, has been running the estate since the retirement of his father, 25 years ago, wrestling with the maintenance of the imposing Hovingham Hall and the estate’s 3,000 acres and many cottages.
The new heir is conscious of his new responsibilities as head of the Worsley family which dates back to the Norman Conquest.
Sir William said: “We have been landowners for 1,000 years and I see my role as being one of stewardship.
“The estate is a focus for the family and the community. It is not mine to sell but to keep going as a family estate. It is a huge responsibility.”
Today, the estate has a staff of 15 in sharp contrast to the days over the four centuries when estate workers made up the entire population of Hovingham.
Once upon a time, the estate owned virtually the whole of the village, but that has changed since the Second World War since when about half the village as it appears today was built.
“But we have been very positive and constructive in looking to the future of the estate and the village,” said Sir William, who is a chartered surveyor by profession.
“Hovingham is an architectural gem with a great family history. It is a beautiful home at both a county and national level.”
It is that message he is keen to convey to Westminster. He is concerned about the threat of increased taxes and said: “The Government must not underestimate the importance of the country’s historic houses to the tourism industry. It is in the national interest to keep them in private hands.”
Sir William, a former president of the influential Country Landowners and Business Association, is, like his father before him, a keen forester. “The family has always been passionate about woods,” said Sir William. But he has deep concern about Hovingham’s long-established trees because 20 per cent are ash and currently under threat from disease.
“The loss of them would have a significant impact on the landscape,” he said.
And while he is optimistic about the long-term future of farming – a key part of the estate’s operations – he added: “I have been in farming for 30 years and this is one of the worst periods I have known for the industry.”
Sir William studied estate management at the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester after being educated at Bramcote in Scarborough and Harrow.
As a result, he says he has been able to focus on the economy of the estate, the people it employs and the wider community in Hovingham.
“The estate has concentrated on growing commercial crops and environmental stewardship. We take our responsibilities to the estate and the village very seriously. But we have to balance the books.”
He estimates it costs some £100,000 a year to run the hall and its buildings, but he has resisted the temptation to open it year-round and have it swamped with visitors.
Instead, he and his Dutch-born wife, Marie-Noelle, now Lady Worsley, open the hall and its grounds for just four weeks a year, during June.
“It is our family home, and during the summer we also host a number of village events and concerts during the Ryedale Festival.”
Sir William pays tribute to his wife, whom he met at a London wedding. “She has adjusted to the English way of life and Hovingham wonderfully. She is a great supporter and worker.”
The couple have three children, Isabella, Francesca and Marcus.
But one family tradition which will always be a part of the hall, is its home to the Hovingham cricket team which plays each Saturday on the immaculate lawns in front of the hall, providing it with undoubtedly the finest ground in the Yorkshire cricketing world.
Like his predecessors, Sir William takes a keen interest in the rest of Hovingham’s life, with his roles including being patron and a warden of the parish church of All Saints.
“There’s nothing I enjoy more than returning from London to Hovingham.
“I get huge pleasure coming home here because it is such a wonderful part of the country.”