AN historic York business is entering a new era as a fresh generation of leaders takes the helm.

York master builders William Anelay, which traces its history back 266 years, is targeting new markets as it adapts to the twists and turns of the construction sector.

New managing director Tony Townend and new chairman Charles Anelay, the eighth generation of the Anelay family involved in the firm, have just reported increased turnover from about £13 million to just short of £24 million for 2012.

Eight years after a management buyout which took the company out of family ownership for the first time since 1747, the company is tackling the recession head on. In 2007/08, it was turning over £17 million when it lost about a third of its turnover in one year, forcing it to make redundancies.

Mr Townend, who has been with the business for nine years, said: “It’s challenging times out there, there’s no doubt.

“In my lifespan I have seen a couple of what they like to call recessions which have been nowhere near the depth of this one. What we have got is what we’re going to have for the outside majority of this decade.”

He said the company, renowned for its heritage specialism, has now also ventured into private client work and new build.

He said: “When the Olympics were first mooted, we realised a lot of money was going to drain out of Lottery funding, which it did. We inevitably had to cast our eyes further afield and look at privately funded projects.

“It changed our dynamic. Originally we were known for ecclesiastical buildings and stately homes and pigeonholed into that style of work. We were known as a specialist rather than being able to do a whole cross-section of projects. Now there isn’t a great deal other than sheds that we don’t do.”

Charles Anelay, whose presence proves the family still keeps close ties to the business, said they changed the structure of the business in response to changes in Lottery funding.

Projects winning grant funding had previously been about £1 million in size, but they increased to £3 million to £4 million.

"They were looking for bigger projects to put their money into,” he said “We had to be brave enough to develop and go for bigger jobs or get stuck as a smallish local contractor."

The company took the plunge and has had some fantastic jobs since that would have been impossible for it to handle previously, he said.

The change has also won the company business across the UK, recently winning work as far afield as the National Trust’s Castle Drogo In Exeter.

Now the business has already achieved its turnover targets for this year and has got nearly half of next year’s turnover already in place. It beat national general contractors to win a contract for a £4 million new-build visitor complex at the National Trust’s Dunham Massey Hall in Cheshire.

Last year the company, which employs about 100 people, spent £750,000 extending its offices in Osbaldwick, named Heritage House to hold on to its reputation, which offers space to grow into and a more appropriate example of their work.

William Anelay was founded in Doncaster by John Thompson in 1747, and relocated to York in 1900 at the request of renowned architect Walter Brierley.

It was based in Coney Street until the 1950s, when it moved into what used to be the village institute in Osbaldwick.

Mr Townend said: “Two hundred and sixty-six years-worth of history is a big responsibility.

“We are in the nice position to be able to increase turnover by 25 per cent over the next 18 months to two years.

“We’re in very exciting times. For the first time it feels as though we’re driving the ship.”