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Sir Richard inherited the Hall and the estate from his uncle, the late Sir John FitzHerbert, at the age of 24 in 1989. It was a challenge that he was to embrace with enthusiasm and relish as he soon realised that the estate needed to change its direction. “I inherited a great many wasting assets and wanted to make them ‘sweat’, so I strove to bring new industries and workshops into the village to create jobs that had been lost locally on the farms,” he comments. Improved machinery and new working practices had meant that the jobs in farming were being lost and the farms were often being run by sole proprietors. Sir Richard knew that he had the difficult situation of living in a listed building, in a conservation village in a National Park, and sought to embrace those assets by attracting visitors to the village.
The first project was the conversion of the old coach house in the centre of the village into a thriving tearoom. Although the works dealing with a listed building involved a greater degree of specification from the planners, the Old Coach House Tearooms opened in 1997 and now employs 3 full-time and 10 part-time staff. It is open for lunches, afternoon tea and coffee and can be hired for private functions. In 1999 the building won awards in both the CLA (Country Land & Business Association) and CPRE (Campaign for the Protection of Rural England) categories for Best Conversion of Redundant Buildings.
After the previously redundant kitchen gardens were turned into a small-scale nursery in the early 90s other small businesses started to grow, with the White Peak Farm Butchery (in the old Slaughterhouse), On a Wick and a Prayer candlemakers (in the old Smithy), and the Acanthus Craft Shop, (in the old Joiners’ Shop). “What all these businesses had in common was that they were all very suitable for the surroundings”, he recalls, “and not only are they flourishing in their own right but attract visitors to our community”.
It was in 2003, however, that Sir Richard applied to Derbyshire County Council for the Hall to be licensed as ‘an approved premises for civil marriages and civil partnerships’. From the early beginnings – “We were new to the wedding market and didn’t know how it would work” - and with six marriages that year, the Hall is now a much sought after venue for couples looking to get married in the Derbyshire countryside. “We are not a conveyor belt for weddings”, he muses, “We want each event to be special to each individual couple and we go out of our way to make their day the best in their lives”.
Hosting weddings is rewarding, although Sir Richard finds there is a lot of hard work. “At one event the taxi didn’t turn up, so I drove some guests back to their B&B in Alstonefield at 2 o’clock in the morning! They could not have walked the four miles at that time!” Sir Richard now employs an Events Co-Ordinator, who handles all the enquiries and assists the bride and groom in all the intricacies and hurdles in the run up to their big day.
Several film crews have visited over the years with part of the BBC’s Jane Eyre adaptation being shot at the Hall and St Mary’s Church. Alongside the odd antiques show, Tim Wonnacott and daytime tv’s Bargain Hunt were the latest crew to visit and film some of the wonderful objects that adorn the Hall.
The estate strapline is that the FitzHerbert family have ‘been entertaining since 1609′ at the Hall. Only 300 families in the country can claim that they have been in their houses (that they built) for over 400 years.
For the FitzHerberts, and for Sir Richard and his young family in particular, they have already started on the next 400 years.