A historic hall has found an intriguing piece of history revealing the family’s decision to open to the public 60 years ago.
At Leighton Hall, near Carnforth, one of the staff was cleaning in preparation for the 2019 season opening, and found an old newspaper cutting.
From the Morecambe Visitor, dated July 16, 1958, it revealed the dire straits many country houses found themselves in during the years after the war, and the tough decisions which had to be made.
On top of the loss of heirs, manpower and money, crippling inheritance duties had been introduced by the cash strapped postwar government, eventually peaking at 85 per cent.
A new option for owners of stately homes was to open to the public, charging a few shillings towards maintenance and upkeep. Those that didn’t were doomed.
Throughout the 1950s, the number of historic houses being pulled down averaged at two per week for the whole decade.
In a heartfelt letter to the Visitor’s editor, published within the article, Leighton’s owner, Major Reynolds, explained he and his wife had taken the decision to open the hall to the public because they “so love the place, we cannot bear the thought of having to close it down.”
He also spoke of wanting to safeguard the future of the staff who depended on the Georgian-style hall for their living.
Now many years (and thousands of cups of tea) later, Leighton Hall is a thriving visitor attraction, with events and activities for families and groups.
But for Leighton’s current owners, Suzie Reynolds and her daughter, Lucy Arthurs, it’s not been an easy ride.
Suzie said “Sadly, I recently lost my husband, Richard, who inherited Leighton Hall from his father in 1977.
“Having worked hard to maintain the hall throughout his life, his last thoughts were concerns for its future.
“Estate taxes and duties have barely changed in the past 60 years, and maintaining a historic house is still a struggle.”
From the time it opened its doors, Leighton has always prided itself on remaining a family home, and visitors are welcomed just as if they were family friends.
With foundations of the house dating back to the 13th century, the current hall was built in 1761 and restored in 1870 as the seat of the Gillow furniture making dynasty.
Suzie said: “The house really comes alive when its rooms are full of people, and we want everyone to feel at home too, so you won’t find any ‘roped off’ rooms here.
“Visitors are invited to really get involved and are welcome to sit on the family sofa, climb the gravity-defying ‘flying staircase’ and explore the park and gardens at their leisure.”
As well as welcoming visitors from far and near, Suzie’s concerns are to safeguard the future of the hall, not only for her daughter, but also her grandson Sebastian, who will one day inherit.
“Finding this letter has brought to life such a dramatic point in Leighton’s history, and the actions that previous generations took to preserve the estate, when so many were sadly lost.
“It is a privilege to live in such a wonderful home, and if it was a tough decision to open it up all those years ago.
“The fantastic feedback that visitors have been leaving for the last 60 years shows it was the right one.”