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Hoghton Tower - Lancashire’s Wolf Hall has ghosts and sirloin steaks in a colourful past

PUBLISHED: 00:00 02 March 2015

James I is said to have knight Sirloin in the banqueting hall

James I is said to have knight Sirloin in the banqueting hall

not Archant

With the nation gripped by the Tudors, one of our most stunning homes from the period is planning big changes in its 450th anniversary year. Roger Borrell

The view from the gatehouse The view from the gatehouse

We’ve all lost our heads over the Tudors, thanks to Hilary Mantel and the television adaptation of her best-selling novel, Wolf Hall.

It seems we can’t get enough of this blood-thirsty period in our history and that could mean a welcome spin-off for Lancashire which has an embarrassment of architectural riches.

There are few finer examples than the building reputed to be the second most haunted house in England, Hoghton Tower, near Preston. In fact, BBC executives seriously considered it as a location for Wolf Hall before filming started. Sadly, it didn’t pass the final audition.

That would have given this extraordinary building the international profile it deserves. However, the family holding the keys to this dramatic hilltop house, still have every reason to celebrate – this year they will have been custodians of Hoghton Tower for 450 years.

The tower is also a wedding venue The tower is also a wedding venue

It coincides with a time of great change as the 14th Baronet, Sir Bernard de Hoghton, hands over the chairmanship of the trust that looks after the property to his daughter, Elena Faraoni.

While Sir Bernard tackles the vast family archive and his son, Thomas, looks after the surrounding estate, Elena has gathered together a team planning a bright new future for what has become one of the county’s favourite historic attractions.

Running a building of this size is monumentally expensive – just repairing the roof can cost a king’s ransom. To cope with the costs, Sir Bernard and his wife, Lady Rosanna de Hoghton, built up visitor numbers to 30,000 a year and staged a wide range of events, from farmer’s markets to weddings. Now, a new generation in the form of mother-of-two Elena wants to take it to the next stage.

But did the magnitude of the task mean they ever considered handing over the keys to someone else? ‘Yes, it was discussed,’ said Elena. ‘We did debate it. We could have sold it to the Chinese and gone to live in Jamaica but it would have broken my dad’s heart.

Hoghton Tower team (From the left);  James Dean,  Kasia Palinska, Duccio Faraoni,  Lisa Brice,  Marco Zavagno,  Cinzia Bocchi,  Maurizio Bocchi and Elena Faraoni Hoghton Tower team (From the left); James Dean, Kasia Palinska, Duccio Faraoni, Lisa Brice, Marco Zavagno, Cinzia Bocchi, Maurizio Bocchi and Elena Faraoni

‘Hoghton Tower has been in the family since 1565 and we’ve no intention of giving it up. After all this history, I don’t want to be the generation responsible for walking away.’

Elena and the trustees now have a full time manager, James Dean, who has joined from the Canal & River Trust, to take over the day to day running of the tower, with Lisa Brice as campaigns manager with the daunting task of raising £7 million for major changes planned for the next five years, and Marco Zavagno, the catering and hospitality manager, who aims to make Hoghton a Lancashire food destination.

‘In the long term we want to put this place much more on the map than it is now,’ said Elena, a management consultant involved in many high profile projects, including work with the NHS. ‘We see it becoming a Blenheim or Chatsworth for the north, obviously not on the same scale but with much greater pulling power than it currently has.’

The remarkable events in this dramatic tower and the people who visited over the centuries make it a dream location. Yet even locals often pass it by. It is generally accepted that Shakespeare spent time here and King James I, at a banquet following a day’s hunting, famously knighted a joint of beef ‘Sirloin.’ George V and Charles Dickens were visitors and add underground passages, ramparts, dungeons, several ghostly apparitions, and a famous Dolls House collection to the mix and it has a remarkable story to impart.

Elena and the trust plan to develop the extensive gardens, opening up previously unseen parts of the historic house and convert outbuildings, including the ancient ramparts, to create new spaces for art exhibitions. There will also be new educational facilities to cope with growing interest from schools, a coffee shop and the creation of a retail area.

In all, it will cost around £7million and the trust are hoping the Heritage Lottery Fund will play a major role in transforming the hall, which relies heavily on its band of dedicated but dwindling volunteer guides.

Food will be one of the cornerstones of the change in direction. The tower already hosts a highly successful monthly farmers’ market and Cinzia and Maurizo Bocchi, owners of the award-winning La Locanda restaurant in Gisburn, have arrived as consultants to help develop it as a food destination, working with Marco Zavagno.

‘We want to create a coffee house with high quality food with an Italian twist, somewhere that’s very relaxed where people can escape from the world for an hour in surroundings that are out of this world,’ said Elena. ‘We would like to see people having a nice meal here and taking a book out into the gardens away from everyday stresses. Food and history go together very well so we’d like to build on that theme, perhaps by running cookery courses. We’d also like some form of food festival. Personally, I’d like to see us staging a meat festival – where better than the place where Sirloin was knighted!’

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