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Owner of The Lady magazine buys Bylaugh Hall and will turn it into school for butlers

PUBLISHED: 08:13 28 June 2016 | UPDATED: 17:01 28 June 2016

Helen Robinson and Ben Budworth are restoring Bylaugh Hall, after years of it being derelict. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Helen Robinson and Ben Budworth are restoring Bylaugh Hall, after years of it being derelict. Picture: Matthew Usher.

© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2016

Bylaugh Hall has long been an impressive sight, in its enviable position just outside Swanton Morley, overlooking the Wensum Valley.

Helen Robinson and Ben Budworth are restoring Bylaugh Hall, after years of it being derelict. Picture: Matthew Usher.Helen Robinson and Ben Budworth are restoring Bylaugh Hall, after years of it being derelict. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Designed by the same architect who created the Houses of Parliament and Downton Abbey’s Highclere Castle, it was once the third largest estate in Norfolk - after Holkham and Sandringham – boasting 17,000 acres around the impressive stone hall complete with obelisks and heraldic beasts.

Where once it would have been alive with the hustle and bustle of a busy country house, years of neglect after the Second World War saw the bloom inevitably fade from the cheeks of the old lady turning the once resplendent figure of architectural beauty into a dusty dowager.

But now help is at hand to bring new life and new purpose to the Grade II-listed hall with more than a little nod to its past.

Ben Budworth, owner and publisher of The Lady magazine, has ridden to the rescue with partner and magazine managing director Helen Robinson to buy the run-down property, for an undisclosed price tag, and with a unique business plan.

Helen Robinson and Ben Budworth are restoring Bylaugh Hall, after years of it being derelict. Picture: Matthew Usher.Helen Robinson and Ben Budworth are restoring Bylaugh Hall, after years of it being derelict. Picture: Matthew Usher.

They are converting the 74-bedroomed, 73-bathroomed mansion into a training centre for household staff, from butlers to bodyguards and chauffeurs to chalet girls.

“There is the Norland nannies training centre but nothing residential for domestic staff,” said Miss Robinson.

Mr Budworth added: “The Lady’s reputation for recruiting exceptional staff is second to none. We have our own recruitment division which puts staff into houses worldwide.

“We were keen to move here rather than be in London as it is quiet and secluded and lends itself to training perfectly.

“The role of the butler is quite different to that of 100 years ago. They need to be as competent with a computer as they are with a carving knife and the boundaries between upstairs and downstairs have changed but the demand is bigger than ever.”

The couple bought the house in 2014 after a year of negotiating with seven different administrators and said the £1.5m guide price was way off the figure they eventually paid, having successfully outbid 25 other parties.

It will take some time to restore the house to its former glory – many fixtures and fittings were stripped by builders after the war – and get the training centre up and running, alongside a planned restaurant and holiday lets.

But those interested in their grand plans and keen to get a rare look inside are invited to a special fete in aid of Bylaugh church this Saturday.

It will be the first time in more than 50 years that the hall will have been opened to the public and the couple hope interest in the project will attract plenty of visitors.

From 2.30pm visitors can enjoy traditional games, stalls and teas – and enjoy a good nose around the house to see the work in progress.

Comment – Page 24

Are you working on a restoration project? Email kathryn.cross@archant.co.uk

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