Farewell to living off the land

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The Independent Online
'WE ARE are keeping our heads above water,' says Roger Tempest. 'That's a rare boast these days.' He surveys the 3,000-acre estate he will one day inherit.

Mr Tempest, 29, is intent on preserving Broughton Hall, his historic North Yorkshire family pile since the 11th century. The first decision for him and his father, Henry, was easy - get out of farming, 'the best thing we ever did'. But what then? The Tempests ruled out building a golf course, a riding school or a craft museum, and chose to restore the estate's derelict barns and cowsheds for rebirth as a business park, where around 170 people now work.

It has been a dramatic turnaround. Ten years ago, 90 per cent of the estate's income came from agriculture. Now the sheep and cows have been sold and only 10 per cent of income comes from tenant farmers and grazing, and shooting and fishing rights.

The first Roger Tempest was born in 1098. Piers Tempest was knighted before the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, but the family remained loyal to the Catholic church when Henry VIII split from Rome and has had no title since. According to Henry Tempest, the family is used to riding out hard times. 'We were in trouble for being Catholics. Then we got into trouble for being Royalists. Cromwell seized the hall and we had to buy it back when the monarchy was restored. Then we got into trouble for being Jacobites. In my time, we've got into trouble simply for owning hereditary wealth.'

Henry was not groomed to head the family but his elder brother died without an heir in 1970. He was brought up at Broughton, a Grade I listed 70- room Palladianised Elizabethan mansion, but was living in a 1960s house in an Oxfordshire village when he became the 29th Lord of Broughton Manor. When he inherited, death duties stood at 65 per cent. 'A highly placed Tory was shocked when I compared Ted Heath to Cromwell. But that's how it felt.' He had to sell off silver, paintings, books and even the local pub - The Tempest Arms - to pay the bills.

Now, along with rent from the 29 businesses in the business park, the grounds themselves generate income. Corporate entertainment packages include archery and clay-pigeon shoots. The Hall remains a family home, but lunch or dinner can be laid on for corporate clients.

The estate also provides a backdrop for filming. The new version of Wuthering Heights, which Paramount releases this week, was filmed at the Hall. Roger Tempest, who trained in estate management at Cirencester Agricultural College and was assistant to two managing editors at Eddy Shah's Today newspaper, read that the company was looking for a location, chased it up and clinched the deal. The television mini-series A Woman of Substance was also filmed there.

The business tenants enjoy a rural idyll - complete with faxes and sandwich seller. 'The name creates an image. Clients love it,' said John Anderson, head of a property business, watching a rabbit scampering in the grass outside his office window. 'It beats working in central London, and is far preferable to the Dickensian garret we used to work out of in Skipton.'

Contented tenants range from a computer company selling Broughton-designed software packages around the world to a chartered surveyors which has doubled both its staff and profits since moving in.

Then there is the Centre for Crisis Psychology, which was called in to help disaster victims at Zeebrugge, Hillsborough and Bradford. The counsellors - mainly clinical psychologists - also help victims of kidnappings and bombings. The tranquil calm of the estate helps staff cope, according to Michael Stewart, who set up the centre.

Broughton is not immune from the recession: inquiries from potential tenants are down, but last week a local publisher signed up. Around 20 jobs will relocate to the estate before Christmas. 'The business park underpins our survival. Without it we would be trapped in a cycle of decline, with the house deteriorating and nothing to pay for repairs,' said Roger Tempest.

He is optimistic but far from cocky about the future: 'There is a very thin line betweeen profit and loss. One large slab of bad debt could wipe out the profits which we need to pump back into the house.'

(Photograph omitted)