I absolutely LOVE Bolesworth Estate in Cheshire. I have been working with the team there for the last couple of years, with their fabulous Equerry Bolesworth International Horse Show, which takes place this week from 14th to 18th June.
This week I was lucky enough to spend a couple of hours interviewing Bolesworth’s Estate Manager Matthew Morris, and this was an even more enjoyable experience as I went to school with Matthew… so we had so much school days reminiscing to do as well as finding out how he runs Cheshire’s most famous and hard-working estate.
Matthew Morris looks the part. He is tall (dark and handsome) and looks every inch the country gent – I’d like to think his impeccable grooming was just for my benefit, but something tells me he turns up for work looking that way every day. He is professional and forward thinking … and therefore its no surprise that this stunning Cheshire estate enjoys the superb reputation that it does today, although the seeds were sown many years ago.
The Barbour family bought the estate 160 years ago. It was much smaller then and included the main house (then a Gothic style Victorian manor house) with 2,200 acres of land.
In 1826 George Walmsley bought the Castle and rebuilt it at enormous expense, employing architect William Cole, a pupil of the famous Chester architect Thomas Harrison. This enterprise ruined Walmsley and he was forced to sell up in 1836 to Thomas Crallan, whose family had made a fortune in brewing and owned The Sun Brewery in Ardwick, Manchester. Crallan spent much time and money on improving the estate but died before being able to enjoy his retirement there. Following his death in 1856 the Castle and Estate were put up for auction and bought by Robert Barbour (1797-1885). The Barbour’s, originally from Glasgow, were cotton traders in Manchester.
Robert Barbour was succeeded by his son George Barbour, and duly by his grandson Robert (1876-1928), who employed Clough Williams-Ellis (of Portmeirion fame) to modernise and remodel the Castle in 1921. The structure of the present garden was also laid out by Clough Williams-Ellis (1883-1984).
These days, it is Nina Barbour who is in charge, the sixth generation of the Barbour family at Bolesworth, and Matthew has worked alongside her as Estate Manager since 2007 when her father Anthony passed away. Nina and Matthew have worked together at Bolesworth for a long time, as Matthew first arrived as an apprentice in his late teens after writing to Anthony asking for some work experience.
Not wanting to be tied to a desk, Matthew decided that he wanted to go to Agricultural College to study land management, which would suit his huge passion for the great outdoors.
The Royal Agricultural College (Cirencester) advised Matthew to complete a year’s practical work experience, and this resulted in him writing to Nina’s father Anthony, who welcomed him into the Estate. Matthew spent a his time split between the office and out on the Estate, working alongside the maintenance team , creating great relationships with his fellow work mates, many of whom are still employed by the estate – and who he now manages today.
Matthew finished his initial apprenticeship at Bolesworth with the Barbour family and duly made his way to the Royal Agricultural College. On leaving he landed a position with Strutt & Parker as a junior land agent. He loved his job and drove around the North-west in his classic 1970 Triumph Vitesse charming even the toughest of farmers with his professional and efficient – yet laid back approach.
In 2003, Matthew came back to Bolesworth as a qualified Chartered Surveyor to work alongside Anthony Barbour at a time when there was much work to do on the estate.
The Barbour family have nurtured Bolesworth over the years, with every generation putting much more back into the estate than they took out, leaving it in an even better state than before. This innovative approach has created a superb environment for its dairy farmers who are among the top 5% in the country. When the price of milk drops, the estate charges the farmers less rent, and this kind of flexible win-win culture makes for very successful, long standing and meaningful partnerships.
Years ago, farming made up 80 – 90% of the estate’s income. By 2017, this has dropped to less than 18%. The estate has diversified and modernised over the years. Bolesworth provides a home to many people and over thousand are employed by various businesses leasing space in converted barns and brand new offices. Bolesworth may well be a stunningly beautiful county estate, but it is the perfect place to do business with super fast broadband and its favourable location just 15 minutes from Chester. It is also just a stone’s throw from the motorway networks linking it directly to Liverpool and Manchester – and of course there is the added benefit of those stunning views.
Aside from all of that, Bolesworth not only puts on the very best horse and lifestyle show in the country every June, but has even managed to export it right into the heart of Liverpool at the Echo Arena every Christmas and New Year (if you haven’t been, go – its spectacular). Bolesworth also hosts many other major events including Chris Evans’ Carfest – and for the very first time this September, Classic Ibiza and Great British Prom from Revival Productions.
Matthew has been at the Barbour’s side now for many years, and feels particularly fortunate to have been able to support the family through monumental change over the last 14 years.
He was made Estate Manager in 2008, a role that – in my humble opinion – was especially made just for him. He is a superb ambassador, a diplomat and a constant support to Nina and her family. He says ‘I also live on the estate and it is a huge privilege to live and work in the same community, to look out of my kitchen window every day and absolutely love what I see’… ‘The relationship we have with our employees, tenants, suppliers and clients is key to the ongoing success of the Estate and it is something that Nina and I work really hard at’.
It was an absolute pleasure to spend some time with Matthew after all these years – and to see him in such a well-suited role clearly loving his surroundings was inspiring.
I just hope he’ll have me back to find out what they have planned over the next 14 years!