Lord Allendale has not rested on his laurels since taking over his family's 20,000 acre estate, which just played host to the Northumberland County Show for the last time. Ruth Lognonne finds out more.
RUNNING a group of estates that span more than 20,000 acres of the beautiful Northumbrian countryside is no walk in the park.
Although its landlord, the fourth Viscount Allendale, admits to being partial to a spot of walking, he has also been responsible for transforming the Allendale Estates which have been in his family for 200 years into a modern 21st Century offering.
Consisting of farmland, forestry, moorland, residential and commercial property, holiday cottages, community parkland and sporting assets, the estates are a family-run business which have undergone tremendous change over the past decade.
Under his father’s lordship, the estates consisted solely of farming enterprises, but as farmers were forced to diversify at the turn of the millennium, so too were their landlords.
“As more and more of our tenant farmers began to leave the industry we realised that the estates had to make money somehow,” says Allendale. “Bywell Home Farm used to be a pedigree Aberdeen Angus cattle farm but that particular breed went out of fashion and although the outbuildings were nice, they were no use at all for farming.
“We began to convert the buildings into offices and the concept of hiring out the buildings as offices quickly took off.
“Since 2005 we have built across four more former farms, at Stocksfield Hall, South Acomb, Bearl and Roe House. We now have a total of 47 units with 34 commercial tenants. I’m particularly proud of our latest development at Bearl, which is heated by a biomass boiler and all of the woodchips are sourced from the estates.
“Each development was costly at just over £1m to build but we currently have a 95% occupancy level across all units and we’re seeing a return on our investments.
“The opening of the development at Stocksfield Hall was a proud moment for me because I remember it was a real struggle to raise the money to see it through.
“We have everyone including local land agents, greeting card suppliers, renewable energy specialists, roofing specialists, conservation groups and food suppliers. It’s wonderful because the offices introduce all walks of life to the area and I think it helps bring the countryside to life.”
His father, the third Viscount Allendale, was called upon from London to take his seat at the family’s estate in Bywell, Northumberland, when the young Lord Allendale was eight years old.
From there he went to preparatory school before going to Harrow boarding school for boys. Upon leaving school, Lord Allendale went to work abroad on farms in Australia, before returning to England to gain experience of working on an estate in Berkshire.
However, there was no place like home for the enterprising landlord.
“I think I always knew I would end up back here,” he said. “I was tempted once to stay in Australia but I wanted to come back because the estates have so much to offer. It wasn’t a sense of duty or anything like that, I simply wanted to run my family’s estates well.”
As well as 50,000sq ft of office space, the estates also provide a range of residential properties from two-bedroom cottages up to six-bedroom farmhouses on both long and short-term agreements. This includes 14 let farms spanning a total of 4,352 acres.
All of the estate’s forestry is managed in-hand, with around 3,500 acres of woodland altogether the estates and is enhanced by natural regeneration where possible.
Alongside his wife, Viscountess Allendale, Allendale has transformed an area of Bywell’s picturesque parkland into a cross country course for equine enthusiasts. The couple host a charity two-day hunter trial which has raised tens of thousands of pounds for the Charlotte Straker Trust over the years.
Perhaps one of the estates’ greatest coups in the last 10 years was being named the new venue for the grandiose Northumberland County Show in 2013.
Now attracting a regular 25,000- strong crowd to see the cattle, sheep, horses, goats, alpacas, poultry, trade stands and entertainment on May Bank Holiday Monday, it had been obvious for some time that something would have to give.
The show committee was offered the new venue at Bywell so that the show will have 105 acres rather than 70.
Allendale says: “I’m a keen follower of the show and I’m thrilled that it’s coming to Bywell.
“We have the infrastructure already largely in place and we can offer more space for the show to grow.
“We hope to provide a long-term home for the show and help it expand. It also means the show will be on my doorstep and for once I won’t have to queue in traffic for hours!”
Shooting has been a passion of the Allendale family for generations. The estates offer grouse, pheasant and partridge shooting, as well as pigeon shooting and roe deer stalking.
They also offer driven grouse shooting on the spectacular 8,000 acre West Allenheads Estate which has historically produced some of the most prolific grouse shooting in Britain.
Conservation is essential to the estates’ ethos. The intensive work by gamekeepers has resulted in the estates being home to a wide variety of rare and interesting species of birds and animals.
Allendale and his staff are currently returning 100 acres of coniferous woodland to its original habitat of heather moorland to enhance the moor. By allowing Natural England and Durham University to fence an area of moor, the partnership are looking into possible regeneration methods.
“My son Wentworth plays a very big part in the running of the estates nowadays and has a keen interest in the shooting side of things,” says Allendale. “He’s an art dealer in London but through regular emails and conference calls we can communicate frequently and he can still help run the business from London when he’s not here in Northumberland.”
In addition to the Northumberland County Show, the family’s home at Bywell Hall will be open to the public for 28 days next year to display some of the Viscount’s impressive collection of paintings and tapestries. Private events are held at Bywell Hall occasionally but predominantly it remains a private house.
The Bywell beat of the River Tyne also boasts one of the best stretches of salmon fishing in England, and runs directly through the estate.
The stretch of river comprises 2.5 miles of river with a mixture of long, fast-running powerful pools flowing into one or two longer stretches of slower water.
The introduction of commercial fishing on the river is one of the Viscount’s best examples of business acumen to date.
He says: “After dad died in 2002 we set up the fishing business and it’s wonderful. It’s practically fully booked for the season and I think incorporating the river into the estate’s business portfolio was the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given.
“The Bywell beat of the River Tyne has a first-class weekly salmon fishery and we were the first to set up weekly fishing lets on the Tyne.
“Our investment on the stretch of river has not only introduced both jobs and visitors to the area but it has also helped local industries, such as hotels, bed and breakfasts and shops.”