Iscoyd Park Hidden Houses of Wales


Iscoyd Park

Series discovering some of Wales's finest houses. Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen visits Iscoyd Park to meet the couple who have transformed the mansion into an events venue.


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Transcript


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If you turn your back on the town,

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take that village track, follow the unmade road,

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you'll find something absolutely extraordinary.

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The hidden houses of Wales.

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In this series, I'll be turning back the clock,

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I'll be stepping over the threshold of some incredible places,

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seeking out scandal-packed histories.

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Bricks and mortar? They're never seem the same again.

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In this episode, we'll be visiting the ancestral home

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of a dynasty that built exquisite coaches.

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When he died he was worth about 400 million quid.

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That's not bad.

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Yeah, I don't know where it's all gone!

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A home that was turned into a Polish hospital.

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They actually felt that this was their country.

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A house now in the hands of a young couple

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who've taken a massive financial risk so their ancestral home survives.

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There's absolutely no choice now,

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we've got to go on and make this work, whatever happens.

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I'm in beautiful border country, I am the jam in a sandwich between

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Shropshire and Flintshire, and at the moment it all looks like

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an exquisite Georgian landscape painting.

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It is terribly, terribly pretty round here,

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which is probably why Edward I gave it to his lovely Queen Eleanor.

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Just a bit of a gift you know, just because she was there.

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One wonders what she gave the great man in return.

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Nowadays, this side of Whitchurch is Wales

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but for a while, it was in English hands.

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But the English didn't get around to changing the names of the houses.

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This is Iscoyd Park which, translated, means

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"park beneath the trees".

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Wow!

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Just look at that.

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That's... um, textbook, isn't it?

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Weirdly it looks a little bit fake, dare I say,

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because it's almost as if someone's tried

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to put a tick in every single posh box.

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Columns, tick. Georgian splendour, tick. Symmetry, tick.

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But it's very gracious. Let's face it, I wouldn't say no.

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Over the past 200 years, seven generations of the same family,

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the Godsals, have called it home.

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Today, it's the turn of 30-somethings Philip and Susie Godsal and their young family.

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Four-year-old Poppy, two-year-old Philip Hector and new arrival Cecily.

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Right, that's it.

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I've got serious porch envy now, and actually serious knocker envy.

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-Laurence.

-For goodness sake, I should be asking if your parents are in!

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You look far too young to be standing in such a grand doorway.

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-I've got serious house envy now.

-Come in.

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So how come you two Sixth Formers have been left in charge

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of the big, grand house then?

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-Well...

-Well? It's like this.

-It's a long story.

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We've just recently moved here from London about a year and a half ago.

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Father and stepmother who moved out at the same time.

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So it's your family house, but you're a London girl.

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I'm a London girl at heart so it's been a big, big move.

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How are you dealing with the mud?

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I've got wellies now, my first pair of wellies I've ever possessed.

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Because the thing that really strikes me, first impressions and all that,

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but this is absolutely jaw-dropping. Beautiful, elegant, restrained...

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It's not a family home, surely? I mean, where's the toddler stuff?

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-You know, where are the potties?

-We'll take you into our bit later. It's a different story there.

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Let's have a look around, I love the way you've done it.

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There's a lot of beautiful, beautiful things.

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Lovely paintings but...

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Iscoyd Park, sitting in 750 acres of beautiful Welsh countryside

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was originally built around 1730.

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For nearly 300 years, the estate was able to generate enough income from its land

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to pay for its own upkeep.

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More recently as farming became less profitable,

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the Godsals have found the going tougher and tougher.

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Phil's father, Philip Senior, was barely able to maintain Iscoyd Park

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and it was falling into disrepair.

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The future of the ancestral home was in doubt.

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Phil Junior and Susie were married in 2005.

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Two years ago, Phil was running his own art gallery in London and Susie

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had given up her busy career to start their family.

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The outdoorsy attractions of a country childhood for their children

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spurred them into action and they decided to sell up,

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move back to Wales and try and save the family pile.

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But they've taken a huge financial risk, borrowing £1 million

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and spending a year completing all of the renovation and rebuilding work.

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It looks fantastic but how on earth are they going to repay that massive loan?

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Of course, in a house this size, everything's multiplied.

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The light, the space and inevitably, the bills.

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To be able to run a house like this you'd need an extraordinary income,

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and to keep this place warm, dry, watertight and in the family,

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Susie and Phil have had to get a little bit creative.

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What they've done is give over the vast majority of the place

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to the public by turning it into an incredibly glam, very upmarket party venue.

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And with some input from some of their swanky designer friends,

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they've recreated that Georgian spirit,

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but given it a decidedly 21st century rock 'n' roll spin.

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With THAT loan hanging over them,

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they're also looking to host extravagant weddings.

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Anything to ensure this glorious example

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of Welsh Georgian architecture isn't lost forever.

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It is a huge achievement

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and it does look sensational, it's come out very, very well.

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Well, when we really panic about the whole business,

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we do look back at the old pictures and realise what we've done and achieved in the last year.

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Does it keep you awake though? Obviously the baby does but does the idea you're...

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You're living in a business,

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it's constantly there, you can't get away from it, around you the whole time.

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Are there moments where you burst into tears because it's too much for you?

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-Ummmmm, nnnnn...

-"Nnnn-never!"

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There's been a few, there has been a few.

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I'll get you some in a minute if you play really nicely with Hector.

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Do you think he thinks about the fact that he'll be

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passing it on to his children?

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Yeah, that's a big part of it. That's why we're doing it.

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But the interesting thing is, is it going to Philip Hector or to Poppy?

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Do you know what?

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HE INHALES SHARPLY

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I think right now, we just have to try and hold on to it.

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But holding on to it may prove more difficult

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than the renovation itself.

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Iscoyd has never really had to work for a living.

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Indeed, for hundreds of years it was a squire's home,

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a glam country pad for the Welsh landed gentry.

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By the end of the Georgian era, however, it acquired a new type of owner.

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1843 and the house is sold for the not inconsiderable sum

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of £12,500, which equates to about one and half million quid.

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If you're wondering why I'm driving around

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in a Victorian horse-drawn carriage, some days aren't Morris Minor days,

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but it's because the family who bought Iscoyd Park and indeed still own Iscoyd Park

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owe their fortune to the noble art of carriage building.

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Philip Godsal the First was the Porsche maker of his day.

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He created beautiful horse-drawn carriages for the super-rich

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and in doing so, he made his own fortune.

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A Philip Godsal carriage was the very latest in equine elegance.

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They were high-performance luxury sports carriages for handy dandies,

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at a time when everyone else on the continent was covering everything

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in unnecessary, undulating gilded cherubs and furbelows.

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Like Beau Brummell and clothes, Philip Godsal did an Armani

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and embraced glamorous understatement.

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What a way to travel - and I don't mean the Morris.

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At the height of his fame, Philip Godsal sold the business

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and the money he made enabled his family to acquire a country seat

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and buy a position in the ranks of the Welsh rural gentry.

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So started Iscoyd's Godsal dynasty.

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I feel as if I'm surrounded by Philips. Because Philip, Philip, Philip.

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-Philip is the name that goes right the way through?

-Goes right the way through,

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I mean my grandson Philip Hector is number 14.

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I think what's so lovely is it goes back to the energy,

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drive and creativity of one man, the original Philip,

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who created these extraordinary carriages.

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They were the real status symbol of the day, weren't they?

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Absolutely, I mean they were sort of the Bentley, Rolls-Royce of the time I think.

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He was one of the three great carriage makers.

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It's extraordinary really that he sold his business in 1810,

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because he just did not want his son, Philip Blake, to remain in the trade.

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-He ended up being worth a pretty considerable sum of money.

-Yes.

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How much was he actually valued at?

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They reckon when he died he was worth about 400 million quid.

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That's not bad.

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Yeah, I don't know where it's all gone!

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That's the shame about Georgian money like that, where is it now?

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But it must be lovely to know that under your stewardship,

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rather than this place degenerating and getting worse and worse and worse,

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actually it has been completely reincarnated.

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Yeah. We've been very lucky with our advisors or helpers,

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particularly our architect and the interior designer.

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We've actually had great fun working with them.

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-Hats off to interior designers!

-Exactly.

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Look what a difference they make.

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Know a man by his curtains, that's what I say.

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It's one way of sorting the wheat from the chaff, let's face it.

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I must say they've done an amazing job restoring

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some of the glamour to Iscoyd.

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But interestingly the house didn't actually look like this in its heyday.

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And how do I know? I've got the original plans.

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Imagining ourselves as a couple of Georgian bucks,

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-which isn't that hard, is it?

-No, not at all.

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We lack the powder and the hair!

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I'm trying to rationalise these plans, because when are these from?

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From 1746, aren't they?

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The first thing I can see instantly is this rather elegant looking

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-elliptical staircase just off there.

-Yeah.

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Very, very beautiful, very elegantly done.

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It's like a treasure map.

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This is the drawing room.

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The interesting thing here, this has all been added...

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-You can even see it from the line on the floor.

-Yeah.

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We've actually gone off the map here.

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Yeah, we go back through here.

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Back through here. Oh, look at this, this is all very swanky and modern.

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-Yeah, this has a very different feel about it.

-Yeah.

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-Can I have a look at your extremely smart loos?

-Yeah, quite proud of those.

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-Tell you what, I'll have a look in the ladies.

-Yeah, the ladies is better.

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Look at that. So this is just carved out of servants' hall,

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-housekeepers' rooms...

-Yeah.

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This is nice, the way you've done this here.

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The new loos aren't the only thing the old servants' quarters have been used for.

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Front of house luxury is reserved for those able to pay for it

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and master now is where servant once was.

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Phil, Susie and clan are demoted to five rooms

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in the old servants' quarters at the back of the house.

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Hey.

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This is the best part.

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This is actually where Phil lives.

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-Where everybody knows your name!

-Absolutely.

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Are we open for business?

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We are open. We're always open for business.

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Oh, open all hours?

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This is amazing.

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Where we are now is probably the oldest bit of the house.

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This is the new edition, the parvenu, the bit that comes in a bit later.

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Seems odd that you've got these two independent living spaces,

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although it suits you perfectly.

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It's fantastic, couldn't have been designed better really, we're very lucky.

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-This is great fun.

-Yeah.

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It is beautifully done, you have obviously spent

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-a lot of money and a lot of commitment and a lot of time on it.

-Yeah.

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How well do you sleep?

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Not at all well any more, at all.

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Your debt, is it here?

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Errr... Yeah, I'd go...

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It feels more than that actually. I mean, it's quite scary

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when I stop to think.

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But the advantage of that is there is no going back,

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there's absolutely no choice now. We've got to go on

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and we've got to make this work, whatever happens.

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Did you have much choice anyway? I mean, something had to happen,

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-you couldn't just plod on.

-No.

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I think just sort of changing the direction things were going was...

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Well, we had to do it, I mean, we couldn't have...

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I'm no farmer anyway.

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I couldn't have come back to farm and this house needs to be lived in,

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it's always been a good party house and now we're using those parties

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and that's what's going to keep the thing going.

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So Iscoyd's new incarnation depends on its past.

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The mixture of modern comfort with grand history

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may be its unique selling point.

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Having a bath in a bedroom is a bit of a boutique hotel cliche these days,

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but it's funny when you think about it,

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this is exactly how people bathed 200 years ago.

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The original Godsals would have called for the servants

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to bring them a tin bath and filled it full of water.

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The fact these days it's actually plumbed in

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and works efficiently, quickly and well is actually an added bonus.

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I think this is a very interesting masterclass in how to treat an antique.

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This is obviously the bridal bed

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but it's a bed for a bride who likes the contemporary.

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The bed itself is old, it's antique, it's beautiful,

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it's got a lot of history and tradition to it.

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But it's been treated with a lightness, a brightness

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and a modernity which makes the whole thing feel very now.

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You've married into the dynasty of Philips,

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which is like marrying into the dynasties of Rameses or Caesars.

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But from town, from London.

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-When did you first come here?

-Um, we came here in...

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No, when did YOU first come here?

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Oh, I first came here? Gosh, must have been ten years ago now.

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And what did you think?

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-Terrified.

-Really?

-Yeah.

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Because obviously you knew he had a big gaff in the country?

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Yeah, but we never talked about it,

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I never imagined I'd be living here,

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but you don't know where life takes you, do you?

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And it's been an amazing experience.

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Looking at it completely professionally now, it does have

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that sort of urban spin on it, which I think is its complete success.

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-I definitely agree with that.

-No shabby chic here, is there?

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No, no, none of that, that's out the window.

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Because we didn't want it like a hotel,

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we wanted it to be contemporary, a little bit different,

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but we also wanted a family feel.

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And this is our style, this is what Phil and I both like.

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-And no chintz in sight.

-No.

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We looked at what we had, paintings and furniture

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and then we sort of built it from that.

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It's an old house with old furniture but a real breath of fresh, modern air.

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We just wanted to move forward rather than backwards, push the whole thing forward.

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The unthinkable is deeply unthinkable,

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because it's not just like you've bought this house. To lose this house, after...

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Yeah, it's massive.

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..After all those Philips, to be the Philip that lost it.

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That pressure's on our shoulders. We just have to keep going, be positive, looking to the future.

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-But you're using that pressure creatively?

-Definitely.

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That's wind in your sails.

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It has to be channelled in the right direction.

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But yeah, it is pressure for all of us and we feel it,

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but that's just part of... Part of the whole set-up.

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-Stop, Poppy, Poppy.

-Pops, come here.

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Do you ever have a moment where you escape from the children and just come and live in...

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I've sneaked in here a few nights!

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When the kids have been playing up I've said, I've had enough!

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We joke we can come on holiday in this side of the house.

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It's a staycation, it's absolutely perfect.

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It's great, we don't need to travel!

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The Godsals have gambled their future

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on making sure their house has one.

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But there was a time when Iscoyd

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was taken from the control of the Godsal family.

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Estates of this size were in high demand for the war effort.

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In 1942, the decision was made to convert Iscoyd into

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an American forces hospital to accommodate

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the thousands of anticipated casualties from D-Day.

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In fact, not a single injured American soldier actually arrived at Iscoyd.

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The hospital remained empty, but not for long.

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1945 and the dark days of the war are over at last, hurray.

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But now it's time for Churchill to honour his debt made to

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the healthcare of our Polish allies.

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But where to put all of those war veterans?

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I know, what about a brand spanking new, 200-bed hospital?

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Iscoyd enters a new incarnation,

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as the evocatively named Polish Hospital Number Four.

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Polish Hospital Number Four started here

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and went back for quite a way, didn't it? There was a lot of building here.

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There was tarmac, it was roads, it was brick structures. How big was Number Four?

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It was a huge hospital in terms of the amount of people they had here.

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This hospital in particular was very important and different,

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because it was one of the few military hospitals built for the Polish resettlement.

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It was also special in that it dealt with soldiers

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with mental health problems, and that, of course, in 1946 was quite unique.

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The resettlement act for the Poles that provided so many hospitals for them

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actually gave the Polish community the equivalent of the NHS.

0:21:370:21:41

What do you think the local reaction was?

0:21:410:21:43

Was there a bit of romance going on? Polish soldiers hopping over the fences?

0:21:430:21:47

The Welsh girls coming back the other way?

0:21:470:21:50

I think there was quite a lot of interaction between the two.

0:21:500:21:53

Depending, of course, on the level of their illness,

0:21:530:21:56

they attended local festivals and they had local singing competitions,

0:21:560:22:01

they actually felt that this was in a strange way their country.

0:22:010:22:07

So, there were hundreds of Polish soldiers

0:22:090:22:14

and hundreds of local girls.

0:22:140:22:16

And as Vera Ostrowski can testify, there was, of course, romance.

0:22:160:22:20

Now, Vera, I want to know all about what happened

0:22:260:22:30

when you met a certain Polish gentleman.

0:22:300:22:34

There you were, a lovely lady from Whitchurch

0:22:340:22:38

and you see this incredible Polish hunk.

0:22:380:22:42

Well, we first met at a dance, he'd come down to get the camp ready.

0:22:420:22:47

-And was he wearing uniform?

-Yes.

-Was he frightfully handsome?

-Yes.

0:22:470:22:51

And then he wanted to see you again so how did he do that?

0:22:510:22:54

-Well he took me home.

-And then what did he say to you?

0:22:540:22:57

Well it just bulldozed from there, we just carried on meeting when I came on leave.

0:22:570:23:01

So when you come back here and see that it's now been restored,

0:23:010:23:05

to me it has a real cloak of romance to it.

0:23:050:23:09

Well, it has really when you think,

0:23:090:23:10

there's such an awful lot of Poles and English girls that did get married,

0:23:100:23:15

and I mean they've had a happy life.

0:23:150:23:18

But, with all the hospital buildings demolished,

0:23:230:23:27

the only physical remains of those memories are some carvings

0:23:270:23:31

on a tree in the grounds.

0:23:310:23:32

It's extraordinary because it's become

0:23:320:23:35

part of the fabric of the tree, but what does it mean?

0:23:350:23:39

If only we knew someone who spoke Polish?!

0:23:390:23:42

Well, luckily we have Katrina, who works with us in Iscoyd,

0:23:420:23:45

and she is Polish.

0:23:450:23:46

There we are! Any ideas?

0:23:460:23:48

Well, I think it looks like a Polish...

0:23:480:23:52

It looks like it might mean, it's set to "Alan"

0:23:520:23:56

-Polish proper name.

-Right, OK.

0:23:560:23:58

And I think the apostrophe might means she's from Polska. And er...

0:23:580:24:04

-What does that one say? 1946?

-Yeah. That's 1946. Definitely.

0:24:040:24:10

But that must make you feel quite, you know. Quite romantic?

0:24:100:24:14

Yeah, kind of proud that Polish people were here.

0:24:140:24:18

-And they were so good at carving trees.

-Yeah, exactly!

0:24:180:24:21

In 1956, Polish Hospital Number Four was closed.

0:24:240:24:28

A year later, the estate was given back to the Godsals.

0:24:280:24:32

What was it like growing up here?

0:24:340:24:36

Because there's your father, you know, maintaining it

0:24:360:24:40

and that's kind of all you would've hoped for really,

0:24:400:24:43

to maintain something like this?

0:24:430:24:45

I mean I had my head buried firmly in the sand about this place

0:24:450:24:50

for a long time.

0:24:500:24:52

We've been very lucky that we've managed to do all the interiors

0:24:520:24:55

and the things we could not have done had Dad not kept the roof on.

0:24:550:24:59

Well, this is it.

0:24:590:25:01

The transformation that has happened in the last two or three years is not slight at all.

0:25:010:25:07

There is a responsibility, I think, when you have a house of this quality,

0:25:070:25:12

you can't just go out and buy something cheap and cheerful and paper over the cracks.

0:25:120:25:16

Susie and I decided that if we were going to come here,

0:25:160:25:19

we were going to have to do it to a very high standard.

0:25:190:25:23

We wanted to do something really special,

0:25:230:25:26

so we ended up borrowing far more money than we set out to do.

0:25:260:25:30

My father didn't think that we would be able to stay here.

0:25:300:25:34

He had intended to sell the house, which is why I was

0:25:340:25:38

so determined to keep it, having got here.

0:25:380:25:41

Are you proud of it now?

0:25:410:25:43

Yes, and I'm very proud of the fact that we are still here.

0:25:430:25:47

You are actually really trying to rebuild the family stature in a way, aren't you?

0:25:470:25:53

Yeah, I mean there is definitely that feeling that you have.

0:25:530:25:58

I think every generation has to find a way that they can make

0:25:580:26:02

the house work for themselves, they can't become a slave to the house.

0:26:020:26:06

They may not be slaves to the house but they're certainly going to have to work for the house.

0:26:090:26:14

So, this is your place then, is it?

0:26:140:26:16

-Yeah.

-It's very nice.

0:26:160:26:18

It's not a hand-me-down.

0:26:180:26:19

Yeah, it's a hand-me-down.

0:26:190:26:22

So, Iscoyd Park enters another chapter in its long history.

0:26:250:26:29

Thank you very much.

0:26:290:26:30

'But the end of the refurb is just the end of the start

0:26:300:26:35

'of Phil and Susie's journey.'

0:26:350:26:37

You do have a strong sense of future about this place,

0:26:370:26:42

and you're prepared to put yourselves a bit on the line for it

0:26:420:26:45

and work very hard to get that.

0:26:450:26:47

Is that something that you think comes from family or from family

0:26:470:26:51

or do you think that's something from you as a couple?

0:26:510:26:54

I think there's a bit of both probably.

0:26:540:26:57

Obviously the history side of it is important,

0:26:580:27:01

but what's more important is that it does work for us as a family.

0:27:010:27:04

And we've been given this incredible opportunity.

0:27:040:27:08

It's such an ongoing project and there are so many exciting sort of phases ahead,

0:27:080:27:13

that I think it keeps us inspired and always looking ahead.

0:27:130:27:16

Stressed but never bored!

0:27:160:27:17

At the end of the day, it's an amazing challenge in life and I think we'll look back

0:27:170:27:21

and think what an incredible experience it is.

0:27:210:27:24

But you are just at the foothills,

0:27:240:27:26

you haven't got to the summit yet, but jolly good luck with it.

0:27:260:27:29

Thank you so much.

0:27:290:27:31

Actually, I suppose on paper, when you look at it,

0:27:490:27:52

the future of Iscoyd Park has never been more in jeopardy

0:27:520:27:56

because of that eye watering loan Phil and Susie have taken out

0:27:560:28:00

and that keeps them awake at night.

0:28:000:28:02

But it's that loan, coupled with a lusty dose of Godsal energy

0:28:020:28:07

and some quite slinky contemporary creativity,

0:28:070:28:10

that has taken this place one step further.

0:28:100:28:13

It's no longer part of a mere maintenance programme.

0:28:130:28:17

It's no longer treading water.

0:28:170:28:19

Phil, the latest in a long line of Philips, has taken his family home,

0:28:190:28:24

taken his hidden house of Wales and, yes, taken a risk.

0:28:240:28:29

But it's about reincarnating it,

0:28:290:28:31

it's about breathing new life into it, it's about making it glamorous, it's about making it romantic,

0:28:310:28:36

but more than anything it's about making it relevant to the 21st century.

0:28:360:28:41

In this series, Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen visits some of the finest houses in Wales, stepping back in time to uncover their hidden stories. Today he goes to Iscoyd Park - an extraordinary Georgian mansion sitting on the border between Mid Wales and England. He meets a young couple who've taken a massive financial risk transforming their ancestral home into a luxurious boutique wedding venue to ensure their heritage survives.


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