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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If you turn your back on the town,
take that village track, follow the unmade road,
you'll find something absolutely extraordinary.
The hidden houses of Wales.
In this series, I'll be turning back the clock,
I'll be stepping over the threshold of some incredible places,
seeking out scandal-packed histories.
Bricks and mortar? They're never seem the same again.
In this episode, we'll be visiting the ancestral home
of a dynasty that built exquisite coaches.
When he died he was worth about 400 million quid.
That's not bad.
Yeah, I don't know where it's all gone!
A home that was turned into a Polish hospital.
They actually felt that this was their country.
A house now in the hands of a young couple
who've taken a massive financial risk so their ancestral home survives.
There's absolutely no choice now,
we've got to go on and make this work, whatever happens.
I'm in beautiful border country, I am the jam in a sandwich between
Shropshire and Flintshire, and at the moment it all looks like
an exquisite Georgian landscape painting.
It is terribly, terribly pretty round here,
which is probably why Edward I gave it to his lovely Queen Eleanor.
Just a bit of a gift you know, just because she was there.
One wonders what she gave the great man in return.
Nowadays, this side of Whitchurch is Wales
but for a while, it was in English hands.
But the English didn't get around to changing the names of the houses.
This is Iscoyd Park which, translated, means
"park beneath the trees".
Just look at that.
That's... um, textbook, isn't it?
Weirdly it looks a little bit fake, dare I say,
because it's almost as if someone's tried
to put a tick in every single posh box.
Columns, tick. Georgian splendour, tick. Symmetry, tick.
But it's very gracious. Let's face it, I wouldn't say no.
Over the past 200 years, seven generations of the same family,
the Godsals, have called it home.
Today, it's the turn of 30-somethings Philip and Susie Godsal and their young family.
Four-year-old Poppy, two-year-old Philip Hector and new arrival Cecily.
Right, that's it.
I've got serious porch envy now, and actually serious knocker envy.
-For goodness sake, I should be asking if your parents are in!
You look far too young to be standing in such a grand doorway.
-I've got serious house envy now.
So how come you two Sixth Formers have been left in charge
of the big, grand house then?
-Well? It's like this.
-It's a long story.
We've just recently moved here from London about a year and a half ago.
Father and stepmother who moved out at the same time.
So it's your family house, but you're a London girl.
I'm a London girl at heart so it's been a big, big move.
How are you dealing with the mud?
I've got wellies now, my first pair of wellies I've ever possessed.
Because the thing that really strikes me, first impressions and all that,
but this is absolutely jaw-dropping. Beautiful, elegant, restrained...
It's not a family home, surely? I mean, where's the toddler stuff?
-You know, where are the potties?
-We'll take you into our bit later. It's a different story there.
Let's have a look around, I love the way you've done it.
There's a lot of beautiful, beautiful things.
Lovely paintings but...
Iscoyd Park, sitting in 750 acres of beautiful Welsh countryside
was originally built around 1730.
For nearly 300 years, the estate was able to generate enough income from its land
to pay for its own upkeep.
More recently as farming became less profitable,
the Godsals have found the going tougher and tougher.
Phil's father, Philip Senior, was barely able to maintain Iscoyd Park
and it was falling into disrepair.
The future of the ancestral home was in doubt.
Phil Junior and Susie were married in 2005.
Two years ago, Phil was running his own art gallery in London and Susie
had given up her busy career to start their family.
The outdoorsy attractions of a country childhood for their children
spurred them into action and they decided to sell up,
move back to Wales and try and save the family pile.
But they've taken a huge financial risk, borrowing £1 million
and spending a year completing all of the renovation and rebuilding work.
It looks fantastic but how on earth are they going to repay that massive loan?
Of course, in a house this size, everything's multiplied.
The light, the space and inevitably, the bills.
To be able to run a house like this you'd need an extraordinary income,
and to keep this place warm, dry, watertight and in the family,
Susie and Phil have had to get a little bit creative.
What they've done is give over the vast majority of the place
to the public by turning it into an incredibly glam, very upmarket party venue.
And with some input from some of their swanky designer friends,
they've recreated that Georgian spirit,
but given it a decidedly 21st century rock 'n' roll spin.
With THAT loan hanging over them,
they're also looking to host extravagant weddings.
Anything to ensure this glorious example
of Welsh Georgian architecture isn't lost forever.
It is a huge achievement
and it does look sensational, it's come out very, very well.
Well, when we really panic about the whole business,
we do look back at the old pictures and realise what we've done and achieved in the last year.
Does it keep you awake though? Obviously the baby does but does the idea you're...
You're living in a business,
it's constantly there, you can't get away from it, around you the whole time.
Are there moments where you burst into tears because it's too much for you?
There's been a few, there has been a few.
I'll get you some in a minute if you play really nicely with Hector.
Do you think he thinks about the fact that he'll be
passing it on to his children?
Yeah, that's a big part of it. That's why we're doing it.
But the interesting thing is, is it going to Philip Hector or to Poppy?
Do you know what?
HE INHALES SHARPLY
I think right now, we just have to try and hold on to it.
But holding on to it may prove more difficult
than the renovation itself.
Iscoyd has never really had to work for a living.
Indeed, for hundreds of years it was a squire's home,
a glam country pad for the Welsh landed gentry.
By the end of the Georgian era, however, it acquired a new type of owner.
1843 and the house is sold for the not inconsiderable sum
of £12,500, which equates to about one and half million quid.
If you're wondering why I'm driving around
in a Victorian horse-drawn carriage, some days aren't Morris Minor days,
but it's because the family who bought Iscoyd Park and indeed still own Iscoyd Park
owe their fortune to the noble art of carriage building.
Philip Godsal the First was the Porsche maker of his day.
He created beautiful horse-drawn carriages for the super-rich
and in doing so, he made his own fortune.
A Philip Godsal carriage was the very latest in equine elegance.
They were high-performance luxury sports carriages for handy dandies,
at a time when everyone else on the continent was covering everything
in unnecessary, undulating gilded cherubs and furbelows.
Like Beau Brummell and clothes, Philip Godsal did an Armani
and embraced glamorous understatement.
What a way to travel - and I don't mean the Morris.
At the height of his fame, Philip Godsal sold the business
and the money he made enabled his family to acquire a country seat
and buy a position in the ranks of the Welsh rural gentry.
So started Iscoyd's Godsal dynasty.
I feel as if I'm surrounded by Philips. Because Philip, Philip, Philip.
-Philip is the name that goes right the way through?
-Goes right the way through,
I mean my grandson Philip Hector is number 14.
I think what's so lovely is it goes back to the energy,
drive and creativity of one man, the original Philip,
who created these extraordinary carriages.
They were the real status symbol of the day, weren't they?
Absolutely, I mean they were sort of the Bentley, Rolls-Royce of the time I think.
He was one of the three great carriage makers.
It's extraordinary really that he sold his business in 1810,
because he just did not want his son, Philip Blake, to remain in the trade.
-He ended up being worth a pretty considerable sum of money.
How much was he actually valued at?
They reckon when he died he was worth about 400 million quid.
That's not bad.
Yeah, I don't know where it's all gone!
That's the shame about Georgian money like that, where is it now?
But it must be lovely to know that under your stewardship,
rather than this place degenerating and getting worse and worse and worse,
actually it has been completely reincarnated.
Yeah. We've been very lucky with our advisors or helpers,
particularly our architect and the interior designer.
We've actually had great fun working with them.
-Hats off to interior designers!
Look what a difference they make.
Know a man by his curtains, that's what I say.
It's one way of sorting the wheat from the chaff, let's face it.
I must say they've done an amazing job restoring
some of the glamour to Iscoyd.
But interestingly the house didn't actually look like this in its heyday.
And how do I know? I've got the original plans.
Imagining ourselves as a couple of Georgian bucks,
-which isn't that hard, is it?
-No, not at all.
We lack the powder and the hair!
I'm trying to rationalise these plans, because when are these from?
From 1746, aren't they?
The first thing I can see instantly is this rather elegant looking
-elliptical staircase just off there.
Very, very beautiful, very elegantly done.
It's like a treasure map.
This is the drawing room.
The interesting thing here, this has all been added...
-You can even see it from the line on the floor.
We've actually gone off the map here.
Yeah, we go back through here.
Back through here. Oh, look at this, this is all very swanky and modern.
-Yeah, this has a very different feel about it.
-Can I have a look at your extremely smart loos?
-Yeah, quite proud of those.
-Tell you what, I'll have a look in the ladies.
-Yeah, the ladies is better.
Look at that. So this is just carved out of servants' hall,
This is nice, the way you've done this here.
The new loos aren't the only thing the old servants' quarters have been used for.
Front of house luxury is reserved for those able to pay for it
and master now is where servant once was.
Phil, Susie and clan are demoted to five rooms
in the old servants' quarters at the back of the house.
This is the best part.
This is actually where Phil lives.
-Where everybody knows your name!
Are we open for business?
We are open. We're always open for business.
Oh, open all hours?
This is amazing.
Where we are now is probably the oldest bit of the house.
This is the new edition, the parvenu, the bit that comes in a bit later.
Seems odd that you've got these two independent living spaces,
although it suits you perfectly.
It's fantastic, couldn't have been designed better really, we're very lucky.
-This is great fun.
It is beautifully done, you have obviously spent
-a lot of money and a lot of commitment and a lot of time on it.
How well do you sleep?
Not at all well any more, at all.
Your debt, is it here?
Errr... Yeah, I'd go...
It feels more than that actually. I mean, it's quite scary
when I stop to think.
But the advantage of that is there is no going back,
there's absolutely no choice now. We've got to go on
and we've got to make this work, whatever happens.
Did you have much choice anyway? I mean, something had to happen,
-you couldn't just plod on.
I think just sort of changing the direction things were going was...
Well, we had to do it, I mean, we couldn't have...
I'm no farmer anyway.
I couldn't have come back to farm and this house needs to be lived in,
it's always been a good party house and now we're using those parties
and that's what's going to keep the thing going.
So Iscoyd's new incarnation depends on its past.
The mixture of modern comfort with grand history
may be its unique selling point.
Having a bath in a bedroom is a bit of a boutique hotel cliche these days,
but it's funny when you think about it,
this is exactly how people bathed 200 years ago.
The original Godsals would have called for the servants
to bring them a tin bath and filled it full of water.
The fact these days it's actually plumbed in
and works efficiently, quickly and well is actually an added bonus.
I think this is a very interesting masterclass in how to treat an antique.
This is obviously the bridal bed
but it's a bed for a bride who likes the contemporary.
The bed itself is old, it's antique, it's beautiful,
it's got a lot of history and tradition to it.
But it's been treated with a lightness, a brightness
and a modernity which makes the whole thing feel very now.
You've married into the dynasty of Philips,
which is like marrying into the dynasties of Rameses or Caesars.
But from town, from London.
-When did you first come here?
-Um, we came here in...
No, when did YOU first come here?
Oh, I first came here? Gosh, must have been ten years ago now.
And what did you think?
Because obviously you knew he had a big gaff in the country?
Yeah, but we never talked about it,
I never imagined I'd be living here,
but you don't know where life takes you, do you?
And it's been an amazing experience.
Looking at it completely professionally now, it does have
that sort of urban spin on it, which I think is its complete success.
-I definitely agree with that.
-No shabby chic here, is there?
No, no, none of that, that's out the window.
Because we didn't want it like a hotel,
we wanted it to be contemporary, a little bit different,
but we also wanted a family feel.
And this is our style, this is what Phil and I both like.
-And no chintz in sight.
We looked at what we had, paintings and furniture
and then we sort of built it from that.
It's an old house with old furniture but a real breath of fresh, modern air.
We just wanted to move forward rather than backwards, push the whole thing forward.
The unthinkable is deeply unthinkable,
because it's not just like you've bought this house. To lose this house, after...
Yeah, it's massive.
..After all those Philips, to be the Philip that lost it.
That pressure's on our shoulders. We just have to keep going, be positive, looking to the future.
-But you're using that pressure creatively?
That's wind in your sails.
It has to be channelled in the right direction.
But yeah, it is pressure for all of us and we feel it,
but that's just part of... Part of the whole set-up.
-Stop, Poppy, Poppy.
-Pops, come here.
Do you ever have a moment where you escape from the children and just come and live in...
I've sneaked in here a few nights!
When the kids have been playing up I've said, I've had enough!
We joke we can come on holiday in this side of the house.
It's a staycation, it's absolutely perfect.
It's great, we don't need to travel!
The Godsals have gambled their future
on making sure their house has one.
But there was a time when Iscoyd
was taken from the control of the Godsal family.
Estates of this size were in high demand for the war effort.
In 1942, the decision was made to convert Iscoyd into
an American forces hospital to accommodate
the thousands of anticipated casualties from D-Day.
In fact, not a single injured American soldier actually arrived at Iscoyd.
The hospital remained empty, but not for long.
1945 and the dark days of the war are over at last, hurray.
But now it's time for Churchill to honour his debt made to
the healthcare of our Polish allies.
But where to put all of those war veterans?
I know, what about a brand spanking new, 200-bed hospital?
Iscoyd enters a new incarnation,
as the evocatively named Polish Hospital Number Four.
Polish Hospital Number Four started here
and went back for quite a way, didn't it? There was a lot of building here.
There was tarmac, it was roads, it was brick structures. How big was Number Four?
It was a huge hospital in terms of the amount of people they had here.
This hospital in particular was very important and different,
because it was one of the few military hospitals built for the Polish resettlement.
It was also special in that it dealt with soldiers
with mental health problems, and that, of course, in 1946 was quite unique.
The resettlement act for the Poles that provided so many hospitals for them
actually gave the Polish community the equivalent of the NHS.
What do you think the local reaction was?
Was there a bit of romance going on? Polish soldiers hopping over the fences?
The Welsh girls coming back the other way?
I think there was quite a lot of interaction between the two.
Depending, of course, on the level of their illness,
they attended local festivals and they had local singing competitions,
they actually felt that this was in a strange way their country.
So, there were hundreds of Polish soldiers
and hundreds of local girls.
And as Vera Ostrowski can testify, there was, of course, romance.
Now, Vera, I want to know all about what happened
when you met a certain Polish gentleman.
There you were, a lovely lady from Whitchurch
and you see this incredible Polish hunk.
Well, we first met at a dance, he'd come down to get the camp ready.
-And was he wearing uniform?
-Was he frightfully handsome?
And then he wanted to see you again so how did he do that?
-Well he took me home.
-And then what did he say to you?
Well it just bulldozed from there, we just carried on meeting when I came on leave.
So when you come back here and see that it's now been restored,
to me it has a real cloak of romance to it.
Well, it has really when you think,
there's such an awful lot of Poles and English girls that did get married,
and I mean they've had a happy life.
But, with all the hospital buildings demolished,
the only physical remains of those memories are some carvings
on a tree in the grounds.
It's extraordinary because it's become
part of the fabric of the tree, but what does it mean?
If only we knew someone who spoke Polish?!
Well, luckily we have Katrina, who works with us in Iscoyd,
and she is Polish.
There we are! Any ideas?
Well, I think it looks like a Polish...
It looks like it might mean, it's set to "Alan"
-Polish proper name.
And I think the apostrophe might means she's from Polska. And er...
-What does that one say? 1946?
-Yeah. That's 1946. Definitely.
But that must make you feel quite, you know. Quite romantic?
Yeah, kind of proud that Polish people were here.
-And they were so good at carving trees.
In 1956, Polish Hospital Number Four was closed.
A year later, the estate was given back to the Godsals.
What was it like growing up here?
Because there's your father, you know, maintaining it
and that's kind of all you would've hoped for really,
to maintain something like this?
I mean I had my head buried firmly in the sand about this place
for a long time.
We've been very lucky that we've managed to do all the interiors
and the things we could not have done had Dad not kept the roof on.
Well, this is it.
The transformation that has happened in the last two or three years is not slight at all.
There is a responsibility, I think, when you have a house of this quality,
you can't just go out and buy something cheap and cheerful and paper over the cracks.
Susie and I decided that if we were going to come here,
we were going to have to do it to a very high standard.
We wanted to do something really special,
so we ended up borrowing far more money than we set out to do.
My father didn't think that we would be able to stay here.
He had intended to sell the house, which is why I was
so determined to keep it, having got here.
Are you proud of it now?
Yes, and I'm very proud of the fact that we are still here.
You are actually really trying to rebuild the family stature in a way, aren't you?
Yeah, I mean there is definitely that feeling that you have.
I think every generation has to find a way that they can make
the house work for themselves, they can't become a slave to the house.
They may not be slaves to the house but they're certainly going to have to work for the house.
So, this is your place then, is it?
-It's very nice.
It's not a hand-me-down.
Yeah, it's a hand-me-down.
So, Iscoyd Park enters another chapter in its long history.
Thank you very much.
'But the end of the refurb is just the end of the start
'of Phil and Susie's journey.'
You do have a strong sense of future about this place,
and you're prepared to put yourselves a bit on the line for it
and work very hard to get that.
Is that something that you think comes from family or from family
or do you think that's something from you as a couple?
I think there's a bit of both probably.
Obviously the history side of it is important,
but what's more important is that it does work for us as a family.
And we've been given this incredible opportunity.
It's such an ongoing project and there are so many exciting sort of phases ahead,
that I think it keeps us inspired and always looking ahead.
Stressed but never bored!
At the end of the day, it's an amazing challenge in life and I think we'll look back
and think what an incredible experience it is.
But you are just at the foothills,
you haven't got to the summit yet, but jolly good luck with it.
Thank you so much.
Actually, I suppose on paper, when you look at it,
the future of Iscoyd Park has never been more in jeopardy
because of that eye watering loan Phil and Susie have taken out
and that keeps them awake at night.
But it's that loan, coupled with a lusty dose of Godsal energy
and some quite slinky contemporary creativity,
that has taken this place one step further.
It's no longer part of a mere maintenance programme.
It's no longer treading water.
Phil, the latest in a long line of Philips, has taken his family home,
taken his hidden house of Wales and, yes, taken a risk.
But it's about reincarnating it,
it's about breathing new life into it, it's about making it glamorous, it's about making it romantic,
but more than anything it's about making it relevant to the 21st century.
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.