How Meldon Park near Morpeth has been given a bright new future
PUBLISHED: 18:11 25 January 2013 | UPDATED: 22:40 20 February 2013
A television appearance boosted trade at Meldon Park near Morpeth, as Helen Johnson reports
When to visit
Meldon Park reopens after winter on February 13th. The cafe, garden and selected walks are open to the public; the house is not. For more information log on to www.meldonpark.co.uk or call 01670 772321.
Taking on a large house can be an intimidating prospect. Doing it with a young family in tow can make it even more so and factor in a new business and a television appearance and it becomes especially daunting.
But Emily and James Cookson have not just coped with those pressures, they seem to thrive on them and are brimful of ideas for developing the place even further. They are the seventh generation to live at Meldon Park, near Morpeth which was built in 1832 by Jamess ancestor, Isaac Cookson.
Its a lovely house, but expensive to run, James said. At the current oil prices we are looking at about 10 per hour to have the central heating on; we dont have it on very often!
Hes looking at converting to a biomass boiler, fuelled with wood from the estate. But for this, together with maintenance and other improvements the couple would like to make, they need money. Emily said: We wanted to stay here, so we had to do something.
To help with ideas, she accepted an invitation to appear on TVs Country House Rescue. It was a daunting prospect, she said. But in the event, the crew couldnt have been nicer, and they made it very easy. However, I do wish Id been more aware of what could happen.
The TV crew filmed Emily as she launched a cafe in the walled garden. We opened in April, and had a nice steady flow of visitors. Then in July the programme went out and overnight the cafe went from 30 covers to 200. It was bonkers.
It looked bigger on TV. And they filmed me visiting Alnwick, to ask the Duchess of Northumberland about her lovely garden. So I think viewers thought our place was as big as hers.
Meldon is nothing like the size of Alnwick, but has plenty of charm. The garden is a particular favourite of Emilys and she added: I even go out there when were closed. Before we had the cafe, I did a lot of gardening, pricking out, potting on and so on. Now James has to organise the garden, because I dont have the time.
Emily has help in the cafe, and is pleased to have kept the team she started with. We have a gardener too, and grow plants for sale, she says. We do perennials, baskets, herbs, and a few quirky things such as purple curly parsley and orange mint. We like to link what we serve in the cafe to what we grow in the garden today its lemon verbena cheesecake.
Emily spends a lot of time in the cafe, and says: I think its important for me to be there and I enjoy seeing the people. I want everyone to enjoy it just as much as I do.
We now have a lot of regulars, which is lovely. Some people sit outside even in winter and its become a real personal space to them. Its lovely to see.
When off duty, Emily has the fabulous house to relax in. After she first married, they worked away in Lincolnshire. But then, Jamess father rang and said the time had come for them to downsize.
When we moved in, I had a three-year-old and a nine-month old baby, Emily said. Then we had another child, so Ive never really had the time to think about the fact that we live somewhere so special.
When she began the cafe, Emily worried about her children but now, she says: They help a lot, washing up and so on. Its been good for them.
The children also share Emilys joy of the garden. We have picnics and and enjoy the outdoors. And even before Country House Rescue, wed met David Edwick, and thats why we have a lily in the garden.
David is a sculptor who carved a stone lily, then went on to create a dragon. It was amazing, Emily said. David, James and the team worked hard in awful weather, and from flat grass they created this wonderful dragon. Her names Melody and children leave things for her to eat.
After the success of her first year in the cafe, Emily is buzzing with ideas for the future. She says: Were hoping for another animal to join Melody. And weve planted raspberries for people to pick and have with a cream tea.
Id also like to do some garden art and some garden music, and were definitely having a big spring garden fair. Well do something for Halloween too. Last year, a storyteller told a tale about the dragon. Then as the children returned to the house, a headless horseman came thundering up. You could hear the intake of breath before the screams.
The children were soothed with chocolate but, Emily said: Perhaps this year, well have separate adult and childrens events. We do have lots of ideas for the future.