AS they sipped coffee in a Starbucks in Dubai, airline pilot Richard Sharpe and his partner Mark Devlin were pondering what the future might hold for them. After years in the aviation business, they wanted a change, but weren’t sure where the next journey in their lives might take them.

“We were doing a business search and considering what the next chapter in our lives might be and a B&B in North Yorkshire came up online,” says Mark, formerly operations manager for BA at Heathrow. “We thought ‘wow’, what a beautiful building. We decided we might like to run a guest house and that this would be the perfect place.”

Other investors had seen the attraction too, though, and before they could act, West Layton Manor, near Richmond, had been snapped up. It was to be another two years before they had the chance to own it once more. “We went online again and discovered it was back on the market,” explains Richard. “It was obviously meant to be.”

This time, they were determined it wouldn’t slip through their fingers. Without even seeing the property, they put in an offer, then flew over to spend two days in Richmond to view it and explore the local area. Just over six months ago, they finally got the keys. Then the hard work began.

The characterful manor house dates back to the 1870s and the fabric of the building needed little attention, but the couple wanted to bring both flair and modern-day comforts to the interiors. They also wanted the business up and running as quickly as possible, so there was a lot of graft – and shopping – to be done in a very short timescale. “I was still working at Heathrow five days a week and then commuting up to oversee the renovations,” says Mark. “After my last day at Heathrow, I drove up and our first guests checked in the next day.”

A rushed job, then, but they must have got it right. Already the comments on TripAdvisor are full of praise: “stunning”, “great service”, probably the best B&B we’ve ever stayed in”. West Layton Manor offers guests six lovely en-suite bedrooms, a lovely drawing room, and The Yorkshire Room, which can be hired for corporate events and business meetings. Outside there are lovely grounds and an ornamental pond.

It’s an imposing building with an interesting history. The present manor was built in the 1870s by the architect John Johnson and sits on the site of an old hall, once the seat of the Lords of Rokeby. Johnson is credited with some of the first industrial dwellings in London, but by 1855 he had settled in Newcastle and was elected President of the Northern Architectural Association. He was commissioned to build West Layton Manor by John Easton, who had made his fortune in coal mining in the region.

John died in 1880 and left the manor to his sister Emily Easton, who lived there with her niece Emma Embleton, companion Edith Parker and five servants. Back then, the estate included 700 acres, two farmhouses and a few cottages for employees. When she died on Christmas day 1913, aged 95, Emily left more than £1 million in her will, the equivalent of £68 million in today’s money. She was a great philanthropist and her death merited a piece in the New York Times.

Since then the manor house has been through a number of incarnations and seen lots of different owners. When it came to their own renovations, Richard and Mark wanted to highlight the property’s period features – decorative fireplaces, tall shuttered sash bay windows, high ceilings and deep skirting boards – while giving it an elegant and sophisticated vibe.

Mark worked closely with Hannah Silverstein, an interior designer from Brighton, to bring the interiors to life. “I had worked with her before and loved her style,” he says. The original brief had been greys and natural materials, but the building dictated something else. “When we started to live and breathe the house, we realised a sort of regal/vintage style with a modern twist would suit it better.”

Some of the furniture was inherited from the previous owners, other items sourced from vintage shops and sale rooms. A lot of pieces, including Mark’s favourite dog portrait – “I just had to have it,” he laughs -– came from the Vintage Sofa Co Ltd, where they amassed sofas, chandeliers and rugs.

The manor’s dark coloured walls are covered in collections of plates and mirrors – some picked up from the antique shops in Barnard Castle and Richmond – rich wallpapers line the bedrooms, and patterned rugs cover the floors. Beds come in all styles – four-poster, gilt Rococo, Gothic – and there are luxurious touches such as copper roll-top baths.

Guests are catered for at breakfast – all local produce from the award-winning Mainsgill Farm Shop a couple of miles away – and there are lots of lovely pubs and restaurants in the surrounding area to choose from for lunch and supper.

Australian Mark, 36, and 39-year-old Richard, from Cambridge, have worked in lots of different places, but this is their first foray up North and they say the welcome they have received has been amazing. A number of neighbours and local businesspeople attended the relaunch of West Layton Manor a few weeks ago, as did Steph and Dom of Gogglebox fame, who are presenting a new reality TV show, featuring Richard and Mark, on Channel 4 in the early summer. It follows the journey of people leaving corporate work and following other avenues. So far, it looks as though Richard and Mark’s episode will have a happy ending.

“When we first saw West Layton Manor, we wanted to bring it alive and have people come and experience what we could see as a perfect escape,” says Richard. “From the feedback we have had so far, guests love it here. They also tell us the countryside and places to visit around here are fantastic, but we haven’t really had the time to explore it yet!”

West Layton Manor B&B

2 The Manor

Collier Lane

West Layton


DL11 7PP

Richard and Mark’s recommendations


Rustique, Richmond

The Black Bull Inn, Moulton

The White Swan, Gilling west

The Corner Bistro, Barnard Castle (lovely Sunday roasts!)


The Bowes Museum

Richmond Castle

Mainsgill Farm shop