When Paul Humpherston worked in human resources for some of the Midlands’ biggest companies, he was used to looking after up to 8,000 people at once.
Now he’s found a novel way of getting that many people to walk through his own house every year – and numbers are rising all the time.
After buying The Hall at Abbey-Cym-Hir in Powys for £495,000 in 1997, Paul and his wife Victoria, originally from Kingsbury in Warwickshire, have turned their 52-roomed Welsh mansion into an Aladdin’s cave.
Collector enthusiasts and groups from WIs to The Steam Boat Association of Great Britain have been flocking from all over the country to see it, especially now that every room has been dressed for Christmas until January 6 (closed December 25).
Situated at the end of one of the UK’s most beautiful roads, the hall was originally built in 1834 and then doubled in size in 1869. But it had fallen disrepair by the time the pair bought it.
An otherwise ordinary couple with three children and six grandchildren, they have since devoted their lives to doing more than simply restoring the property. Its collections now rival The Land of Lost Content, an astonishing museum of everyday 20th century things run by Stella Mitchell in Craven Arms, Shropshire. Now 63, Paul went to Coleshill Grammar School and studied sociology in London before embarking on a career in personnel.
While his wife brought up their children, he specialised in industrial relations at famous names like Chrysler in Small Heath, GEC in Rugby, General Foods in Banbury and Royal Doulton in Stoke-on-Trent.
His retirement in 1994 brought an inevitable drop in income.
How then to maintain such an impressive pile some 88 miles from central Birmingham?
Thanks to the extraordinary untrained skills of Victoria, aged 60, the hall is starting to pay its own way.
Every day, every room now looks camera-ready for a glossy magazine photoshoot.
At this time of year you’ll see Father Christmas standing on an 1873 Budapest fire tender, the nativity scene on top of a full size snooker table once owned by a 19th century King of Spain and even a motorcycle inside a wardrobe.
Local landscape paintings galore salute the hall’s previous owners.
More than 130 enamel brand signs fascinate male visitors with long memories while the mansion’s furnishings and Aga delight women of all ages.
Paul reckons the property alone is now worth £2 million but he insists he is not rich.
“We have had no inherited wealth and, unlike organisations such as the National Trust, no public funding whatsoever,” he says.
“We’ve generated local jobs and people are staying in hotels in surrounding towns to come here. We’ve put every penny we’ve got into this house because we wanted to restore it and we hope it could be taken over by our three children to keep it in the family. With the hall’s wonderful 12-acre gardens also fully restored, visitors can enjoy different types of tours according to season.
Paul says: “We have people coming back again and again. And they all say they’ve never been anywhere like it.”