Weddings and parties help save Swanmore’s ailing Hill Place

CREATURE COMFORTS Will and Rebecca Dobson in their country home Hill Place at Swanmore.  Picture: Ian Hargreaves''(111267-9)
CREATURE COMFORTS Will and Rebecca Dobson in their country home Hill Place at Swanmore. Picture: Ian Hargreaves''(111267-9)
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WHEN Rebecca and Will Dobson inherited a run-down Georgian mansion two years ago it looked like it could become a bottomless money pit and they would have to sell up.

But since appearing on the hit TV show Country House Rescue in April, the couple have started turning their fortunes around and the Grade II listed home is well on its way to becoming a thriving wedding venue.

PRESENTER Ruth Watson

PRESENTER Ruth Watson

Hosting weddings was just one of the suggestions made by expert presenter Ruth Watson. She also advised them to move out of the main house and look into letting it out for parties.

Last year the Dobsons hosted eight weddings, but this year they have already hosted 19, and next year they have 20 on their books.

Mrs Dobson, 33, said: ‘There’s a definite trend for that shabby chic style which has definitely helped us.

‘And I suspect the popularity of Downton Abbey has tapped into it as well. We aren’t quite smart enough to compare to Highclere Castle where they film that, though. We like to say it’s grand enough to feel special, but small enough to feel homely and comfortable.

‘We’ve decided to limit it to 24 weddings a year. That way we can get personally involved and get to know the couples.

‘We’ve made some good friends already out of it, just because they chose to get married here and that’s a real privilege.’

The couple moved into the mansion in 2007 when Will’s grandmother was still living there and took over the house and grounds when she died in 2009. His family had bought it in 1977.

But they soon discovered that the running costs were £50,000 a year and that was before they even factored in the long list of much-needed repairs.

They were living in just a kitchen and bedroom because the rest of the mansion, which was built in 1791, was too expensive to heat.

Salvation came in the shape of the TV show, which helps people turn around their ailing homes and make them into commercially viable properties.

The crew were involved with the couple from April to October in 2009 and viewers got to see Ruth try to solve family disputes over her plans for the building’s future.

The pair have now moved out of the main home and live in a lodge in the grounds.

But Mrs Dobson added: ‘Like anybody who runs a small business and lives close to the shop, we spend a lot of time there.

‘We try to run it very much as a private home which happens to open for special events. I gave up my career in law to run this full-time, so this is my job now for better or for worse.

‘We’re slowly building up the accommodation side of things now. We’ve had a hen party here as well and a few benchmark birthdays and anniversaries.’

While his wife concentrates on the home management, Mr Dobson, 34, runs the orchards that surround the home which supply major supermarkets with apples and pears.

Viewers can see how the Dobsons are getting on when Ruth revisits them in an updated edition of the show on Channel 4 this evening at 8pm.