GRAND DESIGNS: Michael Maddison and his partner Pauline Wright in the gardens
GRAND DESIGNS: Michael Maddison and his partner Pauline Wright in the gardens

One of Etherley's most impressive and historic gardens is to be opened to the public in aid of a cancer charity. Martin Paul finds out more

IT has taken two decades to transform the grounds of the grade II-listed Old Vicarage, in Etherley, into the marvel they are today, but perhaps more intriguing is the rags-to-riches story that led to it.

Michael Maddison, the son of a working-class family, vividly remembers growing up on Red House estate, not far from the historic home he now owns.

He said: “As a child I used to look over the stone wall and say I am going to own this one day.”

He attributes his and his family’s success to the values of his parents, George and Joyce. His father, a miner, had went on to buy a milk round and own a shop with all the family involved.

Mr Maddison, while still doing the milk round, trained as a chartered accountant in 1968 and became a partner in the firm Chipchase Nelson.

He said: “Our dad treated our house equally – boys and girls were treated in same way. My parents taught us anything was achievable if you desired it hard enough.

“Our success is based on our family values. Treat people as you wanted to be treated – with respect. The key thing I learned was to create dreams, goals and I learned how to manage them to a successful conclusion.”

He explained how the business grew to form three distinct divisions including accountancy, financial services and business consultancy.

He added: “We created a business programme, which was to develop the goals and the strategy to achieve those goals and put together a team of world class professionals.”

His sisters – Sheila, Judith and Wendy – were equally successful, with Wendy Lund joining and becoming a partner of the accountancy side of the business and Judith Moran going on to create the multi-million-pound business Learning Curve. She later won the Susan Dobson Award for Entrepreneurship and then the Durham and Wearside Business Executive of The Year Award.

He said: “Judith built that business from nothing in 11 years. It all comes from mam and dad and the values they taught us.”

Mr Maddison, together with business partner and friend Peter Schofield, not only helped other businesses reach their potential but invested in other businesses too – such as Lazenby's Sausages and a group of bespoke nursing homes, which they built up and later sold on.

These successes, together with the sale of Chipchase Nelson and PACE financial Services Limited, allowed Mr Maddison to buy the Old Vicarage from the Church Commissioners in 1996.

Mr Maddison said: “It was totally run down. The place was a wilderness. There was hardly a plant in the garden.”

He soon pulled in the talents of his family and friends, including John Lund, Harry Brown, Totty Gowland, Harry McGregor and Derek Mason, to tackle the first phase of the project, which involved restoring the entire building. Afterwards, he started on the re-development of the grounds and added ponds.

The second stage, with the help of Ray Stelling and Keith Marshall, saw the addition of an orangery to coincide with his daughter Lucy’s wedding.

With the support of Mr Maddison’s partner Pauline Wright, the final and most recent stage was made possible through the help of his sister’s sale of Learning Curve. These included an extension to the house, work to the out-buildings and the creation of an Italian garden, beautifully hidden behind a bespoke moon-gate designed and fabricated by blacksmith and artist Brian Russell.

As with his business creations, this phase brought in some of the best minds Mr Maddison could find, including architect Terry Greenwell, builders T Manners and Sons, and Keith Marshall.

Neil and Mark Everard designed and erected the outbuildings and the Italian garden, with Gordon Long and Lou Hutchinson helping with the planting.

The Old Vicarage is now surrounded by a series of themed gardens, each named after the people who helped create them.

The Italian section has belvederes and boasts a series of cascading ponds as its centrepiece.

The vegetable gardens, the harvest of which is shared among family and friends, is populated with greenhouses, polytunnels and raised beds.

Other gardens include a rockery and a beautiful laburnum walk.

People visiting the open garden event on Sunday, June 9, between 1pm and 5pm, will find a myriad of hidden wonders including a hobbit's gate and garden, a fruit orchard, an array of wide lawns, flowers, wildflowers, wildlife, formal ponds and a Japanese garden.

There will also be an exhibition area, created by Wayne Davison, of the Old Vicarage history, in particular showing its connections with Lord Armstrong of Cragside in Northumberland.

There will also be a display of how the property was transformed.

Mr Maddison, who hosts an annual bonfire night for the village in the grounds, is philosophical about what has been achieved.

He said: “We are only tenants here because we won’t be here forever, but it’s nice to leave behind a lasting contribution to the village.

“Our family are so proud of our roots in particular because of coming from Etherley, our home village. No expense has been spared because you can’t put a price on achieving your dreams and the whole project, from its beginnings to date, has been a labour of love and a childhood dream come true.”

Mr Maddison said an important lesson the family have learned is that every child, from whatever background, can achieve their dreams and aspirations.

Entry to the open garden is £4 for adults and £1 for children.

All proceeds go to the Bishop Auckland fundraising group of Marie Curie. It representatives, Gillian Wales and Elizabeth Varley, have helped organise this charity day.

There will be refreshments, such as hot and cold drinks, cakes and sandwiches, a tombola and a raffle.

Donations can be made by contacting Elizabeth Varley by email elizabethvarley or by calling 07816 306910.