Its Hall or Nothing for Sharon
Where most people would give up, Sharon Jones refuses. As she walks around Samlesbury Hall clutching a broken arm she should have sought medical attention for days ago, the 57 -year-old’s passion for the hall is palpable.
‘How can you not love a place like this,’ said Sharon, hall director. ‘I am completely and utterly dedicated to this place, so dedicated it cost me my marriage. This place always came first and it always will.
‘But with a place like this, you can’t give it 99 per cent, it must be 100 per cent, always. Someone once told me I had another man in my life – Sam Hall! I think they’re right.’
The success of Samlesbury Hall can be credited to Sharon’s hard work. She has turned the business into a leading attraction in the county. But 18 years ago, when she first arrived at the hall, it was a different story.
‘I couldn’t quite believe what I’d walked into when I first came,’ admitted Sharon, who lives in nearby Riley Green. ‘It was wonderful to see the building but there was a lot of work to do. I was only supposed to be here on a temporary contract but that didn’t quite work out – 18 years later I’m still here.
‘The hall was in a poor state. It was full of bric-a-brac and tat. You couldn’t see the beauty of the hall. It took me months to get things straight. The worst day we had we took nine pounds. I almost shut the doors and went home. But I love the building too much, I couldn’t do it.’
It is Sharon’s verve and determination that has transformed Samlesbury Hall’s fortunes, which dates back to the Middle Ages. Today, it is a thriving tourist attraction that brings in visitors in their thousands. As well as the beautiful black and white timbered hall and grounds, Samlesbury Hall has expanded to offer visitors more including a Bee and Heritage Centre, a lovely gift shop, guided tours, an animal area and a Mayflower Playground. They also have a shepherd’s hut hamlet that offers visitors an unusual place to stay as well as providing much needed accommodation for weddings – bookings have skyrocketed since the hamlet opened.
One of the biggest transformations has been in the food they offer. Samlesbury Hall was once a place where you could expect coffee and cake. Now, you can dine on food made using some of the finest Lancashire ingredients from the hall’s grounds and neighbouring producers.
There’s also Dottie’s Wafflery, where you’ll find a decadent choice of delicious treats.
‘Our restaurant is something people will come here specifically for, ‘ said Sharon. ‘That just wasn’t the case before. What really turned things around was having chef Keith Dalton with us. He’s done so much for us. Now we are a real dining destination and have a fantastic restaurant that compliments everything we have here.’
Sharon also has a brilliant team of staff and volunteers behind her. It is fitting that in the anniversary year of the women’s suffrage movement that it is the hall director and assistant manager Lauren Catterall who are driving this heritage property forward. Sharon also wants to bring the stories of some of the women in the hall’s history to the fore.
‘I want to celebrate those characters who used to call Samlesbury Hall home – those women who just haven’t had the attention they deserve. People like Jane Southworth and Ellen Bierley who were known as the Samlesbury Witches. They were accused with little proof and kept in captivity. When people think about Lancashire they think of the Pendle Witches. It’s important we get more information out there about our witches.
‘I love Samlesbury Hall. I have seen it grown from the caterpillar it once was into the beautiful butterfly it is today. I’m very proud of what has been achieved.’
Sharon Jones is featured as part of our celebration of the Year of Women 2018.
Win a stay in one of Samlesbury’s Shepherds Huts (closes Aug 2018)