A TYCOON who owns the famous tourism sites of Land's End and John O'Groats plans to turn Herefordshire's Hampton Court into an exclusive club.

Graham Ferguson Lacey, who has bought the 15th century castle and its 1,000 acres for an undisclosed sum, plans to keep the castle gardens open to the public as part of a world-class tourist attraction.

The historic estate, once home to some of Herefordshire's most influential families, was on the market for around £10 million but its former American owners had been struggling for more than four years to find a buyer.

Mr Ferguson Lacey - whose portfolio includes hotels and a golf course on the Isle of Man, where he lives - now steps in as chairman and chief executive of newly formed Hampton Court Property Holdings Ltd.

As staff were being informed this week, the new boss signalled his plan to build on the work of his green-minded and restoration conscious predecessors.

The Van Kampen family spent millions of dollars restoring the crumbling building. They created spectacular gardens, including organic vegetable beds, and opened the grounds to the public for the first time.

Mr Ferguson Lacey said in a statement: "We are delighted to have secured such an outstanding estate, the stewardship of which by the Van Kampen family afforded us the opportunity of taking it forward to ensure an economically viable future for its preservation.

"We will be working with the team at Hampton Court in the development of a mission plan for the estate."

The priority was, he said, the preservation and restoration and availability of the Hampton Court Estate for the next century as an example of an environmentally-friendly self-sustaining estate, which would become famous for its gardens, water features, recreational and leisure facilities.

The plan also included "a residential and exclusive club providing unparalleled facilities in the natural beauty and surroundings of Hampton Court in the heart of England".

The aim was to create "the premier attraction in Herefordshire, creating significant employment and economic benefit to the county - a must' place to visit for tourists from around the world".

Estate manager Ed Waghorn: "The sale is very good news. I have spoken to the staff and everyone is very excited. There are a lot of details to be worked out yet but we expect to hit the road running."

The walled gardens, water features, maze and Orangery restaurant have continued to attract visitors but the enterprise has been in limbo.

Special events have been put on hold and the castle, once the scene of fairytale weddings and feasts, has remained closed while a buyer was sought.

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