For Tom Naylor-Leyland, a visit to Borough Market in London was the key to transforming Malton © Charlie Bibby
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Just 10 years ago, the sleepy market town of Malton in north-east England was dying. Its shops were deserted and the younger generation had moved to York, 18 miles away, in search of work.

Yet now it is thriving, reborn as the foodie capital of Yorkshire under the entrepreneurial stewardship of Tom Naylor-Leyland, the 36-year-old heir to the £176m Fitzwilliam fortune.

Malton has been in Naylor-Leyland’s family since 1713. The Honourable Thomas Watson Wentworth bought the estate as an investment along with the Wentworth estate in South Yorkshire, the site of what would become Wentworth Woodhouse, formerly the largest privately owned house in the UK before its sale last year to a preservation trust.

When Thomas’s son, the first Marquess of Rockingham who was also called Thomas, inherited the estates in 1723, he invested in Malton, making the River Derwent navigable up to the town. Upon the death of the son of Charles Wentworth-Watson, the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, the estates were passed to William Fitzwilliam, the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam, in 1782.

After 200 years with the Fitzwilliams, following the death of the 10th and last Earl in 1979, Wentworth Woodhouse and its gardens were sold. The remaining lands and stately homes stayed with the family: the 15,000-acre Wentworth estate, Milton Hall in Cambridgeshire and the town of Malton. Naylor-Leyland is heir to the lot, as well as the 17th century Nantclwyd Hall in Denbighshire.

Talbot Yard food court is home to six entrepreneurial food businesses, including Malton Relish delicatessen and café and the Rare Bird gin distillery © Charlie Bibby

Malton is a far cry from this succession of opulent palaces. There is no “big house”; instead, the estate is the freehold owner of about 60 per cent of the commercial property. Naylor-Leyland lives above the pet shop.

Food, a particular passion of his, has proved the key for Malton’s regeneration. After attending school at Eton and eschewing university, Naylor-Leyland had moved to London to study silversmithing at the Guildhall. During that time he took on various jobs: working as a barman at Duke’s Hotel in St James’s and as a researcher for Labour member of parliament Kate Hoey.

“At Borough Market [in London] I was amazed to see that people were selling braces of Yorkshire grouse, or lobsters from Bridlington,” he says. “It seemed silly that it wasn’t being celebrated in its home environment.”

Food to Remember butchers in Talbot Yard © Charlie Bibby

Today, the town is transformed. Even on a Tuesday in March, it is buzzing: the delicatessen is full, the car park in the marketplace packed. The Malton Food Tour, often led by Naylor-Leyland, is held monthly; the town has its own cookery school in addition to the market, which has 35 stalls. Twice a year, the Malton Food Festival comes to town attracting more than 30,000 people.

Few experiences provide enough preparation for inheriting an old English fortune. Yet Naylor-Leyland describes his time working for Hoey as instrumental. “We were helping people who had genuinely difficult lives. That opened my eyes,” he says. Yet he readily admits he has no real training for the unique responsibility of, one day, running four vast estates. “I never studied accountancy — I probably should have. But if you look at it only that way, you would struggle. You have to connect with people and bring them along with you.”

The March clouds clear briefly, allowing sunlight to fall on Talbot Yard, the epicentre of the new era of the Fitzwilliam Malton estate. The yard is home to six entrepreneurial businesses: a bakery, coffee roastery, gin distillery, pâtisserie, butchers and gelateria.

Inside one of the converted barns, David Elkington is roasting coffee beans. Roost, the roastery he runs with his wife Ruth, opened in 2015. About 70 per cent of their clients are wholesale — most within an hour’s drive of Malton.

“Tom and his team came up with the foodie scene, with everything made locally, and we bought into that,” says Elkington. It’s coffee mainly (and the odd cup of Yorkshire tea) at Roost — but strictly only drinks. “We say, go to the butcher [around the corner] and bring a bacon butty in.”

David Elkington of Roost coffee roastery talks to Tom Naylor-Leyland © Charlie Bibby

Talbot Yard is like a family, says Matt Stewart, who with his wife Elizabeth opened the Rare Bird Distillery, opposite Roost, in October. The couple fell in love with Malton, Elizabeth explains. “We wanted to be an artisan producer and Malton seemed to fit.”

The couple, who live in York, had no professional experience of gin. “I’ve been a frustrated creative for the past 30 years,” says Elizabeth, whose background is in employment law. Their lives have changed completely. “If there’s not a soul about, we shut up and go home,” Matt says. Malton suits their entrepreneurial ethos. “What is important to us is important to Malton. Everybody in this yard is of the same sort of mind.”

Next door, the rock band Muse is playing in the background of Florian Poirot’s pâtisserie, where he uses Rare Bird gin for his gin and tonic macaroons. Award-winning Poirot, who originates from Nancy in north-eastern France, moved to the UK 10 years ago. He discovered Malton while working as a development chef at Nestlé in York and started to sell his macaroons on the market.

Florian Poirot macaroons © Charlie Bibby

“The success was so great that I decided to open the shop,” he says. “Everybody asks me ‘why Malton?’ and my reaction is, ‘why not?’ ”

Over the past six years, 28 new food-related businesses have opened in Malton — not all, but many of them on the estate, explains its manager Roddy Bushell. “The level of reinvestment in the estate is £2m annually, up from £500,000 10 years ago, before we started the focus on food-related businesses.”

In Groovy Moo, the gelato shop, owner Michelle Smith is dedicated to Malton. Even on this blustery day in March, she has customers queueing out of the door. “[Opening a gelato shop] was a risk,” she says, “because this is a farming community, all apple pie and custard, but everyone has embraced it. Ninety-nine per cent of my customers are local.”

Michelle Smith and her son in her Groovy Moo gelato shop © Charlie Bibby

In the centre of town, opposite Malton Relish, the delicatessen run by Sophie Legard, a wall is painted with the slogan, “Visit Malton: Yorkshire’s food capital”. Recently, the council have added this line to the road signs too, much to Naylor-Leyland’s delight. The phrase was coined by the late chef and restaurateur Antonio Carluccio, who visited Malton five or six times. “He always said, you shouldn’t be ashamed of local food,” says Naylor-Leyland.

Managing Malton has become a full-time business. Naylor-Leyland spends three days a week in the town and much of the rest of the time on the A1 motorway, travelling between Malton and Stibbington, his home in Cambridgeshire, which he shares with his wife Alice and their two children, Billy, five, and Nancy, two. His father, Sir Philip, visits Malton once a month or so.

“It is incredible to look back over the past 10 years and see what has been achieved,” Sir Philip says. “One of the best things is that it has involved the whole community working together.”

Brass Castle brewery creating local craft beer © Charlie Bibby
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