STANDING in the cavernous hall of their country pile, Sir James and Lady Graham exude an air of excitement.

Ahead of reopening Norton Conyers to visitors on Sunday, they are running around putting the finishing touches to the property, while taking it in turns to talk about the Herculean effort it took to defeat an army of deathwatch beetles that had occupied one of the most complex timber-framed houses in the country since the Reformation.

The couple's decision to preserve the medieval manor house near Ripon, whose guests have included Charles I, James II and Charlotte Bronte, saw them enduring winters without without heating and moving to a bed and breakfast for a year, while the property was treated with poison gas.

While this is far removed from the life many would imagine for aristocrats, Sir James says at no point did they consider selling up.

A sense of duty to the Graham family, who moved there 391 years ago, and a determination to leave the property in a better state than when he inherited motivated them.

According to the chairman of Sotheby's, the results of the restoration are "mesmerising" and has led to the couple receiving an accolade from the Historic Houses Association.

He says: "It has become more unusual for a family to live a long time in a property in an age of social mobility, when people seem to want to change for the sake of change.

"I can see my ancestors looking down at me" adds Sir James, "About five-sixths of the portraits are related to my family in some way."

Living on a limited income through the £300,000 project, the 11th baronet of Norton Conyers said the couple went without necessities, but still refused to sell any of the family treasures.

"I have grown up with these paintings, so if they went it would be as if I had lost a very close acquaintance."

Lady Graham adds living in the hall during the work had been miserable.

Most of their belongings were in boxes, they moved bedrooms ten times while the work took place.

"If we were living in the early 19th Century there would have been the staff to bring in the water, boil it and give us a bath."

She says: "Records showed Norton Conyers had "only eight indoor and eight outdoor staff in 1940, that's all", and the time of when footmen slept in the attic had been a memory of Sir James's grandmother.

Lady Graham said: "This is something we would like to find out more about, but we know you did bring more servants in from other houses if you were having a big party."

When asked if they ever imagined past life in the house when they watched period dramas, such as Downton Abbey, Lady Graham laughs, and says she enjoys spotting the historical errors.

Indeed, it is the house's heritage and the historical detective work it inspires which appears to really galvanise the couple, who have curatorial backgrounds, completed a new guide of the property ahead of its opening.

"We know so much about the people in the portraits", says Lady Graham, we know about their relationships, their indiscretions."

One character who has attracted much attention from the couple is the 7th baronet, Sir James's great, great grandfather, who they have dubbed 'The Scallywag' after viewing hundreds of letters about debts and learning of his affairs.

"He even had an affair with his widowed daughter-in-law", Lady Graham says.

Sir James adds he is now confident Charlotte Bronte, who is believed to have conceived key parts of Jane Eyre after visiting the property, would have known all about his bad egg ancestor, and may have shaped Mr Rochester's traits, such as arrogance, pride and breaking social rules, on him.

He says: "The difference is the 7th baronet kept being a handsome man up until old age, but Charlotte specifically says Mr Rochester is ugly."

The improvements to the roof battlements, library, lawn, rookery, broad oak staircase and the high square hall covered in family portraits had unearthed 1,000 years of history at the site.

A hidden staircase leading to the third storey attic, which they say inspired the the character of Mr Rochester’s wife, Bertha, has been among the highlights of their discoveries.

The restoration also revealed Viking pottery, a Tudor painted screen hiding a door behind 18th-century plaster and rare 18th-century wallpapers, which the couple said would have given the hall an uneasy feeling - similar to that of the novel's Thornfield Hall - when the author visited.

Visitors will be able to view the discoveries, the house's treasures and meet Sir James and Lady Graham from Sunday until July 26, between 2pm and 5pm.

To book tickets, costing £15, visit or call 01765-640333.