IN BRONTË COUNTRY
Love Wuthering Heights? This historic farm is for you, says Jonny Beardsall
It would seem an opportune moment to put Manor Farm in the Yorkshire Dales on the market. With the cast of ITV’s adaptation of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights posturing around the croft behind, the new owners will enjoy a glimpse of their new home on television when the two-part drama appears on our screens in the new year. Tom Hardy, who has appeared in numerous period dramas, plays Heathcliff alongside newcomer Charlotte Riley as Cathy.
But the drama apart, ties to the soil run deep, so selling a manor house with a working farm that has been in the same family for more than 400 years could have ancestors turning in their graves. “It’s sad but has to be the way forward,” says the vendor, Bobby Bell, 57, a direct descendant of Christopher Dawson, who built the farm’s Grade II house in 1641.
A year after Dawson – a modest yeoman squire – finished his handsome fivebedroom home, his upwardly mobile son, Josias, married a lady of fortune, and the neighbouring Langcliffe Hall estate came his way.
Bell, whose mother was a Dawson was working in the City when he unexpected inherited the estate in 1975 when his uncle died, aged 55. “It was a complete surprise,” says Bell. “We always thought Uncle Michael would get married, so moving up here had not been on the cards. “Since then I’ve lived at Langcliffe Hall, the estate’s main house nine miles away in Settle, and my wife Betsy and I are very happy here.”
The manor house, which is for sale for £495,000 through Knight Frank (01423 530088), is in the hamlet of Halton Gill, where the road ends and becomes an ancient packhorse track across the moors.
Although miles distant from traditional “Brontë Country” around Haworth in West Yorkshire, its setting clearly satisfied the television location scouts. With a backdrop of 208 acres of hill land, from which you can see the peaks of Ingleborough, Pen-y-Ghent and Whernside, in summer it overlooks a sea of blue and white flower meadows spread over 146 acres on both banks of the River Skirfare, a stream alive with wily brown trout.
In need of some work, the house, which has mostly been tenanted, is now
TV link: Manor Farm in Halton Gill, above centre; the 1993 oil painting
empty. Past inhabitants have learned to live with damp and open fires; ground floors are flagged, rooms are set with stone mullioned windows and, although it has central heating, an inglenook fireplace in the dining hall is large enough to burn a ton of wood a day, which must be testing in this dale where trees are sparse.
“It really needs a family to take it on and love it again,” says Bell. “You could spend £250,000 renovating it or a great deal more, but it will make a wonderful home.”
So what does he think will happen to the land, which is being offered separately for £985,000 or together with the house for £1.5million? “Whether the buyer will want to farm it themselves is another matter. but it will be easy enough to live in the house and continue letting the farm.”
The farm has both modern and traditional buildings. One was clearly a showpiece when it was built in 1829 with an arched entrance topped with stone balls. Closer to the fivebedroom house, a rectangular stable and coach house built in 1652 has a small room with a fireplace. This has consent for conversion into holiday accommodation.
But given the family ties and the potential to turn the manor into an up-market bed and breakfast, could they not renovate it themselves and let it? “We thought about it but it doesn’t stack up,” insists Bell. “If we knew that we’d be living in it one day in our retirement, then it would different, but we won’t be growing old there.”
With its atmospheric character and isolated setting, literary fans should apply.
Charlotte Riley and Tom Hardy in Wuthering Heights