Price was right as house launched architect’s career
Thorp Arch Hall is thought to be the first house created by great British architect John Carr. Sharon Dale reports on its design and restoration.
WILLIAM Gossip exhibited a stereotypical Yorkshire trait when creating his country home, but he had no idea that his parsimonious approach would launch the career of one of Britain’s greatest architects.
Alarmed at the bill for the preliminary design of Thorp Arch Hall, near Wetherby, Mr Gossip sacked his first architect and hired one who was three times cheaper.
It proved to be a wise choice and something of a bargain, as a young John Carr relished what is said to be his first commission and revealed talents that would take him to the top of his profession.
After designing the Palladianstyle manor house for Mr Gossip, he went on to work on a host of country houses for the nobility and gentry, including Harewood House.
Born in Wakefield, Carr worked with his father, a master mason, before flying solo on Thorp Arch Hall, which was finished in 1749 and boasts many of his trademarks including solid construction, perfect symmetry, light-filled rooms and beautiful architectural detailing including ornate cornicing and fabulous fireplaces.
Incredibly, Carr’s original building and interior detailing were almost entirely intact when Andrew Kaberry viewed the house 31 years ago.
He was one of 200 would-be buyers who saw the property, though only two people put in a bid, such was the scale of the restoration project on offer.
Part of the Hatfield Estate, the house had been owned by the same family since it was built. It was tenanted since the 1940s and had also been used as a school for the village.
“The house had been empty for four years and you could see daylight through the west wing roof. Everything needed doing from the wiring to the plumbing and heating but I could see it was a wonderful opportunity. The house was virtually untouched,” says Mr Kaberry, a finance director who persuaded his wife, Cynthia, that buying it was a good idea.
“Cynthia wasn’t convinced at first and when I took my father to see it he thought I was mad.”
To fund the restoration of the main hall, he split off the East and West wings, which were stables and servants quarters. He sold the two properties and their previous home in Shadwell, Leeds, and he, Cynthia and their two young sons settled in two rooms of the main house while work continued around them.
It took just seven months to make the place habitable and the work was project managed by builder Paul Dean from Leeds. The important finishing touches have been added over the past 30 years.
The décor is a combination of Farrow and Ball paints, Zoffany wallpaper and period-style drapes while chandeliers hang from the ceilings. The ornate cornicing and decorative dados have all been restored and regilded. “You couldn’t see much of the ornate detail in the dining room as it was covered in Dulux, which actually helped preserve it,” says Andrew.
The room that suffered most over the centuries was the sitting room, where panelling had been sold off and the fireplace removed.
The Kaberrys reinstated everything including a false door that mirrors the working version – it is one of three “doors going nowhere” in the property.
They were commonplace in the Georgian era when architects like Carr were obsessed with symmetry.
Cynthia and Andrew’s priority in 1981 was creating a comfortable family home for their boys, who, according to Cynthia, used to sledge down the two beautiful staircases and race their toy cars in the hall.
“It was a wonderful place for the boys and we’ve had so much fun here over the years with lots of parties,” says Cynthia, an animal lover, who made space outside for her menagerie of pets.
The boys are now men and have grown up and moved away, which left the couple able to fill their period home with more treasures and some precious, breakable pieces.
These include Andrew’s collection of clocks, some interesting antique furniture and a display of blue and white plates. The first plate was found in the gap between the wall and floorboards of the attic rooms.
“It was cracked and was the only thing we found in the whole renovation It must’ve been broken by a servant who hid it so she wouldn’t get into trouble,” says Cynthia.
Their buys have given the hall its quintessential country house style with more than a nod to its Georgian origins.
Andrew’s precision and attention to detail involved an 18 month hunt for the right fireplace for the sitting room. He also spent a small fortune on raising the height of ground floor windows, which had been dropped below the original sill in the 1920s.
Bringing the windows back was both for aesthetic and practical purposes. They look right now but also allow more space for furniture and radiators.
This kind of perfectionism would’ve pleased John Carr, whose notebook on the build appeared at auction in the 1998. The Kaberrys helped buy it for the West Yorkshire Archive Service.
“It’s an interesting book that was passed between Carr and Gossip when they were planning the house,” says Andrew, whose work has helped elevate what was a grade two listed building to grade two star status.
Andrew’s last major project was to create an Italianate garden with fish pool and a Palladianstyle pavilion with features that mimic those in the main house.
It’s an idyllic, sheltered spot and something the Kaberrys will miss when they leave.
The couple are selling to downsize and to spend more time at their home in Majorca.
“We will be sad to leave and the children are even more upset than us but it’s time to go,” says Cynthia, who has overseen the renovation of their Spanish finca. “In an ideal world we’d find a smaller version of this house.”
PALLADIAN: Thorp Arch Hall is thought to be John Carr’s first commission. It has been returned to its original grandeur by Andrew and Cynthia Kaberry, who bought it 31 years ago as a daunting restoration project.