House’s timeless style survives a century of changing fashions
This Arts and Crafts house in Harrogate has survived for over a century with almost all its features intact. Sharon Dale reports.
IT doesn’t take a trained eye to appreciate that The Hermitage is an architectural gem.
The beautifully-crafted woodwork, leaded windows, eight panel doors, fireplaces and the copper light switches are all part of a magnificent interior that defines the Arts and Crafts period.
Architects and enthusiasts who have seen it swoon at this munificence and at the rarity of a home that has managed to survive over a century with almost all its original features untouched, even though there is no listing to protect them.
It could be that, like present owners Philip and Sheila Robson, its inhabitants were captivated by the craftsmanship and couldn’t bear to spoil it, or perhaps they just didn’t care too much about changing home fashions.
“There were some seventies additions like Artex, and a couple of the doors have been painted but other than that it’s almost as it was when it was built,” says Philip.
He and Shelia, who have four children, bought the house six years ago after a long search for a large property on two levels without lots of stairs.
“We knew it was special as soon as we saw it and I had an idea it was Arts and Crafts,” says Sheila.
The house was built in 1904 for gas engineer George Smith Sayner by renowned Arts and Crafts architects Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin and it is one of the most important and unspoiled examples of their work.
They were renowned town planners, creating New Earswick village in York for the Rowntree family, Letchworth in Hertfordshire and Hampstead Garden Suburb in London.
“We became fascinated with the history of the house so much so that we visited the Parker and Unwin Museum in Letchworth and discovered that our house was replicated almost exactly in Staffordshire. It is identical to this one in every way,” says Sheila, a customer services manager.
The Hermitage adheres to all the Arts and Crafts principles. It is well-built with 14in thick brick and rendered walls and lots of leaded windows to bring in natural light, The front of the property sits close to the road, while the rear overlooks a large garden.
“The Arts and Crafts architects regarded the conventional back of the house as the front and the idea was to make the house and garden meet,” says Philip.
Inside, there is a central hall with its own fireplace and an atrium that was designed to “bring brightness and cheeriness and airiness right into the midst of the house”. Radiating off this are the ground floor rooms, which have low ceilings and beams. Upstairs there are five bedrooms, a family bathroom and a recently added en-suite.
“The layout works really well for a modern family and it has a very convivial atmosphere. The house is also very light. The master bedroom alone has six windows,” says Philip, a business manager.
The interior has a medieval look with lots of oak panelling, fireplaces with settles. There are panelled doors still sporting their original handles and cupboards fitted with beautiful copper hinges .
The study has a cleverly designed fireplace with built-in display cabinet over the mantel.
Every detail has been cleverly thought out including storage space. There are cupboards in the wall, under the stairs and even the settles have built-in storage underneath.
“The settles are a Parker and Unwin trademark,” says Philip.
“They designed everything in the house including all the interiors fittings down to the handles on the windows and doors. The quality of craftsmanship is also remarkable.”
Five sets of owners have done little to change the house, though a conservatory was erected a few years after it was built and an Art Nouveau bathroom installed.
The Robsons have spent their money updating the property. They have insulated it, removed Artex applied in the 1970s, installed a new boiler, radiators and electrics together with inset spot lighting to support the original coach lights.
“We did our best to preserve the features although retaining the original light switches was time consuming and costly as was getting the electrician to put new sockets and sensor lighting in discreet places so they wouldn’t spoil the look of the house,” says Sheila.
“I think it’s luck that the right people have lived here. They appreciated it.
“The lady who owned it before us did an awful lot to the garden, which is now full of beautiful shrubs and flowers. We’ve done our bit but there is still potential. There are fantastic oak floors under the carpets that could be exposed and there’s a huge loft space that could be converted.”
She and Philip are selling to relocate closer to work and hope the new owners will respect their home’s architectural importance and keep up the spirit of guardianship.
“The house has a distinct style and you either like it or you don’t. One friend thinks it looks like a pub from the outside and others think it is like a castle,” says Sheila.
“We love it. The Arts and Crafts style is unusual and unique.”
BUILT TO LAST: The Hermitage in Harrogate is a superb example of Arts and Crafts architecture as practised by Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin, who also designed New Earswick village in York.