Overcoming adversity has saved landmark for another 200 years
The transformation of an important Whitby property is a triumph over economic and personal misfortune. Sharon Dale reports.
“OVER time, over budget and over the top,” is how Whitby’s best-known property personality Edward Astin describes his latest project.
The restoration and transformation of Whitehall, a landmark Georgian house, has taken the best part of four years, cost a small fortune and certainly looks five-star fabulous.
But Edward, who owns Astin’s estate agency and Whitby Holiday Cottages, might add “over-wrought, over tired and over worked” to his description of the marathon makeover.
He and his wife Elizabeth are just over the finishing line but they got there against considerable odds, including the banking crisis and a near-fatal car accident. Edward has dropped from 15 stone to 12-and a-half on the subsequent diet of stress and slog.
“It has been incredibly hard work but there’s an enormous sense of achievement,” he says.
It all began when Whitehall started falling down, almost on top of Elizabeth’s parents John and Sheila Hemson. A parapet collapsed leaving a gaping hole inches from their bed and so after swearing they would never leave their home, they were forced to take the practical approach and move to a bungalow.
The Hemsons renovated the property in 1987 but structural problems and years of wind, rain and sea air took their toll. Selling up wasn’t simple as it was part-owned by Elizabeth, whose own home had been built in its grounds.
“Whitehall was too big for a single dwelling and so its future use was commercial, but we didn’t want to see it go to someone else as our home is on the same site. We decided to keep it and convert it into holiday apartments even though that was an expensive, high-risk strategy,” says Edward.
The only way to help finance the restoration and conversion was to build four town houses in the grounds and, fortunately, planners agreed. They were keen to see a sustainable new life for grade two listed Whitehall, which is an important part of Whitby’s history. Built in 1790, above Whitehall shipyard, it was the Turnbull shipping dynasty’s home from 1850 and faces directly down the harbour mouth. The Turnbulls left in 1918, by which time the business had moved to London as the River Esk was not wide or deep enough when steam replaced sail. It later became a school and John, who had been headteacher, and Sheila, who was deputy head, converted it back into a home. But its latest incarnation heralds a return to grandeur and should guarantee its longevity.
The house has been stripped back and modernised while retaining the Georgian facade and features. It has been extended up and down, with basement and attic conversions and now has six luxurious apartments over four floors boasting some of the best views in Whitby.
The Astin family is rightly proud of it, not least because it represents triumph over adversity. Edward and Elizabeth were prepared to juggle the project with their day jobs and parenting the six children they have between them: Xavier, 20, Isabelle, 18, Harriet, 17, twins James and George, 15, and Saskia, 13, but they didn’t expect to be hit by two devastating broadsides.
First the credit crunch and then, in October 2008, just as the foundations for the town houses went down, Edward, 58, had a serious car crash and the scheme was put on hold while he fought for his life.
“It was horrific. I broke my back and shattered my leg and that was it: I couldn’t do anything for six months. We had to sell the town houses off plan losing profit and Whitehall sat there going to rack and ruin.
“I had some really low moments but Liz came into her own and was incredibly strong and I knew I had to get better and carry on because it would’ve been heartbreaking to sell to someone else.”
His local bank manager rallied round, the town houses were completed and work on Whitehall began in June 2010. Builder Jason Draper of Siterite was a great support, especially as the dire state of the big house was uncovered.
The old ship’s timbers holding up the structure weren’t big enough, the joists were undersized, water and rot had wrecked the fabric of the building and load bearing walls were on the point of collapse.
“The only good thing about it was that it took Edward’s mind off the accident,” says Elizabeth, who spent hours sourcing products for the property.
Keen to stay true to its Georgian roots, the couple re-instated authentic chimney pots and the portico. Windows were restored and original fireplaces retained. The décor is a stunning mix of period and contemporary style.
“I’ve enjoyed doing the final bits and pieces, although we were here till one o’clock the other night hanging pictures,” says Edward, whose budget was pushed from £350,000 to £500,000. “Each of the apartments cost £25,000 to furnish, which was twice as much as I expected, but this is more than a commercial venture. We aim to keep it in the family and we may live in one of the apartments when we are older.”
Neighbours are thrilled with the new-look property, which has been put forward for an Local Authority Building Control Excellence Award.
“The builder reckons it will be our legacy as what we’ve done will see it right for another 200 years,” says Edward. “I like to think it’s testament to the ‘never say die’ attitude of one family who turned an impossible dream from a virtual nightmare into stunning reality.”
Whitehall was crumbling but a long restoration programme has transformed the grade two listed house and ensured its future despite a near fatal car crash and an economic crash along with numerous construction woes since work began. On the steps are Sheila and John Hemson and Edward and Elizabeth Astin.
The house was taken back to a shell, centre, thanks to rot and insubstantial joists and timbers. The interior now a stunning mix of period and contemporary furniture, left and right.
NEVER SAY DIE: