Altogether kooky: the Gothic semi with its very own tower
Munsters-style Meanwood Towers has a Gothic exterior that hides a beautifully restored des res – as Sharon Dale reports
VICTORIAN textile machinery magnate Thomas Kennedy would no doubt be horrified by the modern day nickname for Meanwood Towers.
The fashionable mansion he created in 1863, with input from the famous Pugin family of architects, is now known locally as The Munsters House thanks to its outrageously Gothic architecture.
It is kooky and that, along with the promise of her very own tower, is why Liz Benfield fell in love with number 12, The Annexe, one of two freehold semis made from a wing of the “big house”.
She and husband Chris moved in 12 years ago after relocating from Manchester so she could take a job as head of a Leeds primary school. Although they could’ve played safe with a bog standard home in a more upmarket suburb, they spotted the potential of both the property and the area.
They have since been followed to Meanwood by Waitrose, a supermarket renowned for opening in up and coming locations.
Liz says: “When we moved in, Meanwood was still regarded as a bit down-at-heel in comparison with Headingley on one side and Moortown, Chapel Allerton and Roundhay on the other. But there has always been some fine old housing as well as a lot of nice quiet suburbia and modest prosperity. Waitrose only recognised what was already happening. We think we’re in a perfect location. If this was Headingley or Roundhay, our house would be worth half a million.”
The Annexe is for sale for £330,000 and it’s now a des re thanks to a refurbishment that cost well over £100,000.
When the Benfields bought it, it had been empty for over a year. The garden was a sea of mud and many of the original features inside had been panelled over with plywood.
The first job was to rip out the partitions and false ceiling which had turned the Glastonbury-style tower into a poky bathroom and kitchen.
“It was a bit of an act of faith,” says Liz. “But it paid off. The tower is lined with Canadian redwood and it was all almost intact, after 150 years. There were some cuts in the stone buttresses for the upper tower, where the false ceiling had been cut in, but otherwise the whole structure was still there, including the roseheaded rivets which mark it as a Pugin production.”
A new glass ceiling allows views up into the tower from the octagonal space underneath, which is now a light-filled kitchen-diner. An old junk room was turned into a bathroom.
“We replastered and rewired but didn’t change the shape of anything in the tower. The glass ceiling was a great piece of work, by a joiner called Steve Carroll, from Keighley, who cut and chamfered the frame to echo the original construction and made it strong enough to stand on if any maintenance is required. One of the glass panes is a hatch you can climb up through,” says Liz, who had underfloor heating installed so space wasn’t eaten up by radiators.
Heating was the main consideration in the living room. The original fireplace flue didn’t meet safety standards, so Liz and Chris, a former Yorkshire Post journalist, invested in big ornamental radiators, from Feature Radiators of Bingley.
“The main one cost something like a grand even 12 years ago,” says Liz. “But it really pumps it out when you need it and it’s solid enough to double as a seat when we want a quick warm-up.”
Considering the height of the rooms, they are cosy thanks to the two feet thick walls and warmth from a boiler in the cellar beneath. The basement is a boon in all sorts of ways. It is enormous and includes a laundry, work room, storage space and a place where Chris can keep his old hi-fi stack and record collection.
More space was created with an extension to replace an old glasshouse on the side of the building. Planners approved a rebuild on the same footprint but rising higher to link via a stairway into the grade two listed house.
“We had to match the stone of the existing property and we had to have window surrounds and coping stones and gutters cut to fit the vernacular of the 1860s. Fortunately we found a great builder, Stef Maggi at AE3 in Roundhay, who enjoyed solving problems,” says Liz.
Even with the extension, The Annexe at 12 Meanwood Towers has to be billed as just a two-bedroom property. The room in the extension cannot be described as a separate bedroom under property description law.
“People can make up their own minds when they see it, but we thought it was a bit stingy to have to call this a two-bedroom semi,” says Liz. “If you add the extra room, and the cellars, it is much more than that. And that’s not to mention the shepherd’s hut.”
The hut, in the garden, is an optional extra to the house sale and is actually a purpose-built outdoor room with heat, light, a desk and a spare bed. It cost £13,500 from Kevin Lordan of the Yorkshire Hut Company - www. theyorkshirehutcompany.com.
Liz and Chris, who have retired and are moving to Devon, have the option of taking it with them.
“I absolutely love it,” ays Liz. “Kevin says he can get it moved to Devon but it fits so nicely where it is, the buyer might well want to take it over.”
The Annexe, Meanwood Towers, Meanwood, Leeds, is £330,000 and is for sale through Alan Cooke, www. alancooke. co.uk, tel: 0113 289 9669.
CHARACTERFUL: The Annexe at Meanwood Towers has been treated to a clever renovation and now boasts all mod cons along with stunning features including a kitchen diner housed in the original Victorian tower. There is also a shepherd’s hut in the garden.