Fam­ily’s last Christ­mas at hall they brought back from ruin

They rescued Kilnsey Old Hall and gave it new life. Now So­nia and Tim Wilkin­son are pre­par­ing to say good­bye to it. Sharon Dale re­ports.

Yorkshire Post - Property - - PROPERTY -

CHRIST­MAS at Kilnsey Old Hall is trimmed with nos­tal­gia and lit with happy mem­o­ries this year.

For this fes­tive sea­son could be the last So­nia and Tim Wilkin­son spend at the home they brought back to life af­ter buy­ing it as a derelict wreck.

They are sell­ing to down­size af­ter liv­ing there for 12 years.

The cou­ple bought the prop­erty at auc­tion in 1998 and even af­ter a mam­moth two-year ren­o­va­tion project, it was still only par­tially hab­it­able when they moved in just be­fore Christ­mas 2000.

The lo­ca­tion and the prop­erty’s po­ten­tial made it all bear­able. The hall dates back to the 14th cen­tury and nes­tles un­der the mag­nif­i­cent Kilnsey Crag, near Grass­ing­ton.

Once lived in by the wealthy Wade fam­ily, it was prac­ti­cally a ruin and hadn’t been oc­cu­pied for 200 years un­til the Wilkin­son’s rescued it.

Although they man­aged to fund costly restora­tion work on the main house, they de­cided to open a bed-and-break­fast busi­ness on the up­per floor to help pay for fur­ther ren­o­va­tion to the out­build­ings.

Th­ese in­clude a gate­house and a tiny chapel said to have been used by Cis­ter­cian monks from Foun­tains Abbey.

The chapel, which sits be­hind the house, is now guest ac­com­mo­da­tion and has proved pop­u­lar with hol­i­day­mak­ers and week­enders, who en­joy the tran­quil­ity it of­fers.

Many of the vis­i­tors asked about the his­tory of the hall, which is grade two star listed, but de­tails about the prop­erty’s past were sketchy, which prompted So­nia to do some dig­ging.

“It be­came ob­vi­ous that its ear­lier monas­tic ori­gins were sig­nif­i­cant and it was go­ing to be dif­fi­cult to tell the whole story with­out look­ing at the his­tory of the land­scape in which the house stood,” says So­nia, whose painstak­ing re­search be­came a book Kilnsey a Dales Town­ship, which brings all the known in­for­ma­tion about the area to­gether for fu­ture ref­er­ence.

She also dis­cov­ered that dur­ing the me­dieval pe­riod, the Cis­ter­cian monks of Foun­tains Abbey were given ex­ten­sive graz­ing land in Craven. Kilnsey Old Hall formed the main ad­min­is­tra­tive cen­tre for the man­age­ment of wool for the abbey.

All flocks were driven to Kilnsey for their an­nual shear­ing. Some parts of the hall date back to this era, but the ma­jor­ity was built in 1648 by Christo­pher Wade, a rel­a­tive of Ar­migel Wade, an ad­ven­turer who was known as the Colum­bus of the North. Christo­pher had a son, Cuth­bert, who was a cap­tain in the Roy­al­ist forces of Charles I dur­ing the English Civil War.

Lady Anne Clif­ford stayed in the house as a guest of Cuth­bert Wade on the way to her prop­erty in Ap­pleby. She writes in her di­ary for Oc­to­ber 6 1663: “Af­ter I had lain at Skip­ton Cas­tle in ye cham­ber there wherein I was born, just 5 months from my coming from Bar­den Tower did I re­move from thence on­ward on my jour­ney to West­more­land, so as I went to Mr Cuth­bert Wades house at Kilnsey and lay there ye night and so ye next day from them through to Ket­tlewell Dale and on to Pen­dragon.”

It’s a fan­tas­tic legacy, as is the hall that she and Tim have lov­ingly re­stored. Its ex­te­rior looks mag­nif­i­cent and is a taster for what lies within.

The pe­riod in­te­rior is equally im­pres­sive.

The decor was de­signed by So­nia and she made most of the soft fur­nish­ings her­self. Her flair for de­sign is one of the rea­sons she loves Christ­mas.

It gives her a chance to give the house a new look. A keen skier and a former ski in­struc­tor, many of her ideas come from the Alps.

She says: “In Ger­many and Aus­tria, they have fresh, green trees with white lights and lots of nat­u­ral dec­o­ra­tions and I like that look.”

She uses lots of fresh spruce, holly and ivy. Her trees, bought from the lo­cal butcher’s shop, are also real. True to tra­di­tion rather than fash­ion, she keeps her dec­o­ra­tions year af­ter year, adding new, in­no­va­tive touches when she trims up.

“I tend to keep things, rather than start­ing again on an­other theme. This house really suits reds and golds but I’ll buy things if they take my eye.”

She also makes some of her own trim­mings. A bowl of red ap­ples look beau­ti­ful with a sprig of holly. Her ar­ti­fi­cial spruce gar­land, draped over the stair­case, is dec­o­rated with holly and lit­tle wooden geese.

Real spruce and ivy is en­twined round the red deer antlers in the in­glenook and features on the Christ­mas ta­ble.

The wooden stars on the sit­ting room tree were made for her by a joiner and she sprayed them with gold paint. With a keen eye for a bargain, she also picked up some plas­tic white ted­dies for a pound and trans­formed them by cov­er­ing them with the same gold colour.

Can­dles are also a dom­i­nant fea­ture and suit the hall, which was built long be­fore elec­tric­ity ar­rived in the Dales.

All th­ese ef­forts aren’t just ap­pre­ci­ated by her fam­ily. The B&B rooms are al­ways booked up for the Dick­en­sian Christ­mas week­ends in nearby Grass­ing­ton.

They are greeted by the heat and the aro­mas from the Aga, which is kept busy at this time of year cook­ing batches of mince pies and warm­ing up mulled wine.

“The house really lends it­self to Christ­mas,” says So­nia, who ad­mits she will be sad to leave the house in which he has in­vested so much time, ef­fort and love.

“We love the house, but it is not lo­gis­ti­cally pos­si­ble for ei­ther of our sons to take it on.

“We feel it is too large for just the two of us and, as we are ag­ing, now is the right time to down­size.

“We hope that some­where there is a fam­ily who will con­tinue to love and care for Kilnsey Old Hall and its sur­round­ings and get as much plea­sure and en­joy­ment from it as we have.”

PIC­TURES: GER­ARD BINKS.

Kilnsey Old Hall was a wreck when So­nia and Tim Wilkin­son bought it at auc­tion. The ren­o­va­tion work has cre­ated a stun­ning coun­try home with in­come gen­er­at­ing po­ten­tial. The hall seen from above, top; The liv­ing room, all trimmed up for Christ­mas, above left; A com­fort­able sit­ting room with fire burn­ing in the stove, above right.

So­nia loves Christ­mas and the hall is the per­fect place to spend it. The din­ing room shows off its splen­dour, above left. Antlers and holly. The kitchen, com­plete with Aga to keep up the sup­ply of Christ­mas dishes.

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