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.
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.”
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.
SAVED FROM DISASTER: