Farmhouse time machine takes couple back to the 14th century
Medieval secrets were discovered when this farmhouse was renovated. Heather Dixon reports. Pictures by David Burton
THE warning in the sales brochure said it all: “Enter at your own risk”, and when Bridget and David Reed took their first “tour” of their Grade II listed former farmhouse near Huddersfield, they certainly took their life into their own hands.
The floor in the entrance hall had caved into the cellar leaving a gaping hole; one of the walls was on the verge of collapse, there was a huge hole in the roof and the bathroom could only be reached by negotiating a precarious plank across a hole in the first floor.
It wasn’t exactly what Bridget had had in mind when they decided to move house, but David was delighted by the prospect of giving the dilapidated farmhouse a new lease of life and they were both enchanted by its beautiful rural setting. What neither of them bargained for was the fact that the house was originally a 14th century medieval aisled hall, and that it contained its own stunning architectural secrets.
“We thought it was tremendously exciting but terrifying,” he said. “The scale of the task ahead didn’t bother us. Although we had never done anything on this scale before, we put our faith in the architect and builder – and they didn’t let us down.”
It wasn’t the first time Bridget and David, who are retired, had considered buying the farmhouse. Fifteen years earlier they were invited by close friends to take it on as a joint project, creating two homes from the one property. “At the time we thought they must be mad. It had been empty for years and everything was overgrown,” said Bridget. “We just didn’t have the vision.”
Their friends went on to selfbuild while Bridget and David started looking for something a bit more conventional.
“We found a bungalow we liked and were on the verge of buying it when we decided to have another look at the farmhouse, which had come back on the market,” said David. “I asked the architect to view both and give us his opinion. He said there was no contest, that it was a ‘no brainer’ to renovate this one.”
The property was sold with planning permission to turn the adjoining 18th century barn into a four bedroom house, but Bridget and David later agreed that they would rather stabilise the barn and use it initially for storage, but eventually as an extension of the house. To achieve this they had to reapply for planning permission, followed by months of negotiations before approval.
Everything then seemed straight forward until the builder began to remove the crumbling plaster, floors and roof slates, leaving four bare walls and the rafters. It quickly became apparent that there was much more to the old stone building than they realised.
“When the ceilings came down we discovered the long beam running through the middle of the house,’ said David.
“We knew it was significant. The builder thought it was around 300 years old but the conservation department said the house was a former 14th century medieval aisled hall with a solar in the place now occupied by the barn.”
They also uncovered the beautiful timber frame which had been covered up over the years.
“It was really exciting,’ said Bridget. “We had no idea that we had bought something so old and with so much history. We thought we would have a few pretty farmhouse beams and ended up with something quite amazing. The conservation officer was incredibly helpful. They could have listed the house on the spot, which would have been incredibly restrictive, but once they realised we weren’t going to damage the timbers they were happy to list the property while the work was going ahead.”
The discovery of the beautiful oak frame shaped the development of the build as the team worked hard to retain and restore as many of the original materials as possible. One of the main walls was so unsafe it had to be taken down stone-by-stone and rebuilt.
The building had no foundations so the concrete floors had to be reinforced with steel and the walls tied into the floor, before the original Yorkshire stone flags could be re-laid.
A smaller secret staircase towards the back of the house was removed, much to Bridget’s chagrin, to create more space in the sitting room, and partitions in the main hall which had once been used as a dairy, were removed to create one large open space.
By the time Bridget and David sold their previous house most of the structural work had been done and they moved into the house, camping out in just one room, while a further three months of internal work were completed.
The house is simply but effectively furnished with a mixture of antiques and modern fittings which complement the property.
They later decided to add a breakfast/sun room to the side of the house to maximise the fabulous countryside views, choosing an oak frame to continue the theme of their home. Because the farmhouse was listed this was linked to it via a glass corridor.
Although the renovation took longer than anticipated and went over budget, Bridget and David are delighted with the results.
“The whole project was a wonderful adventure,” says David.
Builders, D&HConstruction, tel: 01484 537826; Graham Booth, tel: 01484 606380.
DISCOVERY: The 14th century medieval hall and adjoining barn has been converted into a family home using reclaimed materials. Every groove, carved letter, roof joint and imperfection in the ancient beams has been exposed to reveal the building’s age and character. The oak frame had been covered up for many years and it shaped the development of the build process.