High­way­man’s hide­away is now one of York­shire’s finest homes

Grade two star listed Ack­worth Old Hall has a fab­u­lous new look that mar­ries his­toric and mod­ern fea­tures. Sharon Dale re­ports.

Yorkshire Post - Property - - PROPERTY -

WITH its ex­quis­ite Mark Wilkin­son units, Wolf range cooker, warm­ing draw­ers, cool­ing draw­ers, ro­tat­ing butch­ers block and just about ev­ery other gad­get and ap­pli­ance you can think of, it’s no won­der that visi­tors to Ack­worth Old Hall are of­ten con­sumed by kitchen envy.

The 35ft long, light-filled room with bi-fold doors and a glit­ter­ing chan­de­lier is sen­sa­tional but the green-eyed mon­sters should know that it is a just re­ward for own­ers Andy and Deb­o­rah Wat­son.

The cou­ple spent a small for­tune and en­dured a chal­leng­ing three-and-a-half year build­ing project to ful­fil an am­bi­tion to add some mod­ern glam­our to his­toric Ack­worth Old Hall

“It was a big project. We thought it would be two years but it took longer and there were a few knock backs,” says Deb­o­rah.

“I was preg­nant at the time we were con­vert­ing the base­ment of the hall, there was mud ev­ery­where and I snapped. I packed our bags and told Andy I was mov­ing back to old house which was up for sale. It took him ages to per­suade me to come back.”

The Wat­sons, who have three chil­dren, Mol­lie, 15, Maya, 12, and Theo, five, re­turned but soon af­ter there was a fire that wrecked the newly-ren­o­vated mu­sic room.

“I was seven months preg­nant by then and all the baby things were in that room be­cause t was it was the ti­di­est and clean­est. I opened the door and smoke hit me. The builders shouted at me to get out but I re­fused. I was throw­ing buck­ets of wa­ter on the fire un­til the fire brigade came and flooded the room.

“It was caused by an elec­tri­cal fault but we were re­ally lucky be­cause Andy had fire­boarded the ceil­ing so it didn’t spread. We re-did the room and I gave birth to Theo in there to put some good en­ergy back into it,” says Deb­o­rah.

The blaze caused a de­lay, as did ar­chae­ol­o­gists who had to sift­ing through the soil when the out­build­ings were con­verted. How­ever, the long wait was worth­while. The prop­erty in High Ack­worth, near Pon­te­fract, is on the mar­ket for £2 mil­lion and is one of York­shire’s most im­pres­sive fam­ily homes.

Andy and Deb­o­rah bought it in 2008 and the de­ci­sion was driven by emo­tion.

“Andy has lived in the vil­lage most of his life and his dad worked on the house when he was an ap­pren­tice so it had sen­ti­men­tal value,” says Deb­o­rah.

The hall, which was built around 1580, was in need of ren­o­va­tion and Andy also spot­ted po­ten­tial to con­vert the base­ment into a cin­ema room and to ex­tend into the old milk­ing par­lour and thresh­ing barn.

A part­ner in con­struc­tion com­pany, Strate­gic Team Group, he knew he could tackle the work in two halves.

The first job was to mod­ernise the grade two star listed hall. The prop­erty was once part of the Nostell Pri­ory Es­tate and is best known for hiding the high­way­man Wil­liam Nevison. Nevison or­dered trav­ellers to “stand and de­liver” along the Great North Road and was renowned for his po­lite­ness and his pol­icy of rob­bing only the rich.

A space be­tween the floor of a bed­room closet and the roof of the pas­sage in the hall be­low is re­puted to have been his bolt hole, al­though he was even­tu­ally caught and hanged at York in 1684.

The hall’s fu­ture was se­cure and it has sur­vived the cen­turies with many of its pe­riod fea­tures in­tact. They in­clude beams, pan­elling, fire­places and mul­lioned leaded win­dows.

The Wat­sons re­newed the roof, the plumb­ing and wiring and turned what was the kitchen into a sit­ting room. The ground floor of the old hall also has a draw­ing room and mu­sic room.

The base­ment now houses the cin­ema room and wine cel­lar.

Up­stairs, they turned the old house bath­room, three bed­rooms and a pas­sage­way into a large mas­ter suite with bed­room, en-suite and a dress­ing room with be­spoke cab­i­nets made by lo­cal join­ers An­drew Clarke and Hamil­ton and Croft. The first floor also has a sec­ond bed­room with en-suite.

The loft, which was used for stor­age, is now a guest bed­room, a stor­age room, two bed­rooms and a bath­room.

The out­build­ings were un­der­pinned and the milk­ing par­lour is now a state-of-the-art kitchen. It links to the thresh­ing barn that con­tains a pool with Aqua­vi­son, wa­ter­proof TV, gym and chang­ing room. Above, is a large games room and of­fice. Known as the West Wing, this part of the house also has a Sonos sound sys­tem and Lutron light­ing.

“The whole site is on the foot­print of a me­dieval dwelling

Nevison was renowned for his po­lite­ness and for his pol­icy of rob­bing only the rich.

and so we had ar­chae­ol­o­gists on site while we were dig­ging the hole for the pool and the foot­ings for the walls,” says Deb­o­rah, who did all the in­te­rior de­sign her­self.

She used Far­row and Ball paint for all the walls and added a li­lac-coloured is­land in the kitchen. Fur­ni­ture is a mix of old and new and in­cludes a 17th cen­tury French din­ing ta­ble from New York that she had shipped over af­ter spot­ting it on eBay. The colour­ful sofa in the games room is from Roche Bobois and other finds are from favourite shops like Oka, Barker and Stone­house, Home Sense and Aber­ford In­te­ri­ors. Her eye for quirky pieces, like the enor­mous bird cage in the mu­sic room, add char­ter and in­ter­est. She also had strong ideas for the gar­den, which was planned by gar­den de­signer Lor­raine Bing­ham, while the rest of the four acres is pad­dock.

“We love liv­ing here, it’s a great vil­lage but we are look­ing at mov­ing closer to Har­ro­gate, where we have a lot of friends,” says Deb­o­rah.

“We aren’t in any rush to go now we’ve now got the house just the way we planned it.”

No ex­pense was spared on the ren­o­va­tion of this his­toric prop­erty and the con­tem­po­rary “West Wing” fash­ioned from two con­verted farm build­ings. Owner Andy Wat­son grew up in Ack­worth and his fa­ther worked on the build­ing as an ap­pren­tice. The prop­erty was once part of the Nostell Pri­ory es­tate and a bolt­hole for high­way­man Wil­liam Nevison.

Deb­o­rah Wat­son planned the in­te­rior de­sign and sourced the prod­ucts, which in­clude Far­row and Ball paint, be­spoke cab­i­netry and a colour­ful Roche Bobois sofa. The old thresh­ing barn now con­tains a pool and gym.

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