In his book Yorkshire Greats (Dalesman, 2005), the formidable Sir Bernard Ingham, a Yorkshireman himself, defines ‘grit, persistence and bloody-mindedness’ as key elements of the essential Yorkshire character. These qualities are also seen to good effect in the county’s rugged stone country houses, four fine examples of which have come to the market, having shrugged off the effects of the wars, persecutions, pestilence and ‘progress’ that the county has seen its fair share of over the years.
One of few Grade I-listed houses in North Yorkshire that is still privately owned, imposing Swinsty Hall, ‘with its many gables and multitudinous windows’ on the banks of Swinsty Reservoir, nine miles west of Harrogate, is described by the 19th-century historian William Grainge as ‘the best, most substantial and majestic of the old halls which grace the valley of the Washburn’. Built in the Elizabethan style for the Wood family in the late 1500s, Swinsty Hall was acquired by Henry Robinson of Old Lound in Lancashire in 1590, when he foreclosed on a loan made to Francis Wood and, shortly afterwards, bought the rest of the Wood family’s estate and buildings.
According to its listing, Henry Robinson drastically remodelled the house in the early 1600s, after which it remained in Robinson hands until 1772, when it passed by marriage into the Bramley family. In the late 1800s, it was sold to Leeds Corporation to facilitate the construction of the Swinsty and Fewston reservoirs.
Swinsty Hall, Knight Frank, £3.75m
In the 1980s, Swinsty Hall reverted to private ownership and underwent a major renovation programme involving Yorkshire-based designer Carolyn Parker. The hall’s current owners, former Middlesbrough FC manager Gareth Southgate and his wife, Alison, who bought it seven years ago, have completed the transformation of the 8,000sq ft building. It now has luxurious accommodation on four floors, including a splendid Great Hall, five fine reception rooms, a breakfast kitchen, master and guest suites, four further bedrooms, two bathrooms and a cinema room.
Ancillary buildings include a two-bedroom cottage and a barn suitable for conversion. Wooded gardens and grounds of 4-and-a-half acres have been redesigned to create a typical Elizabethan knot garden, a rose garden and a water garden fed by a meandering stream. Knight Frank (01423 530088) quote a guide price of £3.75 million for Swinsty Hall, which, despite its picturesque rural setting, is a mere 15 minutes’ drive from the centre of Harrogate, selling agent Tim Waring points out.
Dougill Hall, Strutt & Parker, £1.25m
A few miles north as the crow flies, Grade II*-listed Dougill Hall (pronounced ‘Dowgill’) near Summerbridge, 10 miles from Harrogate, dominates its 115 acres of tranquil pasture and woodland overlooking scenic Nidderdale. Built of stone under a slate roof for the Dougill family in 1722, the hall is for sale through the Harrogate office of Strutt & Parker (01423 561274) at a guide price of £1.25m for the three-storey main house with its outbuildings, beautiful gardens and barn stabling for eight horses, or £1.95m for the whole. Nidderdale offers some of the best riding country in this part of horse-mad Yorkshire, a fact not lost upon its present owners, a German family who have evidently made the most of Dougill’s equestrian facilities during their 30-year tenure.
The main house, which needs modernising, has been little altered since it was first built, apart from a single storey extension added in 1910, a fireplace rebuilt in the 1970s using a door lintel and surround from an outbuilding dated 1612, and a rear annexe dated 1696 with a self-contained flat above. Other period features include some fine original panelling in the drawing room and a cross-beam in the sitting room decorated with six roses in relief-a reference perhaps to the family’s allegiance during the Wars of the Roses? In all, the hall has three reception rooms, a dining kitchen, six bedrooms and three bath/shower rooms.
Out on the farm, a dilapidated stone barn has potential for various uses, subject to the usual planning consents. Traditionally, the vast majority of Yorkshire country houses are bought by Yorkshire people, and an overseas buyer is something seen ‘once in a blue moon’, says Toby Milbank of Strutt & Parker. But this year, the moon turned decidedly blue, following an influx of out of- county buyers that included expatriate Britons returning from overseas destinations, such as Los Angeles, East Africa, Iraq and Singapore. Mr Waring of Knight Frank has noted a similar trend, which, they both agree, points to the prospect of an ‘interesting’ autumn ahead.
Faceby Manor, Strutt & Parker and Knight Frank, £2.5m
Their two firms are joint agents in the sale of Faceby Manor, near Stokesley, on the edge of the North York Moors National Park and 16 miles from Thirsk, an area of the North-East famous for its dramatic landscape and glorious views. The manor was originally located down the hill in historic Faceby village, but was burnt to the ground in the late 1800s to avoid the hated window tax. The remains of that building were salvaged after the fire and the house rebuilt in its current lofty position in 1897.
The agents quote a guide price of £2.5m for elegant Faceby Manor, which has been vastly improved by its present owners over the past 14 years. It stands in 17 acres of formal and informal gardens, woods and parkland, with more land available by separate negotiation. It boasts a galleried reception hall, four reception rooms, a breakfast kitchen, seven bedrooms, five bathrooms, a snooker room, a gym, a studio and an indoor swimming pool.
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