Defenders of the faith

Helen and Eric Wright
Helen and Eric Wright
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This church conversion was a challenge but Helen and Eric Wright found that with belief all things are possible. Sharon Dale reports.

Anyone who has taken on a church conversion will know that you need the patience of a saint and the wisdom of Solomon.

Changing a place of worship packed with ecclesiastical features into a home is one of the greatest property challenges.

Fortunately, Eric and Helen Wright had all the right attributes, which helped enormously when they decided to buy All Saints’ Church in Woodlesford, Leeds. Eric, a developer, and Helen, an interior designer, were keen to swap their conventional four-bed detached for something totally different.

“Eric saw it first and I was pregnant with our first child at the time, so I took some persuading but I knew it could be fantastic – plus it doesn’t have a graveyard. If it had I wouldn’t have bought it,” says Helen.

Closed in 1995, its use was limited thanks to covenants dictating no alcohol to be served and no gaming. The diocese was keen to see it as a single dwelling, so the Wrights were in a strong position. Their offer was accepted in 2000 and they were given the right to buy, but it still took them almost three years to get it through planning and complete the deal.

Gaining approval to convert the Grade II listed building was time consuming and sticking points included demolishing the spire, which needed £35,000 of repairs, and putting Velux windows on the front elevation. They managed to get the green light for both but then had to work with English Heritage, who wanted them to retain a number of features.

“English Heritage wanted us to keep the pulpit on the premises, though not necessarily in the same position, so it is down in the boiler room,” says Eric, who put the work out to tender but then project-managed separate trades himself, saving 30 per cent on the highest “all in” quote.

Work finally started on and it was clear that the years of disuse had taken their toll. The first job for builder Ken Richardson was to make it watertight so the long process of drying out the 27 inch thick walls could begin.

Creating the new layout came next and the couple, who have two children Emily, 12, and Daniel, 10, were keen to keep the integrity of the building while creating a practical family home. They installed a new first floor, but restricted it to a gallery plus three bedrooms and three bathrooms, although they could have had more.

This enabled them to retain more of the magnificent 17 metre-high space that was once the transepts, altar and sacristy. On the ground floor, there is an entrance hall and where the rows of pews once sat in the nave, there is a sitting room, playroom, storage room and cloakroom all accessed from a corridor fringed by beautiful arched windows.

“The windows were quite high up in that area so we decided to raise the floor there by a metre so we could see out and gain more natural light,” says Eric, who also installed underfloor heating.

Some of the most precious stained glass windows were removed and kept by the Church of England but most are still in situ. “The ones that were removed have been replaced with clear glass which is good as provides more light but we love the ones we have still got. They are so beautiful and the colours are incredible,” says Helen.

The transepts, altar and sacristy are now a large living space with kitchen and dining area with a separate utility area, study and library in the rooms at the side . There is now a platform where the altar stood. “It was such a huge empty space and we needed to fill it so we came up with the idea of this and it works well. We have a table and chairs up there and we’ve even had the RAF band play up there for Helen’s grandparents’ Diamond Wedding,” says Eric.

Furniture and soft furnishings also required a lot of thought as the architectural features dominate the space. After spending the bulk of their budget on the conversion, they used what they had along with furniture they inherited from family. “It’s all traditional, which I think suits the church. I don’t think anything too contemporary would be right. It would spoil it,” says Helen.

The building is ornate thanks to the wealth of its benefactors. Built in 1870, it was supported by a number of local families, including the Bentleys, of the old Bentleys’ Yorkshire Bitter brewery. No expense was spared on the carvings, which took hours to scrub and clean. The couple also painted some of the stone kings, cherubs and saints in cream with gilding to “bring them alive”.

The work took just over a year and they moved into the house in July 2004. The final job was restoring the church clock, which had stopped working. It cost £2,500 and Helen is now in charge of climbing the tower outside to wind it every eight days.

While some church conversions refuse to be homely, All Saints’ House has a warm, friendly feel, which is why the family has stayed there so long. They are selling to pursue another project.

“Selling has been a tough decision as we all love it,” says Helen. “We know we’ll never find anything as special as this.”

All Saints House, Woodlesford, Leeds, is for sale with Manning Stainton for £799,500, tel: 0113 203 4939, www.fineandcountry.com

Useful contacts

Bentley Bros, bespoke joinery, Pudsey, www.bentleybros.co.uk

Morland Bathrooms, www.morlandbathrooms.com

Rhodes and Wordsworth Kitchens, Leeds, www.rhodesandwordsworth.co.uk

Kevin Kelly Windows, Leeds, 0113 232 3562

Hambleton Roofing, www.hambletonroofing.co.uk

SDG Paving, Woodlesford, 0113 282 6438