The Counting House, Pontefract: One of Yorkshire's oldest buildings to be restored after lying empty and derelict for a decade

One of Yorkshire’s oldest buildings looks set to be brought back to life after its owner began restoration work following a decade of decay.

The Counting House in Pontefract dates back to 1400 and is so old it is even thought that stone from Pontefract Castle was used in its construction. Originally a merchant’s ‘counting’ house, it was later subdivided into dwellings and spent nearly 30 years as a pub after current owner Guy Lister’s late father, Malcolm, bought and rescued it in the 1980s.

Malcolm, an architect, was renowned for renovating old buildings and turning them into pubs and restaurants, and in the early 1990s the Counting House even won national awards for conservation. When he first set eyes on it, the distinctive timber frame was not even visible and the structure was covered in chicken wire.

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Guy is now seeking tenants for the unique building, and is open to a variety of uses suggested by local people, from a heritage crafts centre to a liquorice museum. It closed as a pub in 2012 and has been vacant ever since.

The Counting House pictured in 2020The Counting House pictured in 2020
The Counting House pictured in 2020

"She is an ‘old lady’ who has been dormant for 10 years, The building has quite a history, and it is my father’s legacy so there is a personal angle for me,” said Guy, who has followed his father into the architecture profession.

"It was a pub for 25 years, and so many people have told me it was their favourite pub and that they want it back. Its next use needs to be sustainable and sensitive. Pubs are not quite as viable these days as they used to be."

The initial restoration work includes lime rendering, plastering, re-roofing – Guy eventually hopes to have the stone replaced by blue slate – and, intriguingly, carbon dating of the centuries-old timbers. Specialist heritage craftsmen are being consulted and the plan is for sustainable air-source heat pumps and even solar panels to be installed.

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"The charm of the building is its age, the layers of the years are evident. Once it became houses, people lived with their cattle on the ground floor. There are later additions, Georgian windows and Victorian fireplaces.”

The Counting House was covered in scaffolding for years after it closed as a pub in 2012The Counting House was covered in scaffolding for years after it closed as a pub in 2012
The Counting House was covered in scaffolding for years after it closed as a pub in 2012

A long-running planning dispute between Wakefield Council and his father over the building’s maintenance is something Guy hopes to now put behind him, and he is seeking the support of the council’s conservation team, which would enable him to apply for preservation grants.

"The dispute is hurting the Counting House. People love this building and they want the best for it. It deserves everyone’s input and support.

"We want to find a new use for it this year and have spoken to prospective tenants already. The lights are back on, it’s being heated again, and I have had interest in its future from all over the world. When I am working on the site so many people are stopping to talk to us and ask what’s happening.”

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Wakefield Council leaderCoun Denise Jeffery said: “The Counting House is an important part of Pontefract’s history. We want to work with the owner to preserve one of the town’s oldest buildings for future generations. We are open to meeting with the owner to discuss how we can work together to make it a vibrant place for residents to visit and enjoy.”