A quintessential Yorkshire village where time has stood still is up for sale and on offer to the kindest bidder. Sharon Dale reports.
When the redoubtable Miss Eve Dawnay died five years ago, she left a remarkable legacy: a perfectly preserved, quintessential Yorkshire village.
It came complete with a 21-bedroom historic hall, 43 houses, a pub/restaurant, a garage, a sports pavilion and playing fields and over 2,000 acres of surrounding countryside. The endearingly eccentric Oxford-educated spinster owned the whole of West Heslerton and, thanks to affordable rents and some clever social engineering, she ensured that it retained a vibrant community supporting a host of amenities, including a primary school and its own football, cricket and bowling teams.
Now the estate village near Malton is up for sale for £20million and her family is hoping to find a wealthy and benevolent buyer who shares Eve Dawnay’s wish to conserve a bucolic way of life. “Miss Dawnay was a wonderful lady,” says Tom Watson, a director of Cundalls estate agency, which is handling the sale. “She was very kind and the property rents are, and have always been, very low. This has helped keep a village community with a mixed group of ages and there are obviously a lot of people hoping that somebody with a similar benevolent nature will come along to take over the estate.
“It would be perfect for somebody wanting to build up and leave a legacy. The estate has been very much untouched in the past 50 years and is now a blank canvas ready to be shaped for the next generation.”
He expects a huge amount of interest from developers and investors keen to exploit the opportunities on offer.
“In many respects time has stood still in West Heslerton. There are now endless possibilities to convert buildings, develop plots and explore commercial opportunities. But I know that in an ideal world Miss Dawnay’s family would really like to see the estate carry on in a similar vein.”
The village has been owned by the Dawnay family for 150 years. Eve Dawnay inherited it in 1964 on the death of her father. She graduated from Oxford University with a BA in French in 1948 and worked in Paris and London before returning to Yorkshire. As well as excelling academically, she was also a skilled craftswoman and made a collection of model rooms featuring miniature historical scenes.
When she died in December 2010, aged 84, there was no single heir and so the only realistic option for the beneficiaries was to sell. Her younger sister Verena Elliott, who now lives in London, says: “It’s not the prettiest of villages. It wouldn’t go on the front of a chocolate box but my great grandfather, grandfather and father loved it. We all loved it and it would be very hard to find a village with more loyal and lovely people living in it. There is a real sense of community, which is hard to find these days. There are generations of families who have lived in the estate houses. In fact, there was a time when nobody ever seemed to move away.
“I can’t say strongly enough what the village and the people who have lived there meant to my family. The loyalty of those villagers has been tremendous. It will be strange to return and not be able to just wander around like I always have; that it will belong to somebody else. But times have changed, especially when it comes to farming, and it will be lovely to see new life breathed into the estate.”
At the centre of the estate is the 21-bedroom West Heslerton Hall. It hasn’t been lived in for 30 years after Miss Dawnay moved to a smaller, purpose-built property. The hall now offers the potential to be modernised or converted.
In addition to the hall, the sale includes Miss Dawnay’s four-bedroom home, 42 houses and cottages, a pub/restaurant, filling station/garage and a playing field and sports field with pavilion. There are 2,116 acres of agricultural land, including 112 acres of woodland. The total annual rental and agricultural subsidy income is around £388,000 but Tom Watson believes that there is also room for further income growth without spoiling the character of the village. “While Miss Dawnay wasn’t one for country sports, she was very interested in nature and conservation and there is huge potential to develop the sporting side of the estate,” adds Tom. “For somebody who loves farming and field sports, finding an estate like this in a ring-fence has to be a dream come true. With the exception of around 16 acres, all the agricultural land is farmed in hand with vacant possession. From a sporting perspective, the various shelter belts were originally strategically placed for sporting reasons. The land would make a wonderfully challenging and varied shoot.”
Tom predicts that the sale will prompt a surge in lottery ticket sales in Ryedaleand could attract interest from all over Britain and beyond.
“It is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he says. “I just hope we can find the perfect buyer.”
*Contact Cundalls, Malton, tel: 01653 697820, www.westheslertonestate.com, www.cundalls.co.uk
*Memories of days gone by
Miss Eve Dawnay’s younger sister, Verena Elliott, lived at West Heslerton Hall until she left for London at the age of 18. She says: “We used to have folk dancing in the village hall during the war and there was a very strong WI, one of the first in Yorkshire, which my aunt started. My mother ran the land army so was kept very busy. I remember that there was a side door to the hall and that it was always open; nobody rang the bell. Anybody from the estate was welcome to walk straight in and go down to my father’s study. Virtually every day there was somebody popping in to ask his opinion or tell him about some problem or other like a broken fence or a smoking fire.”