Anne Lister, aka Gentleman Jack, was a whip smart businesswoman who rarely took no for an answer and negotiated obstacles with skill and determination. It wasn’t easy shouldering the twin burdens of being a woman in business and a lesbian in the early 1800s, but there were moments of respite and of pleasure, including her visits to her friends Henry and Mary Priestley at their Haugh End estate in Sowerby Bridge.
Along with taking tea in their beautiful Georgian home, it was here that Anne and her lover Mariana Belcombe stayed before the latter’s marriage. Anne, now regaled as Britain’s first modern lesbian, recounts the stay in her secret diaries, with this section written in code: “A thousand reflections and recollections crowded on me last night. The last time I slept in this room and in this bed it was with Mariana in 1815.”
Remarkably, the manor house, originally built for John Lea, and the adjacent outbuildings and servants’ quarters, including a medieval cottage, appear largely as they were when Anne was there. That is thanks to the Rawson family, who also feature in Anne’s diaries. They owned the estate for 150 years and did Yorkshire’s built heritage a huge favour by doing very little to the properties as they slipped gently towards dereliction.
Then, three years ago, a surprise bid for the whole lot was put forward and accepted. The new owners, Stewart and Beverly Charnock-Bates, originally went to look at the main house, which was on the market and attracting little interest due to the scale of the restoration and the necessary but restrictive Grade II* status. Captivated by the remarkable time warp, they made an offer for the whole five-acre site and it was accepted. They spotted the estate’s development potential, of course, but more than that they fell in love with the history, the remarkable period features and the challenge of bringing the old buildings back to life.
So far, it has taken the couple almost three years to get to the point where work can begin in earnest, thanks to the complexities of the sale, the archeological reports and time taken to gain detailed permissions to work on listed buildings deemed to be of the highest historical value.
“This is one of the most important small country house estates in England because of its largely untouched condition and the fact it evolved over time. The first cottage here was built in the 1500s and is one of the oldest in Calderdale with many of its features still intact,” says Stewart. “We knew it would be a difficult project because of the Grade II* listings on several properties here, including the stables which were designed by John Carr. The level of detailing in those stables is remarkable and even includes cornicing, which will, of course, stay when they are converted.”
He and Beverley are property professionals with plenty of development experience, but even they were astounded at the length of time taken to tick the boxes needed to give Haugh End a future. “We enjoy a challenge otherwise we would be bored, but we were amazed that the site was judged to be so important that one of the directors of Historic England came up from London to see it,” says Stewart. “He was ecstatic when he saw this place. He also said the buildings should be developed quickly before they fell down, which is what often happens to places like this.”
Halifax-born Stewart founded the Charnock Bates estate agency and is now a property consultant to the firm after selling it to Walker Singleton. He is no stranger to Listed buildings and in the 1990s he bought and developed Field House in nearby Triangle, a similar Grade II* estate. “I had done it before so I was in my comfort zone, though the difference between now and then is incredible. It has taken far longer than before to organise planning permission. I thought it might be a year tops, though we understand why it has to be this way,” says Stewart.
The only way to make costly restoration financially viable was to construct 11 new-build homes on land behind the historic properties. “We live in the area and we care about the heritage of this site so that helped and we also personally consulted all the neighbours to show them what we wanted to do. The result was that there were no objections to our plans,” says Beverly.
The new-builds will be contemporary, with two built from zinc, glass and timber, and to protect the historic frontage of the house and buildings, all parking for the period properties will be at the rear. “After all this time the only thing we have done is lay cobbles at the front, exactly how they would have been, and spent £200,000 on having the road to the rear put in,” adds Beverly.
She has used the time to learn more about the history of Haugh End and discovered that, while the main house is now best known for its connection to Anne Lister, thanks to BBC’s Gentleman Jack series, it also has another proud boast. The cottage, built in 1510, was the birthplace of John Tillotson and a fireplace built in honour of his birth in 1630 is still there. Tillotson went on to become the Archbishop of Canterbury.
“We are planning to have a blue plaque put on the cottage,” says Beverly, who registered the estate as a location for filming with Creative England. This smart decision has given Haugh End two more claims to fame. Fittingly, part of the first series of Gentleman Jack was filmed there, including the memorable scene that starts every episode It shows Suranne Jones as Anne Lister rapping on tall blue doors of Haugh End house with her cane.
The once grand house also played the part of William and Ann Priestley’s home after the set designers had spruced up the former dining room. The decorative ceilings and cornices by the York School of Plasterers and the internal doors with each panel painted in a rural scene are stand-out features. The servants’ quarters were used as the farmhouse and the grounds feature in a scene where Anne threatens the dastardly Rev Ainsworth with the words: “You will be exposed Mr Ainsworth, as an adulterer and a fornicator”.
We see more of the house, outbuildings and the medieval cottage in the first series of Julian Fellowes’ The English Game. The elevated, largely untouched setting couldn’t have been better for camera crews who want privacy and no hints of modern life, though the estate’s days as a film star will soon be at an end as the properties are given a new life as homes in what is likely to be another three-year project.
“Giving places like this a new use is the only way to save them, otherwise they aren’t maintained and they fall down,” says Beverly, who regularly posts updates and pictures on Instagram.
“Anne Lister has a big following in America because of Gentleman Jack and we got a lovely letter thanking us for what we are doing as it will allow Haugh End to be loved and lived in again.”
*You can find more on Haugh End on Instagram at bates_heritage_renovation. Gentleman Jack series one is on BritBox and The English Game series is on Netflix.
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