Highwayman’s hideaway is now one of Yorkshire’s finest homes

Grade two star listed Ackworth Old Hall has a fabulous new look that marries historic and modern features. Sharon Dale reports.

Ackworth Old House
Ackworth Old House

With its exquisite Mark Wilkinson units, Wolf range cooker, warming drawers, cooling drawers, rotating butchers block and just about every other gadget and appliance you can think of, it’s no wonder that visitors to Ackworth Old Hall are often consumed by kitchen envy.

The 35ft long, light-filled room with bi-fold doors and a glittering chandelier is sensational but the green-eyed monsters should know that it is a just reward for owners Andy and Deborah Watson.

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The couple spent a small fortune and endured a challenging three-and-a-half 
year building project to fulfil 
an ambition to add some modern glamour to historic Ackworth 
Old Hall

“It was a big project. We thought it would be two years but it took longer and there were a few knock backs,” says Deborah.

“I was pregnant at the time we were converting the basement of the hall, there was mud everywhere and I snapped. I packed our bags and told Andy I was moving back to old house which was up for sale. It took him ages to persuade me to come back.”

The Watsons, who have three children, Mollie, 15, Maya, 12, and Theo, five, returned but soon after there was a fire that wrecked the newly-renovated music room.

“I was seven months pregnant by then and all the baby things were in that room because t was it was the tidiest and cleanest. I opened the door and smoke hit me. The builders shouted at me to get out but I refused. I was throwing buckets of water on the fire until the fire brigade came and flooded the room.

“It was caused by an electrical fault but we were really lucky because Andy had fireboarded the ceiling so it didn’t spread. We re-did the room and I gave birth to Theo in there to put some good energy back into it,” says Deborah.

The blaze caused a delay, as did archaeologists who had to sifting through the soil when the outbuildings were converted. However, the long wait was worthwhile. The property in High Ackworth, near Pontefract, is on the market for £2 million and is one of Yorkshire’s most impressive family homes.

Andy and Deborah bought it in 2008 and the decision was driven by emotion.

“Andy has lived in the village most of his life and his dad worked on the house when he was an apprentice so it had sentimental value,” says Deborah.

The hall, which was built around 1580, was in need of renovation and Andy also spotted potential to convert the basement into a cinema room and to extend into the old milking parlour and threshing barn.

A partner in construction company, Strategic Team Group, he knew he could tackle the work in two halves.

The first job was to modernise the grade two star listed hall. The property was once part of the Nostell Priory Estate and is best known for hiding the highwayman William Nevison. Nevison ordered travellers to “stand and deliver” along the Great North Road and was renowned for his politeness and his policy of robbing only the rich.

A space between the floor of a bedroom closet and the roof of the passage in the hall below is reputed to have been his bolt hole, although he was eventually caught and hanged at York in 1684.

The hall’s future was secure and it has survived the centuries with many of its period features intact. They include beams, panelling, fireplaces and mullioned leaded windows.

The Watsons renewed the roof, the plumbing and wiring and turned what was the kitchen into a sitting room. The ground floor of the old hall also has a drawing room and music room.

The basement now houses the cinema room and wine cellar.

Upstairs, they turned the old house bathroom, three bedrooms and a passageway into a large master suite with bedroom, en-suite and a dressing room with bespoke cabinets made by local joiners Andrew Clarke and Hamilton and Croft. The first floor also has a second bedroom with en-suite.

The loft, which was used for storage, is now a guest bedroom, a storage room, two bedrooms and a bathroom.

The outbuildings were underpinned and the milking parlour is now a state-of-the-art kitchen. It links to the threshing barn that contains a pool with Aquavison, waterproof TV, gym and changing room. Above, is a large games room and office. Known as the West Wing, this part of the house also has a Sonos sound system and Lutron lighting.

“The whole site is on the footprint of a medieval dwelling and so we had archaeologists on site while we were digging the hole for the pool and the footings for the walls,” says Deborah, who did all the interior design herself.

She used Farrow and Ball paint for all the walls and added a lilac-coloured island in the kitchen. Furniture is a mix of old and new and includes a 17th century French dining table from New York that she had shipped over after spotting it on eBay. The colourful sofa in the games room is from Roche Bobois and other finds are from favourite shops like Oka, Barker and Stonehouse, Home Sense and Aberford Interiors. Her eye for quirky pieces, like the enormous bird cage in the music room, add charter and interest. She also had strong ideas for the garden, which was planned by garden designer Lorraine Bingham, while the rest of the four acres is paddock.

“We love living here, it’s a great village but we are looking at moving closer to Harrogate, where we have a lot of friends,” says Deborah.

“We aren’t in any rush to go now we’ve now got the house just the way we planned it.”

Ackworth Old Hall is £2m with Carter Jonas, Leeds, tel: 0113 242 5155, www.carterjonas.co.uk.

Useful contacts

Strategic Team Group, construction and renovation, www.strategicteamgroup.com

Mark Wilkinson kitchens, www.mwf.com

Aberford Interiors, Aberford, near Leeds,www.aberfordinteriors.co.uk

Hamilton and Croft joinery, Pontefract, www.hamilton-croft.co.uk

Andy Clarke Woodwork, Normanton, www.andy clarkewoodwork.co.uk

Barker and Stonehouse homeware, Leeds, Hull and Knaresborough, www.barkerandstonehouse.co.uk

Roche Bobois sofa, www.roche-bobois.com

Oka homeware, Harrogate, www.okadirect.com

Home Sense, www.homesense.com