How the new owners of Rise Hall continue to build on Sarah Beeny's legacy
Those who watched Sarah Beeny’s Restoration Nightmare on Channel 4 often wondered why she and her husband, Graham, didn’t walk away from Rise Hall earlier. They kept it for 18 years after buying it in 2001 when the gargantuan East Riding mansion had been empty for a decade.
Built between 1815 and 1820 for Richard Bethell, woodworm was feasting on the interiors, the acre of roof was leaking and its 149 windows were rotting.
The main reason why they doggedly pursued a dream of bringing the Grade II*-listed building back to life, while spending a small fortune in the process, is “love”. They and their five sons adored “Rise” and its 30 acres of grounds, even when the going got tough.
The latest owners, Daniel and Helen Gill, now feel the same way. The couple, who run Dine Events, bought the property in May last year after almost a decade of acting as event organisers there. The hall was seen as an exciting addition to the Gills’ portfolio of leased venues, which include The Mansion in Roundhay Park, Leeds, Sefton Park in Liverpool and Howsham Hall, near York.
This is the first time they have bought a property and, just over a year since they got the keys, they admit that the mansion means more to them than just business. Grand and breathtakingly big, “Rise” has a rare ability to make visitors feel relaxed and at home. It could be that it left any pomposity behind after spending the 43 years between 1946 and 1989 as a fee-paying convent school for girls.
“It is an amazing place that really gets under your skin and it’s in such a lovely, rural part of the world, close to Beverley, Hull and the sea. We love it and our two sons love coming here,” says Helen.
She and Daniel held onto that thought recently when they were putting the finishing touches to a recently revamped bedroom suite. “We heard a noise coming from the Red Room and when we checked what it was, there was a waterfall pouring from the light fitting,” adds Helen.
The result was costly roof repairs, though it also gave the Gills an opportunity to refurbish the north side of the house. Then came lockdown when they faced having to close the property and postpone weddings, corporate events, afternoon teas, stays and celebrations.
At that point, Daniel and Helen had spent £250,000 on upgrading the hall, bridal suite, morning room, drawing room and ballroom. They had also bought new carpets and updated the infrastructure, including the wi-fi and the water pressure.
“Closing was very emotional, especially for the people who had booked weddings, but we are rebooking 90 per cent of them and we are lucky that we have a lot of space, both inside and outside, which helps with social distancing,” says Helen.
During lockdown they took the opportunity to work on the gardens and now it has eased, the Gills will continue to work their way through the 31 bedrooms, which are all being refreshed. Helen is in charge of interior design and uses North Duffield-based Egg Interiors, which is well used to working with historic buildings.
She and Daniel are also replacing furniture now that Sarah and Graham have almost finished their self-build home in Somerset. The couple initially left much of it in situ, along with 6,000 books in the library, and are slowly decanting it all out.
“We are gradually replacing Sarah and Graham’s furniture with a mix of new and old because if you have everything modern, the house would lose character but have too many antiques and it would feel like a museum,” says Helen, who finds online marketplace Wayfair useful for new buys. She and Daniel have also enjoyed looking for antiques on eBay and in Fully Furnished in York.
They are also halfway through replacing the books in the library and have bought everything from old leather-bound law volumes to Dickens and modern fiction.
“They are all there for guests to read,” says Helen, whose favourite buy is a plaster frieze of the Parthenon Marbles for the end wall of the morning room, where wedding ceremonies take place. “It took four people to get it up onto a special frame on the wall but I think it looks just right.”
The Gills have another £150,000 to spend on phase one of the Rise Hall refurbishment, with some of that being used to build a peacock house. “Someone asked if we wanted some peacocks that needed a new home, so we thought ‘why not?’,” says Helen.
Ideas for the future include turning the refectory added by the nuns into ground-floor bedrooms and renovating outbuildings to use as commercial units for small businesses. Glamping pods and outdoor activities, such as clay pigeon shooting, may also be on the cards.
Income-generating ideas are vital as the mansion costs £190,000 a year to run and maintain. “In truth we know that we will never finish this project,” says Helen. “No-one will because there will always be something to do.”
For more details on afternoon teas, events, weddings and exclusive hire of the whole property for stays, visit www.risehall.com
Pictures by Peter Hugo, Jane Beadnell, Joel Skinghle and James Hardisty.
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