“It was a completely life-changing moment at Hong Kong airport,” says Mr Vander Weyer, a former investment banker turned journalist and author, who writes for The Spectator and The Daily Telegraph, amongst other publications.
“I got to Taipei and rang my mother. I told her to go to the newsagent and buy a copy and they [his family] got in touch with the estate agent for me.”
On his return to England, Mr Vander Weyer flew up to Teesside Airport from London, hired a car and drove to Helmsley.
“It is a very, very striking house, both the frontage and the view of the park from the large drawing room on a sunny day. I stood on this spot thinking, ‘I’ve got to have it’.” Two days later, he learned that he had won the sealed bids tender.
And now, after more than three decades of a rich and fulfilled life at Knipes Hall, where he has become an active member of the local community, 66-year-old Mr Vander Weyer, a proud Yorkshireman of Flemish ancestry, is selling up.
He has bought an apartment in Covent Garden, but will split his time between the capital and Helmsley. His mother, now 93, still lives in the North Yorkshire market town and he plans to set up home in part of her house. His biggest downsizing challenge, he says, is how to organise his collection of at least 2,000 books.
Knipes Hall, on the western side of Helmsley, less than five minutes’ walk from the market square, is on the market with Blenkin & Co for offers in excess of £1.45m.
With five bedrooms, two bathrooms, a reception hall, drawing room, dining room opening onto the garden, study, kitchen, utility room and cellars, it stands in 1.5 acres of grounds, including landscaped walled gardens and a private drive.
There is scope for extension and remodelling, subject to planning permission. The double garage could be incorporated into the main house, creating a double-storey extension, and there is potential access to the garden from the extensive cellars.
Protected by woodland and rising ground on the north side, the property, built by Lord Feversham for the children of estate workers in 1822, has a magnificent view of Duncombe Park and its Ionic Temple as well as Helmsley’s ruined medieval castle. Mr Vander Weyer is only the third owner in its 200-year history, and the first outside the Feversham family.
Edward Hartshorne, managing director of Blenkin & Co, said: “Knipes Hall enjoys one of the best settings in North Yorkshire; it sits in gracious isolation at the edge of town, a Roman temple taking centre stage within its classical view across ancient hunting grounds.
“The hall’s long drive provides the property with a welcome degree of separation from neighbours, but what is really creating a stir amongst the big-spending buyers on the market is the singular view that no-one else can lay claim to, except perhaps the Feversham family of Duncombe Park.”
For all its sense of seclusion, Knipes Hall is also part of a thriving community. “What I think is very special is the neighbourliness in Helmsley,” says Mr Vander Weyer. “If I walked from here to the Arts Centre, which is a real hub of the community, I would greet half a dozen neighbours and everyone would say hello and have a chat.”
Like many Yorkshire market towns, Helmsley is a popular location for retirees, and also families; it is within the catchment of Ryedale School, an Ofsted ‘outstanding’ co-ed secondary school.
Mr Vander Weyer says that when he arrived in the late 1980s, Helmsley was already an attractive shopping destination, but in the last 10 or 15 years has developed its own ‘café culture’: “The locals as well as the visitors really enjoy this. You can now sit outside or in the little café gardens.
"It’s a very normal thing to find your friends and neighbours, the local vicar, all meeting up. It’s hard to pick a favourite, but we all love Porters Coffee Shop and also Mannion & Co Kitchen.”
On his future, Mr Vander Weyer “I’d like to travel a little more. I’m still a working journalist. I’d like to spend a little more time in London than in the past few years. I like being in the thick of it.”
His decision has also been prompted by the death of his beloved golden retriever, Douglas, who passed away recently at the age of almost 14: “I always said I would wait whilst ever he was here, but that is another tie gone now.”
He has thoroughly enjoyed his time at Knipes Hall, pointing out that the 750 sqft drawing room – the former school-room – has, along with the generous adjoining hall, proved the perfect place for entertaining, and as a rehearsal and performance space for musicians and amateur dramatics.
Mr Vander Weyer is widely engaged in the performing arts. He is a long-serving trustee of the Arts Centre, a founder member of the 1812 Theatre Company at the Arts Centre, and a former chairman of the Ryedale Music Festival.
“I live here on my own, but it’s perfectly cosy,” he says. “I would say that the pleasures of this house are that it is very light and has high ceilings. It’s also very warm as it has very thick stone walls. And it is completely private and quiet, yet with four minutes of every kind of shop.”