It’s hard to believe that Hellifield Peel Castle, an outstanding historic home now so perfect, warm and cosy, was once in such a perilous state of disrepair that, had it not been rescued, it would have collapsed and been lost to the nation forever.
It took a great deal of imagination to see that the moss-covered ruin could be revived after 60 years of dereliction. The man who made it happen, against all the odds, was architect Francis Shaw of Harrogate-based Shaw & Jagger Architects.
He and his wife, Karen, bought the building, which is classed as a scheduled ancient monument, in 2004 and embarked on one of the most perilous, difficult and romantic restoration projects ever undertaken.
There was a strong feeling that fate had led Francis to Peel Castle. He had spotted it on the Buildings at Risk register and recalled visiting it when he was 14 and on holiday in the Dales with his parents. “It was my dream from the age of seven to live in a castle and this was my chance,” he says.
The ensuing endeavour to bring the decrepit scheduled ancient monument back to life was filmed by Channel 4’s Grand Designs and the ultimate compliment was paid when presenter Kevin McCloud revealed that the property was one of his favourites. He waxed lyrical about the cleverly thought-out design, the attention to detail and expressed a deep admiration for the hands-on, hard graft that left Francis and Karen absolutely exhausted but undefeated.
Their reward was a beautiful, eco-friendly home in a perfect, tucked away position in Hellifield on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, near Skipton. The property, which briefly came up for sale in 2016 before the Shaws changed their mind about a move to Bath and opted to stay in Yorkshire, is now on the market for £1.75m with Knight Frank.
The reason is that it is now time for the Shaws to downsize from the 7,297 sq ft, seven-bedroom property to something smaller.
The house comes with well documented history thanks to its time in the media spotlight. The Peel Tower dates from 1305 and was built by one of the last Templar Knights, Sir John Harcourt. For most of its life the property was owned by the Hamerton family, during which time it was Georgianised.
After being requisitioned as a prisoner of war camp, it was bought by furniture maker Harry Lund in the 1940s. He took the wood he wanted from it and then staged a dilapidation sale, when the property was stripped of everything from its roof to its panelling.
It took two years to make the ruin habitable and there were inevitable issues to overcome. The couple budgeted £6,000 for archaeological research, which spiralled to £20,000. Then, three months into the project, the central wall collapsed. It was a major setback but it allowed them to rethink their original plans and after clambering up the scaffold and realising what a phenomenal view there was from the top, the Shaws decided to add a loft apartment with floor-to-ceiling windows and a roof terrace.
“That added another £100,000 to the cost but we went for broke,” says Francis, who insisted on the best materials and craftspeople.
One of the smartest things the Shaws did to secure the building’s future was to install a hugely efficient geothermal heating system via bore holes sunk 100 metres deep in the surrounding grounds. This makes the property relatively cheap to run, a huge bonus in these days of spiralling energy prices.
The interiors are gorgeous and were initially designed to cater for guests when the Shaws ran the castle as a home and B&B for a few years. “It was very successful and we had guests from all over the world who had seen the house on Grand Designs, but we stopped doing it six years ago, so now it’s a family home,” says Francis.
He and Karen refer to their home as re-creation rather than a restoration, such was the scale of the work involved, though few would guess that is the case thanks to the attention to historic detail.
Their castle is also filled with fabulous finds from auction sale rooms and antique shops, along with work by designer makers and artists. Francis designed the fireplace, featuring the Harcourt’s coat of arms and added the Latin motto that translates as “I spurn adversity”.
He also designed the staircase, four-poster beds and the bespoke sandblasted granite bath, oriented to give a rural view. Some of the furniture and effects will be available for the new owners to buy.
“As we are downsizing we won’t be taking it all with us,” says Francis, who adds: “We love the house and we have enjoyed living here but it is time to go. It is such a beautiful area on the edge of the Dales in a secret valley on the outskirts of Hellifield with rural views that are staggering.”
He now has his sights on a self-build if he can find a suitable plot but first, he will have to bid an emotional final farewell to his Grand Design.
“I will miss it and I can’t imagine how I will feel when I drive away from it for the last time,” he says. “I’ll probably cry.”
Hellifield Peel Castle has a hall, cloakroom, drawing room, dining room, sitting room, study, living kitchen, utility room, laundry room and boiler room. It also has six double, ensuite bedrooms and a one-bedroom loft apartment. Outside, there is a large parking area, gardens and grounds extending to almost two acres.
For details contact Knight Frank, tel: 01423 594286, www.knightfrank.co.uk.
*Hellifield Peel Castle occupies a spectacular parkland setting on the southern fringe of this small Dales village, between the popular market towns of Skipton and Settle, on the southern edge of the beautiful Yorkshire Dales National Park. Hellifield village has shops, two public houses, a doctor’s surgery, a church and a village primary school. Skipton and Settle are both within easy access and Skipton has a direct rail link to London.