Owners say a fond farewell to historic Thorpe Hall near Robin Hood's Bay where smugglers tales abound

The owners of Thorpe Hall near Robin Hood's Bay are saying farewell to a home rich in history and stories of smuggling

When Angelique Russell and her husband David decided to move out of London for a change of lifestyle, their search area was enormous, which meant they were spoilt for choice when it came to finding a new home. “We looked all over from France to the Cotswolds,” says Angelique.

Hours trawling property portals, followed by a variety of viewings came to nothing until they spotted Thorpe Hall in Fylingthorpe, near Robin Hood’s Bay, which is in easy striking distance of David’s native Teesside. The historic 10-bedroom property is tucked away but within walking distance of village amenities and the famous bay. It is also close to Fyling Hall, a popular independent school.

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“I loved the house, the setting, the sea views and the school. I grew up on the edge of Lake Michigan in Chicago so being by water really appealed,” says Angelique, who has spent a very happy 12 years at the hall before deciding to sell.

Thorpe Hall in Fylingthorpe, near Robin Hood's Bay

The 6,000 sq ft property, which has a separate coach house/office, outbuildings and four acres of land, is on the market with the Mr and Mrs Clarke agency for £1.5m and is under offer after attracting interest from both here and abroad. “Even talking about leaving this place makes me sad because we have loved living here so much but our daughter is going to university soon and so the time is right to move on,” adds Angelique, who hopes to stay in Yorkshire.

She and her family have left their mark on Thorpe Hall in the best possible way while maintaining the integrity of the Grade II*-listed building. The property was built in 1680 for the Fawside family from Scotland and it remained in family ownership until 1956. The Fawsides, who later changed their name to “Farsyde”, extended the old house in both 1835 and 1844, taking tremendous care to blend the old with the new.

The family’s legacy is still very much intact, with their coat of arms carved above the doors, fireplaces and on the outbuildings. The interiors are packed with period features, including mullion windows and the staircase and panelling.

“The house was structurally sound when we bought it. It just needed love as it had been a second home, rather than a full-time home,” says Angelique, whose biggest task was finding enough furniture to fill a house that was gargantuan compared with the family’s previous four-bedroom home in London. “At the beginning, David and I were both working and didn’t have much time to look for furniture but luckily my parents-in-law helped us out by sourcing some for us,” she adds. “We found other pieces over time ourselves from antique shops and also from charity shops and the Whitby car boot sale.

The hall is within a few minutes walk of the beach at Robin Hood's Bay

The new decor is stylish but sensitive to the centuries-old home and outside, the garden and pond have been revived with the help of a “fantastic gardener”.

The Russells’ tenure at Thorpe Hall has also allowed others to enjoy this precious piece of old England, as they turned one of the two wings into accommodation for friends, family and B&B guests. “Doing the B&B allowed me to have a lifestyle change and work from home and it was a lovely way of sharing this special house,” says Angelique. “Our guests loved the location because it’s quiet and tucked away, but it’s only a few minutes walk to the beach in Robin Hood’s Bay. They also loved the history of the hall and the fact that it is quirky and old.”

Its history also attracted the attention of the BBC Coast series production team, and geographer and presenter Nicholas Crane. They visited and filmed at the property while exploring its role in the smuggling operations that sprang up in Robin Hood’s Bay and Fylingthorpe in the 1700s.

The bay was the Yorkshire coast’s hottest spot for contraband after the government imposed huge import duties on tea, silk, tobacco and spirits with the objective of paying for wars in France. The large tariffs meant that a pound of tea cost a week’s wages. Entrepreneurial locals realised that the village’s geography made it the perfect place to smuggle in illicit “duty free” goods from abroad.

The hall retains many of its original features

The wide bay with towering cliffs was ideal for landing ships, while the headland offered a great vantage point, where lookouts could scan land and sea for excise men. “The main focus of the BBC programme at the hall was on the drainage tunnel from Thorpe Hall to the bay as it was one of the smugglers’ routes,” says Angelique.

Smugglers would creep up the beach and crawl up the tunnel with the precious goods while “posting” it through holes in the tunnel roof, which led into the cottages. Thorpe Hall’s squire was said to be involved in financing the operation and at the very least turned a blind eye to the illegal goings on in return for a share of the spoils. Some of them were hidden in the underground, stone-lined storage chamber, which still exists in the grounds of the hall and is said to have been the drop-off point for a regular barrel of brandy to thank the local constable for his “co-operation”.

Inside the hall, there is a small, barrel-shaped wood carving halfway up the stairs that signifies the location of a hidden door leading to a former priest hole where more tea, spirits, tobacco and silk were hidden. The local history section of the excellent Robin Hood’s Bay website www.robin-hoods-bay.co.uk says: “Smuggling at sea was backed up by many on land who were willing to finance and transport contraband. Fisherfolk, farmers, clergy and gentry alike were all involved.

Fierce battles ensued between smugglers and excise men, both at sea and on land, and Bay wives were known to pour boiling water over excise men from bedroom windows in the narrow alleyways. Hiding places, bolt holes and secret passages abounded. It is said that a bale of silk could pass from the bottom of the village to the top without leaving the houses.”

Half way up the stairs is a secret door leading to a priest's hole which was also used to store contraband brought by smugglers in the 1700s.

“This house has been such a magical place for my daughter to grow up in,” adds Angelique. “I feel very lucky to have lived here and my hope is that the new owners will love it as much as we have.”

*Thorpe Hall is under offer but to register interest should it become available again, call 0330 111 9766 or go to www.mrandmrsclarke.com

On the doorstep

Angelique’s favourite places to walk and eat in and around Robin Hood’s Bay include:

Walking: Down to the old railway line to the beach at Robin Hood’s Bay and a magical two-mile woodland walk from May Beck to the Falling Foss waterfall.

Eating: Restaurant Number 20 at Port Mulgrave; Bramblewick Fish and Grill, Robin Hood’s Bay; and the Fylingdales Inn, Fylingthorpe.

The owners have sensitively modernised and ran part of the house as a B&B. They are now selling.

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A beautifully decorated bedroom rich in colour and historic features
Original panelling and fireplace