When the Swan Hotel in Aberford closed its doors, villagers fervently hoped that that it would reopen.
Chris Cass was one of them but it wasn’t to be. Boarded up with metal shutters, the pub, near Wetherby, was a sad reminder that old-fashioned hostelries are in decline, even in sought-after areas.
“We used to have three pubs in Aberford and now there’s just the one. The Swan was fantastic for food and I was as as sad as anyone that it closed but clearly wasn’t viable” says Chris, who spotted the opportunity to give the grade II listed building a new life.
Keen to design and construct his own home, he realised that the grounds of the pub offered the perfect plot and that converting the historic building into two houses would also help fund his own self-build project.
He then did what the property rule book advises against and bought the pub without planning permission to convert.
“It was a gamble,” he admits. “But I had to have it. I could see exactly what it could become and the thought of being able to build my own house drove me on.”
His punt paid off. After purchasing the building two-and-a-half years ago, he hired architect Simon North. They managed to get planning permission to convert The Swan and add a single storey extension, but only after a year-long wait complicated by the property’s listed status, former use and objections from some villagers
“I can understand that people objected to it because they didn’t want to lose the amenity, but realistically it had gone and the building was rotting. I’m not really sure how it was still standing. We had to put a huge amount of steel into it,” says Chris, who runs a recruitment company.
The listing meant that he had to work closely with the local authority conservation officer to ensure the property was restored sensitively. The first requirement was an archaeological dig.
This confirmed that the former coaching inn was built about 1650 with an 1850s extension. Inside, few of its period features had survived after various radical makeovers so reconfiguring the layout of the L-shaped building wasn’t too difficult, save for retaining a significant chimney breast.
Outside, the pub’s peeling white stucco render could have been repaired and repainted but Chris says: “It would’ve been cheaper but I wanted to do a proper job. The building couldn’t breathe and so the stone was absorbing moisture and slowly eroding. I had the render taken off and the walls sandblasted and repointed with lime mortar so it can breathe and you can see the lovely, traditional Aberford limestone.”
The work on what was Chris’s first ever residential development project took 18 months and went at least 20 per cent over budget but the result is two beautiful new homes.
Swan House has five bedrooms and is on the market with Renton & Parr for £850,000. Cygnet, which has three bedrooms and a two-storey annexe, is £725,000.
“I was surprised at how long the project took and I bust the budget because I didn’t want to compromise by using cheap materials but it was worth the extra time and money. It gives me a lot of satisfaction to know that I have preserved the building for at least another 300 years. When the houses are sold I can start on building my own home.”
Those thinking of following in Chris’s footsteps could face a more difficult journey.
The rate of pub closures remains high. According to the Campaign for Real Ale, an average of 21 UK hostelries shut down each week, so there is no shortage of them for sale. However, new regulations were brought in this summer to help protect them from a change of use.
The government removed permitted development rights in response to CAMRA’s concerns that developers and pub chains were demolishing and changing the use of pubs without the need for planning permission. Now, full planning permission is required if you want to convert one, along with proof that the building is no longer viable as a pub.
Gary Murphy of Allsop property valuers and auctioneers says: “Quite often pubs are old, interesting buildings and they come with large car parks. This means there is a potential for development. “You have to prove they are no longer viable as a pub, but if they are vacant and are being sold at auction that’s generally a good indicator that they are not.”
* Swan House and Cygnet House are on Main Street, Aberford, near Wetherby.
Swan House, £850,000 has 3,800 sq ft of space, five bedrooms, a 34ft4in dining kitchen and two reception rooms.Outside, there is a garden and double garage.
Cygnet House, £725,000, has 3,400 sq ft of space with three bedrooms, a 27ft 7in living kitchen, a two-storey annexe, double garage and garden.
For details contact Renton & Parr, tel: 01937 582731, www.rentonandparr.co.uk
*Aberford is a rural village with a wide range of amenities, which include a primary school, and regular bus services. It is one mile from the A1M.