“These are the moments of revelation which compensate for the chaos, the discomfort, the toil of living,” wrote Winifred Holtby in her famous 1936 novel, South Riding.If you substitute “living” for “restoration”, the quote could easily relate to the revival of her family home in the pretty village of Cottingham near Hull.In the Art Deco era, when she visited often, the grand, period residence was full of life, parties, political debate and literary discussions. By 2001 when Stephen and Victoria Voase bought it from the University of Hull, it had been reduced to student digs and was in a sad and sorry state.The couple worked tirelessly and with great patience and determination to convert the shabby halls of residence back into a house that Winifred Holtby would recognise. Now, after 19 very happy years there, the Voases are selling to take on the challenge of another historic building in need of help.
Holtby House as it is now
So Holtby House is on the market with Woolley and Parks estate agents for £1.5m and includes the main house, an annexe and a separate four-bedroom coach house in the grounds.“Leaving is going to be very hard because we have really enjoyed living here,” says Victoria Voase, who fell in love with the location, the potential of the property and its claim to fame.“We lived nearby and so we knew the house and we knew it would be a challenge. A lot of other buyers were put off because it was in such a state of disrepair. It had been empty for a long time and the university had made it into a rabbit warren of 26 bedrooms and three kitchens. It was a lot bigger than we wanted but we could see how the house used to be and how it could be again.”She was well aware of Winifred Holtby’s association with the property thanks to Hull University which, while carving up the building in the 1950s, had the good grace to pay tribute to its connection with one of Yorkshire’s most revered writers.It installed a plaque stating “Winifred Holtby, novelist and social reformer, 1898 - 1935. Author of South Riding. Home of the Holtby family 1919-1937”. It also changed the name of the property from Bainesse, Indian for “welcome”, to Holtby House.
Poet Philip Larkin lived there for a short time when he moved to Hull to become the university librarian in 1955. He took an instant dislike to his lodgings describing to a friend that he “felt as if he were lying in some penurious doss-house with hobos snoring and quarrelling all around him”.Larkin, now buried in Cottingham cemetery, may have hated his bedsit but he would have appreciated the significance of the building and its plaque.Whether the he rated her work or not, there could be no denying that Winifred Holtby was a remarkable woman. The younger daughter of David Holtby, a wealthy farmer, and his wife, Alice Winn, she was a highly intelligent child and won a place at Somerville College, Oxford.She became a London-based journalist, influential feminist and a campaigner for peace and social justice. She wrote several novels but after being diagnosed with Bright’s disease, a form of renal sclerosis, she knew that South Riding would be her last book and put everything she had into it before she passed away at the age of 37.The result is a masterpiece based on her native East Riding. Published posthumously, it is the story of a community struggling through the post-World War 1 depression. Parts were inspired by her mother’s time in public office and tales of local government shenanigans. Alice Holtby was the first female “alderman” of the East Riding but resigned on publication of the book, which she had opposed.There were happier times and in her book “Testament of Friendship”, Vera Brittain writes of visiting Holtby House with her friend, Winifred.
Estate agent Mark Woolley of Woolley Parks says: “Winifred’s parents moved there in 1919 from their farming estate in Rudston. The property is one of the finer examples of the Victorian villas built around 1870 by the new gentry and shipping merchants of Hull.”
The hall with the original floor, which was restored
Restoring the house was a mission that Stephen and Victoria Voase were made for.Their company, S. Voase Builders, is highly respected and they both love heritage properties.“When we first moved in with two young children, we lived upstairs. There was no central heating so we bought a couple of fireplaces for the bedrooms and used a student kitchen,” says Victoria.“We then re-roofed the main house and then we renovated the coach house so we could let it out as a source of income.”The couple then began creating a West Wing, where they could live comfortably while restoring the main home. It includes an orangery and garages with accommodation above.When the partitions came down in the house, it was clear that there were few original features left save for the front door, the staircase, a few windows and the hall floor. The latter was covered in latex and Stephen spent long evenings scraping it off.
Undeterred, the Voases recreated the period details, installed eight working fireplaces and spared no expense on the stunning decor.
“The real fires are one of the best things. We use them all and we love them, especially at Christmas,” says Victoria, who is sad to be leaving Holtby House but also excited at the prospect of another project. “We have bought a Grade II * heritage building that hasn’t been touched for 50 years so it’s a new adventure.”
*Holtby House is for sale at £1.5m. For details visit www.holtbyhouse.co.ukMark Woolley of Woolley Parks says: “It is the most amazing house. As you enter via the sweeping driveway, you arrive at the Victorian entrance porch flanked by Corinthian-style columns befitting the splendour awaiting inside. This is a lovingly restored home offering over 6,500sqft of accommodation split into Main House with annexe and a four bedroom coach house.”