The spirit of a place is rarely mentioned in property brochures, perhaps because it’s invisible, but if you could bottle it and present it to prospective buyers then it would be another big selling point for Longfield, in Sowerby, the home of the late Austin Mitchell. For almost 50 years, the capacious Georgian property has been filled with love, laughter and happy memories.
The Grade II-listed house, which sits on the edge of the sought-after village between Halifax and Hebden Bridge, has five reception rooms, seven bedrooms and three acres of land and is now on the market for £1.25m with Boococks
For Austin Mitchell, a former Oxford don, Yorkshire TV presenter of Calendar and Labour MP for Great Grimsby from 1977 to 2015, Longfield was always a haven, a retreat away from the spotlight and the all-consuming demands of politics, though it also enjoyed its fair share of parties and dinners. He and his wife, writer and former TV producer Linda McDougall, bought the house in March 1972 and he lived there until his death, aged 86, in August this year.
“I was working for the BBC in Manchester and Austin was at Yorkshire TV, so we were looking for somewhere more or less halfway between the two TV companies.
“We were living in Shipley where Austin’s parents were, and travelling to Manchester every day was getting me down. At that point there was no M62 as they were still in the process of building it," says Linda who met Austin when he was working in her native New Zealand as a lecturer in history while hosting current affairs shows.
The halfway point between Leeds and Manchester is Halifax, which delighted Austin, whose parents were born and raised in Calderdale’s “capital”. He had visited regularly as a child to stay with his grandparents and felt a great affinity with it.
However, finding the perfect home in the area was proving difficult until an acquaintance mentioned that the owner of a large house in Sowerby was thinking about moving. “I asked the owner if we could look at it and she agreed. I loved it and told Austin that if I couldn’t have this house I didn’t want to move,” says Linda. “It is solid, brilliantly built, the orientation is just right and the views across the valley are wonderful. I was so desperate to have this house, I offered the owner £15,000 and she was very excited about that and accepted. I later found out why. She had only bought it a few years earlier for £4,500.”
She and Austin didn’t mind paying over the odds and the property has proved to be a worthwhile investment over the last half century, though potential profit was never a consideration.
“It has been the most wonderful family home for us and the four children and our eight grandchildren,” says Linda.
It is where Austin kept his vast collection of books and his equally large collection of photographs. It is where he often wrote his newspaper columns and his books, which included The Confessions of a Political Maverick, Austin Mitchell’s Grand Book of Yorkshire Humour, and Calendar Boy about his time at YTV.
“I always think he was at his happiest at YTV. It only lasted seven years but he loved it,” says Linda, who adds that his commitment as MP for Grimsby was unwavering, though he
kept details of his “real home” quiet. He didn’t really like people knowing we owned this place because it looks big and grand but it was bought with the money we made when we were working in television, which back then was very lucrative,” says Linda.
Austin spent a lot of time flitting between his constituency house in Grimsby and his London flat in easy reach of the House of Commons but home was always Longfield. Built in 1729, the house is in a quiet, private spot but is just a short walk to the village shop in Sowerby.
The property, which has had a new roof, retains many period features, including wide floorboards, Yorkshire stone floors, box-framed doorways, shuttered windows and the servants’ bell.
As a whole, it has a cloakroom, five reception rooms, a library, two kitchens and seven bedrooms. Outside, is garaging, a workshop and stabling and a parking area.
When Austin Mitchell left politics in 2015 and he and Linda were able to spend more time in Yorkshire, they divided the property to form a four bedroom home for themselves and a three-bedroom “cottage” to let, though Darren Harley, manager of Boococks estate agency in Halifax, says: “The cottage can very easily be converted back as part of the main house.”
The new owners might also be interested in buying some of the furniture, including the 19th century Luddendenfoot Sewage Board boardroom table that serves as a dining table and the 10ft long pine table in the kitchen, which came from a local mill.
Linda, who is busy writing a biography of “the first powerful woman in Downing Street”, Harold Wilson’s assistant and right hand woman Marcia Williams, is selling to downsize, though she intends to stay in the Halifax area.
“I love it here and it’s even better since the wonderful Piece Hall has been developed. It’s very different from when we first arrived. Back then we were living near struggling hill farmers and now the hills are home to doctors and lawyers.”
As she prepares to leave Longfield,she adds: ”This has been a wonderful house and all the family will be sad to see it go. I love it here but it’s not the same without Austin.”
For more details on Longfield, Sowerby, contact Boococks, Halifax, tel: 01422 386376.
*The village of Sowerby, which is nestled in Pennine countryside close to the town of Sowerby Bridge, is very well served. It still has a village shop, a primary school and a church, among other amenities. It is just over four miles from Halifax and Hebden Bridge and is popular with those who drive to work in Manchester and Leeds, which are a 50 and 40 minute journey away respectively. Sowerby Bridge has a train station with services to the cities.
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