House from 1600s reflects owner’s true love of history

The Old Court House.
The Old Court House.
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A love of historic property and obsessive attention to detail have combined to give this house integrity. Sharon Dale reports.

It’s considered daring and fashionable to take historic properties and give them a 21st century twist but there are still a few purists out there and Martin Fox is one of them.

Not for him glazed extensions, minimalist interiors and Philippe Starck furniture. One of the most satisfying jobs when he bought The Old Court House in Woolley, was ripping out a series of previous modernisations.

The 1970s and 80s additions, including fireplaces, suspended ceilings, Artex, picture rails and all the kitchen and bathroom fittings, went in the skip.

“I don’t know why anyone would want to put those things in a place like this?” says Martin, who bought the house five years ago after being captivated by its character and the fact that it is the oldest home in the village.

It was built in 1642 as a farmhouse, spent time as a local prison and boasts a tunnel leading from the cellar to nearby Woolley Hall, a legacy from its English Civil War origins.

Martin has  spent a small fortune and most of his spare time working to restore and reinstate as many of its original features as possible.

“I love old property. My last house was 1792 but it was brick and I’d always wanted an old stone house. As soon as I saw this I knew I had to have it. I went up into the loft with a torch and I could see all the original woodwork hidden under the suspended ceilings. That was a big thrill.”

The grade two listed house needed re-plumbing and rewiring, but Martin went much further than a standard refurbishment.

“I stripped the whole house back and started again. Not everyone would’ve bothered to do that but I am a perfectionist and so everything has to look right and be appropriate for the age of the building, otherwise I couldn’t live with it. It would annoy me,” he says.

The old kitchen units were replaced by Chalon cabinets from the Little London Kitchen Company in Rawdon and topped with white granite, while the floors are Jerusalem stone from Knaresborough’s Lapicida.

In the grand hall, the false ceiling was torn down along with modern pine beams to reveal the original oak beams and trusses. The result is a magnificent double-height space that always elicits a “wow” from visitors.

In one sitting room, the original floor-to-ceiling fireplace had been covered over and damaged so Martin recreated it with old stone.  Previous occupants had blocked up the 17th century front doorway, so in the interests of historical accuracy , he reinstated it and bought an authentic stud door from a castle in Scotland.

It was a big outlay and will generate no return, but it gives him immense pleasure.

Making the property more energy efficient did make financial sense and while he has exposed some of the old stone, other walls have been heavily insulated.

A joiner by trade, Martin, who owns Precious Stone, a marble and granite specialist in Halifax, did much of the work himself helped by his father, Alan.

“In the week, I would get up at 5am and work on the house for three hours till 8am and then I’d be back here at 5pm working till 10pm. At weekend I’d work on it from 6am till 8pm. It took about two years to complete and it’s fair to say I was obsessed but I enjoyed doing it,” he says .

Upstairs, he opened the bedroom ceilings to the rafters and replaced bathroom suites with period sanitary ware. One of his prize buys was a polished cast iron bath from a luxury apartment in Paris, while the 1930s loo and cistern are by Japkap and together make a magnificent “throne”. The radiators are as old as he could find – Victorian.

The furniture is almost all period. Martin and his fiancée Claire have scoured antique shops, salerooms and salvage yards all over Britain to find the right pieces for the property.

The dresser came from Period Oak in Wales and is simply decorated with a collection of old pewter plates and spoons.  The dining table was from an old manor house, the desk from Bonhams, the meat hook in the kitchen is from the Harrogate Antiques Fair  and the mirrors are from the website, Decorative Collective. The sofas are all Howard and Sons.

“We enjoy finding the right pieces and we’ve had to travel to find them,” says Claire, who has used silk flowers, from Wall to Wall Interiors in York, and paintings to add colour.

The couple are happy to sell their finds onto the next owners of the house, which is now up for sale for offers over £1m.

They are selling reluctantly as they need a property with land for Claire, a former dressage champion, who would like to expand her equestrian business.

“I love this house but it’s not right for Claire. Leaving it will be hard after all the effort and time I have put into it, but I am very pleased to have put it back to how it should be,” says Martin. “I hope whoever buys it feels the same way about this building as I do. “

Martin’s and Claire’s Useful Contacts:

Little London Kitchen Company, Rawdon,

Period Oak, Powys,

Decorative Collective antiques,

Precious Stone, marble and granite, Halifax,

Wall to Wall Interiors, York, silk flowers,

York Fine Arts, paintings,

Fenwick and Fenwick, Broadway, Worcestershire, tel: 01386 853227

Keith Hockin Antiques, Cheltenham,

Mirfield Reclaimed Stone and Slate, tel: 01924 495515

The Old Court House, Woolley

The Old Court House, Woolley, near Wakefield

Price: Offers over £1 million.

Contact: England Residential, tel: 01484 842105,

The mid-17th century, grade two listed house has a breakfast kitchen with Chalon units and a four oven Aga, two sitting rooms, a spectacular full-height dining hall, a wetroom and keeping cellars.

Upstairs, there is a galleried landing with sitting area, a large master bedroom with en-suite bathroom boasting a period cast iron bath from Paris, three further bedrooms and a stylish house bathroom.

Outside, there is a detached double garage and a rear garden.