Oversized undertaking

Kath Doggett with her dog Tan at Poppleton House, Nether Poppleton.
Kath Doggett with her dog Tan at Poppleton House, Nether Poppleton.
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Tucked away up a track and shielded by trees and overgrown shrubs, Poppleton House was so well hidden that many villagers didn’t even realise it existed. The first Kath Doggett knew of it was when she opened the Yorkshire Post and saw it advertised for sale.

“I’d lived in the village myself and never knew it was there,” says Kath, who fell in love with the property’s faded grandeur and obvious potential. “It excited a lot of interest and when I went to view it was chock-a-block with people. It went to sealed bids and fortunately ours won.”

The scale of the renovation was so great that she and her family were forced to wait for six months before they could move in.

The grade two listed house in pretty Nether Poppleton, near York, was built around 1720, but had no central heating and needed everything from a new roof to re-plumbing, wiring and plastering throughout. All the original window frames were rotten and the property needed underpinning.

“It was a mammoth task. We even found dead and live squirrels in one room. They’d fallen down the chimney after climbing a sycamore tree overhanging the house.

“But it had lovely feel and the original features were all there. It was remarkable and we were very lucky that it hadn’t ever been modernised,” says Kath, who bought the house in 1999.

Among the period fixtures and fittings were fabulous fireplaces, including a marble one in the drawing room, panelling, alcoves, working shutters and an enormous Venetia-style window throwing light onto the stairway. Fortunately, she managed to find a building firm that could tackle just about everything, including making a bespoke kitchen and restoring the staircase.

“They were great and they managed to save all the features, while stripping everything back. The only thing we couldn’t save was the original tiles in the reception hall.

“We took them up and they were laid on soil, so we had to get a mini digger in there to dig out so we could put in a damp proof membrane and lay a concrete floor. We found some replacement tiles and managed to salvage enough of the old ones to re-use in the study.”

The existing layout was also changed to suit a more modern lifestyle. The servants’ staircase which ran up next to the main one was removed leaving space on the first floor for an en-suite bathroom, and a new door was created in the dining room giving easier access to the kitchen.

Simpson of York handed over the keys leaving Kath to plan the interior decoration, which was another challenge. Her previous home was big but the generously proportioned Georgian rooms demanded large-scale furniture. “We had to buy big antique furniture and lots of it and lots of chandeliers too. I’m not planning to move but if I ever do I’m not sure what I’d do with such a big dining table,” says Kath, who now uses it to lay out breakfast for guests at her newly-opened luxury B&B. She uses the pine table in the Amdega conservatory accessed from the kitchen.

It’s her favourite room and the site of an old well, which has been exposed and topped with a reinforced glass cover. It also looks out over the garden, which took years to reclaim from the wilderness. It is now a mix of mature trees, shrubs and flowering plants along with three quarters of a ton of daffodil bulbs.

Flowers are a theme at Poppleton House thanks to Kath’s job as a freelance floral designer, demonstrator and judge for the National Association for Flower Arranging Societies.

There are arrangements everywhere from the centrepiece on the dining table to the carefully arranged display on the hall table.

They are the finale to another facelift that has given her new venture a place in the Alistair Sawday’s Special Places to Stay guide. Kath decided to open a B&B after her sons grew up and left home. “It’s a big house and it’s a way of generating an income and utilising the space. I am really looking forward to sharing the place too.”

She has created three letting rooms on the first floor decorated with a mix of old and new, all in keeping with the elegant style of the house. She has also delved further into the history of the property in case visitors want to know more about where they are staying.

It has its fair share of drama. The first owner was a Sheriff of York, John Dodsworth, a philanthropist who helped educate impoverished local children. It is also in the history books for sadder reasons. “Apparently the couple who lived here in 1908 were among the first to be prosecuted by the NSPCC for a child cruelty case.

“At that time you could literally buy children and they bought two girls to act as companions for their sickly child. In reality they were treated as slaves.

“They were seen crying and dressed in rags and the couple were reported. The husband of the house got away with it as he said he left the domestic side of things to his wife. She was jailed and when she was taken away, locals gathered outside and literally drummed her out of the village by bashing pots and pans.”

Later it was a maternity home for unmarried mothers and then became a private house once more, since when it has seen many happy times.

“It’s a wonderful house and I can’t ever imagine leaving. Before I came here I’d moved 15 times because of my former husband’s job and we lived in some lovely places but this is the best” says Kath. “It’s my first foray into B&B so I really hope the people who stay here agree.”

Poppleton House luxury B&B, www.bbyork.co.uk