At the cutting edge of restoration

Mark and Michelle De Luca, pictured in their hair salon
Mark and Michelle De Luca, pictured in their hair salon
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THE village of Thornton in West Yorkshire may be overshadowed by Haworth when it comes to the Brontes but its buildings remain steeped in history.

Although many of its listed properties are empty and falling into disrepair, one entrepreneur has seized the opportunity to develop a 19th century building into an modern base for her new business.

Instead of buying or renting a retail unit, Michelle De Luca decided to restore 379A Thornton Road, a grade two listed property which she bought for £57,000 in September 2010, for her hairdressing salon,

According to a conservation report by Bradford Council, the building forms part of an intimate cul-de-sac close of workers’ cottages built in 1832, 12 years after the Brontes left the village for Haworth.

Mrs De Luca said: “The village we live in has quite a few listed buildings, which fits in with our brand quite well. When we bought the building, the property market was quite low and a lot of people would have shied away from such a big project, but we thought we could develop it.”

She added: “It was a bit of a risk because we didn’t have planning consent when we bought it, but the council was happy we were doing something with it.”

The building was derelict but neighbours told her that its last use was as an accountant’s office and prior to that it had been a pub and shops as well as residential.

Mrs De Luca and her surveyor husband, Mark, spent nine months and £10,000 restoring the building, saving money by doing most of the work themselves. They also called in help from Mrs De Luca’s father, who is an electrician.

Work included restoring the roof, windows and doors as well as carrying out minor repairs on the stone work.

Mr De Luca said: “With the building being so old, everything we touched fell apart, but fortunately we found some good things too.”

The couple discovered some of the building’s hidden original features, including the original timber partition walls on the first floor. They kept and restored as many of the building’s original features as they could to maintain its character.

Mr De Luca added: “We grafted for nine months but we surprised ourselves with what we achieved. People shy away from old properties and prefer to knock them down and build something new instead but it’s much better if you can restore a building like this and we’ve shown it can be done without too much of a headache.”

The salon, which has been running for seven months, is run by Mrs De Luca and employs two other staff, although there are plans to expand with a third employee. It already has built up a client base of 500.

“The reaction we have had has been really good,” she said. “Everyone falls in love with it when they see it.”

The couple now want to encourage other entrepreneurs to take on listed buildings and restore the country’s heritage. “The unfortunate thing for Thornton is that it has sat in the shadow of Haworth because people forget where the Brontes were born,” said Mr De Luca.

“These listed properties are getting into a very fragile state because they are not being maintained.

“If someone is willing to improve an old building, the council’s conservation team will work with them because they are trying to improve something.

“That was our attitude. We said we would work with what we have got and they were up for that.

“It was a bit of a courageous stance because it could have backfired but although it was a hard struggle we had a good experience and it would not put us off buying another listed property.”

The historic core of Thornton village, located five miles to the west of Bradford city centre, was designated a conservation area in 1978.

The area retains the aspect and proportions of the early-to-middle 19th century and is typical of a South Pennine village, according to Bradford Council.

The village is characterised by small narrow stone setted streets, branching off the central Market Street and interlinked by pedestrian alleyways.

Continued development of Market Street as the main commercial street after the construction of Thornton Road in 1826 has left a rich legacy of later nineteenth century shop frontages.

Village the birthplace of the Brontes

Thornton Village is on the outskirts of Bradford and is best known as being the birthplace of the Brontes.

The village was a very small hamlet at the time of the Brontes’ residence (1815-1820).

The first half of the nineteenth century saw unprecedented growth in West Yorkshire and Bradford’s population increased fourfold.

Despite its relatively isolated location, Thornton saw a considerable rise in its fortunes, due principally to the industrial revolution and an increased demand for sandstone hewn from local quarries.

The subsequent rise in the population of Thornton led to the building of a new church, which replaced the old Bell Chapel, where Patrick Bronte served during the family’s stay in the village.

Soon after this, a railway line was built from Bradford through Clayton to Denholme, which connected Thornton to the Great Northern Railway.