Blencowe Hall, Cumbria, United Kingdom
This historic Grade I listed fortified manor house sits on a bluff boasting incredible views of the Lakeland Fells. The hall has a rich history dating back to medieval times. A bold vision by the owners and award-winning restoration work has transformed this rare twin-towered dwelling into a stunning and unique place to stay.
From the moment you approach the building you will be wowed by its grandeur. One of the two towers of the manor still sports the battle scars of an attack that is believed to have taken place during the English Civil War. This dramatic mark of history has not been repaired, instead highlighted by the renovations with glazing and balconies for two of the luxurious bedrooms in the property. There are a further ten bedrooms to choose from, split across three floors. Blencowe Hall provides luxury accommodation for 24 guests in total.
All the rooms have been stylishly decorated in a traditional, yet contemporary style, with all the period features being lovingly retained. There are eleven bathrooms, mainly en-suite.
With a selection of beautifully presented communal rooms, including a games room with a snooker table, this outstanding property is perfect for a large group and grocery deliveries or catering can be organised. Alternatively the huge kitchen is superbly equipped for those in your party who love to cook, and there is a fabulous dining room where you can enjoy your meals with great views from the French windows.
Log burning stoves and comfortable couches make it tempting to do nothing but relax. However, there are stunning formal gardens and local walks to enjoy. The village of Greystoke is only a mile away with a traditional Cumberland food available at the local pub, the Boot and Shoe.
There are also plenty of options for activities in the area. These include mountain biking, quad biking, paintballing and clay pigeon shooting within the grounds of Blencowe Hall. The estate is only a short drive from Ullswater. Here you can relax and enjoy the lake from the comfort of an Ullswater Steamer, take a leisurely stroll around the National Trust Aira Force waterfalls, or challenge yourself with one of the Lakes best loved and most breath-taking walks- Helvellyn.
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Detailed History of the Restoration
Blencowe Hall was renovated in 2007 and 2008 with English Heritage approval to bring the North and South towers back in to use as holiday accommodation. Blencowe Hall is a Grade 1 listed building which means it is exceptional interest, sometimes considered to be internationally important (only 2.5% of listed buildings in England are classified Grade I). Donald Insall Associates was appointed as conservation architect to advise on the ruinous towers and to work with a local architect Graham Norman for the conversion.
Blencowe, in the Eden valley, is sited on the Petteril river, which divides it into two parts: Great and Little Blencow. The Blencowe family lived in the area from the early 1300s. A partly fortified house, Blencowe Hall, not the original seat of the family, was built in the late 1500s and has a tower at each end, one dating from the 1600s, which have subsequently fallen into ruin. The hall range has mullioned windows and has the date 1590 inscribed over the entrance.
When the building was acquired by the current owners the central and south ranges were still in occupation but the towers were vacant and decaying. They were in a ruinous state, both having no floor or roof structures, with only fireplaces and internal staircases remaining as a clue to their former arrangement.
Large sections of the embattled parapet walls were missing to the North Tower where substantial modern damage was caused by the insertion of a mono-pitch agricultural roof at the second floor level.
Similarly, the South Tower had suffered substantial settlement over time causing the three storey ‘gash’ and the un-nerving lean in the masonry wall at the corner of the structure. The existing habitable accommodation located in the central East wing and the West wing was in need of refurbishment and substantial redecoration. All existing metal windows were beyond salvaging and in most cases were already replaced with timber windows not in-keeping with the building. Sanitary facilities required modernisation with the heating system requiring replacement. Damp issues were in evidence in various locations. The room layout also needed to be modified for use as hotel accommodation.
The large breach or “gash” in the east wall of the South Tower is thought to have be a result of ‘slighting’(partial destruction designed to deny the use of fortifications to the enemy), around 1640 by Parliamentary forces in the English Civil War, combined with later structural settlement. The architect’s challenge was to bring the towers back into use as part of a proposed luxury country hotel. It was decided to retain the “gash” as it has significant visual impact and was an important part of building’s story.
A steel frame was used to support the leaning external walls. The new glazed wall behind the breach was set back from the original walls, so that the raw edges of the broken masonry remain visible. The first and second floor levels have glass small balconies with glass balustrades.
The original lead roof has been reinstated providing most of the weather-proofing for the tower, however the junction between the new glazed wall and the old stone wall remained exposed. The new wall is set well back with the vertical abutments protected by the balconies and the overhanging roof. The abutments have been waterproofed with a compressible water-resistant foam seal strip which takes up the irregular profile of the rubble stonework. The intervention into the masonry structure is minimal.
Existing stone staircases formerly open to the air, were now made water tight with new ‘cap houses’ at the third floor level which provide access to the new lead roofs.
The missing north tower embattled parapet has been rebuilt in salvaged matching stone recovered from the site. There is evidence that the architect has delineated the new stone from the old with a small projected edge.
The re-working of the internal spaces has seen the re-positioning of the kitchen into the west wing closer to the Dining Space located within the South Tower. The sitting area is located in the north tower at first floor level. The first and second floor levels are given over to bedroom accommodation with most rooms benefitting from the addition of modern en suite bathrooms.
All windows have been replaced with new metal thin profile units with a brown/black powder coated finish. New external doors, floors and floor beams have been made from oak. Internal walls are finished in lime plaster and painted with a proprietary limewash paint. New ‘flat’ roof structures and hidden gutters to the North and South towers are finished in lead.
The existing heating system has been overhauled with a new oil fired system feeding under floor heating at the ground floor level and radiators at first floor level. The existing drainage system has been replaced with a new state of the art reed bed system with treated water discharging into a new wildlife pond on land adjacent to the building. A considered landscaping strategy of judicial tree planting has been incorporated to create an appropriate setting for the building.
While the conservation project was relatively expensive at seven hundred thousand pounds, it involved a very innovative approach and minimal intervention, ensuring the buildings continued survival. The building can now generate income to help fund any further maintenance.
The architects ensured that all stakeholders were involved from the beginning. Detailed discussions were undertaken with English Heritage, the local authority’s conservation officer and with the SPAB (The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings). Advice was also sought from an archaeologist and from Charles Blackett-Ord, a structural engineer specialising in historic buildings. This consultation resulted in a sensitive, but dramatic solution. The gash in the stonework is eye-catching and whether it is a result of an attack or just the result of soft-ground and underground water, it remains part of the building’s narrative, and a clue to its history.
Decisions made with regards to the repair and restoration of the tower fabric benefited from the architects’ thorough understanding of the original structure. The north tower was re-crenulated utilising historical illustrations and site evidence. The new addition to the south structure was kept back from the inside face of the original walls, so that the raw edges of the broken masonry remained visible. The result being a perfect blend between traditional methods and materials and modern techniques and design
This conversion is highly regarded within the architectural industry. The project was included in English Heritage’s recent publication ‘Constructive Conservation in Practice’, as one of 20 exemplary conservation-led schemes for development and has received a number of awards, including the RICS (Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors) National Conservation Award; RICS NW Region Conservation Award; RICS NW Project of the Year 2010; Civic Trust Award; North West; the Regional Construction Awards Heritage Award and the Eden District Design Award.