Hard to believe, but tourists come to our village and stay in the house across the road. I thought at 140 years, ours was an old house, but it’s a mere whippersnapper compared to Calverley Old Hall, which dates back to the 1300s, parts of it anyway.
The hall is owned by the Landmark Trust, which offers holidays in history. It restores castles, forts, towers and cottages for self-catering breaks, people like that kind of thing. If there’s something that even post-Brexit Britain will be able to offer, it’s history, we have so much of it.
While there is a comfy, quirky cottage for five in the hall, the rest of the Grade One Listed Building, in estate agent parlance, has ‘development potential’, in fact it’s on the Heritage at Risk register, where its condition is described as ‘poor’. Personally, I think that’s an understatement and the only thing that stops it slipping into the ‘nobbut a pile of stones’ category is that it has an intact roof and is more or less watertight.
Fortunately, salvation may be in sight for this hall with a murderous history (more about this later), as following a competition, architects have been appointed to revive the entire building and bring the tourists flocking to Calverley. Unfortunately before the work can start, National Lottery funding of more than £3million has to be secured.
As part of the bidding process, the Landmark Trust threw open the doors of the hall, handed out hardhats and invited the locals to have a look. I’ve often stared at the mullioned windows as I clean my own, wondering what was behind them. Now I know. A big hall, with fabulous hammerbeams , magnificent fireplace large enough to live in, lots of stone, dirt and an old toilet, just there in the corner, no plumbing, I have no idea why it’s there. Also there’s a smaller hall (the solar wing) and a chapel, complete with private gallery so the rich lords of the manor could look down on the hoi polloi through carved oak screens.
The house was in the hands of the Calverley family, who all seemed to be called Walter, so it does make storytelling complicated. There were good Walters, like the one in the 1300s who was a pioneer of the iron industry, prudent Walter, who drew up marriage settlements for his children in the 1400s, and murderous Walter who, in 1605, ran amok and murdered his two small sons, one of them a Walter, stabbing his wife. He was tried and pressed to death, but he had another son, Henry, who could carry on the family name, though he didn’t change his name to Walter. Pity. There are rumours of a ghost, seen by folk staggering from one of our three village pubs.
In 1754 the hall was divided into cottages, its gardens disappeared and houses started to spring up, including ours more than 100 years later. The site was bought by the Landmark Trust in 1981 and they have been working to repair and revive it ever since. There’s not a lot of money around for this kind of major improvement project, but fingers crossed that when the lottery bid is submitted in January, it will be successful.