Yorkshire Interiors - a 19th century cottage in Whitby
PUBLISHED: 12:00 04 July 2014
A quintessentially English 19th century cottage has evolved into a home full of personality and charm
Judy and Hugh MacDermot were looking for an idyllic English retreat and found it in Beck Hole, a tiny hamlet near Whitby. ‘We were living in Brunei where Hugh was involved in a seven-year project setting up a university, but we wanted a place in England to come back to,’ says Judy. ‘We had always liked the Esk valley and had walked around the area, but this particular village is heart-stoppingly beautiful; quintessentially English. We saw this cottage and simply fell in love with it.’
The three bedroom early 19th century cottage stands on the village green and was extended four years ago with reclaimed local stone. It still has many original features, including a black-leaded fully working range and oak beams. Judy and Hugh bought the cottage in 1988. The previous owners had renovated the property but there was still plenty of scope for Judy to develop it further whilst Hugh had ambitious plans for the sloping, south facing garden, which he developed with help of local gardener Neville Worley.
‘The house was quite plain and utilitarian, but there were some lovely original features,’ says Judy. ‘The floors are on lots of different levels, with oak beams and wooden floors and a lovely old range in the sitting room. It had so much character.’
The cottage is in a conservation area and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty plus any changes had to be made in consultation with the national park authority. This would eventually include a kitchen extension that had to be built with reclaimed stone – sourced from a local school building that was being demolished and hand dressed to match the original by local craftsman Andy Whiffin.
‘The original kitchen was a third of its current size and so narrow that I had to ask everyone to leave the room so I could open the oven door safely,’ recalls Judy. ‘Everything came to a head one Christmas when I was struggling to get a large metal tray of sizzling roast potatoes out of the oven and I finally cracked. I said, “It’s no use, we have to get a bigger kitchen!” – which is how the extension came to be built.’
But for the first few years Judy and Hugh concentrated on turning the cottage into a comfortable family home which they and their four grown-up children, Hal, Fergus, Stephanie and Jonathan, could use as a base in England until their time in Brunei came to an end. During that time the cottage was re-roofed, rewired, damp-proofed, had new windows and central heating and stone floors.
The family eventually returned to the UK permanently in the late 1990s and established the English Language Centre in York. Launched with just one student, the school quickly developed into a flourishing business but the hour-long commute between Beck Hole and York began to take its toll, so Judy and Hugh bought a small flat in the city and returned to the village at weekends.
‘It was our North Star to come home to,’ says Judy. ‘It was our retreat. We would drive over the cattle grid and sigh, thinking civilisation at last. When we eventually retired and our lifestyles changed, we decided to extend to create a large family orientated dining-kitchen. We tend to have kitchen suppers, so we turned the dining room into a snug. We also installed an Aga which is wonderful and creates a lovely focal point in the kitchen.’
The cottage is filled with furniture, books, pictures and other items accumulated over the years, including blue and white crockery, which Judy started collecting when she was younger and has ‘sometimes got out of hand’.
‘When I was little I wanted to live in a house like Mrs Tiggywinkle’s in the Beatrix Potter stories,’ says Judy. ‘I liked the pewter on the oak dresser and the rag rugs because I thought it felt essentially English and very cosy. I think you have to work with the style of the house and not try to turn it into something it isn’t. We have a lot of things from when we lived abroad – which have to be selected with care otherwise your sitting room starts to look like a souvenir shop – and a lot of things which have been handed down the families. I cull everything from time to time just to keep on top of it.’
Judy and Hugh also own the small, two-bedroom cottages on either side of their own – mainly to provide further living space when friends and family come to stay – so some of the furniture has spread into these.
When it came to decorating Judy bought paint samples so she could see how they worked in different light and at different times of the year. When choosing soft furnishings, Judy sought the help of Plaskitt and Plaskitt in York who supplied most of the Ian Mankin ticking found throughout the house. ‘I love its simplicity and strength,’ she says.
As the cottages have developed so, too, has the garden. ‘It was just a patch of land with sheep on the lawn when we bought the cottage, but Hugh turned it into a terraced garden and planted it beautifully,’ says Judy.
Plaskitt and Plaskitt 01904 656500 plaskittandplaskitt.co.uk
Taylors of Pickering 01751 472143 stsjoinery.co.uk
Treske 01845 522 770 treske.co.uk
Peter Thompson of York 01347 810888 peterthompsonofyork.co.uk
Tomlinsons Antiques 01937 583515 antique-furniture.co.uk
The French House 01904 400561 thefrenchhouse.co.uk
Cologne and Cotton 0845 262 2212 cologneandcotton.com
Elegant Homes 01904 612863 ehyork.co.uk