The restoration of the Grade II listed Langton Hall near Malton
PUBLISHED: 00:00 12 February 2020
Kevin Gibson Photography Ltd
Will Langton has taken on an impressive property project with a namesake grand design
It is the late Georgian era in Yorkshire and the Industrial Revolution is in full swing. Societal change abounds, and an enterprising heiress by the name of Anne Lister is determined to return her ancestral home, Shibden Hall, to its former glory. Fast forward almost two centuries to one of Anne's old stomping grounds, Langton Hall, and you will find an equally forward-thinking landowner, Charles William Langton, known as Will.
Immortalised in the BBC drama Gentleman Jack, Anne Lister (played by Suranne Jones) is just one of the connections that fascinated Will when he learnt Langton, near Malton, was for sale in January 2019. It had been the seat of the Norcliffe family (Anne was romantically involved with Isabella Norcliffe) before being leased to Woodleigh, an independent preparatory school, from 1946 until 2012, after which it lay derelict. Despite having been the custodian of the property for such a short time, developer Will has already overseen a remarkable transformation which Ms Lister would be proud of.
He had not been in the market for a new home; he was happily settled at Albert House in Leeds (which is now for sale), with several other properties in the area and overseas. But as soon as he saw the advert for Langton, he knew he was interested.
'I did a quick back-of-an-envelope calculation and worked out I could (just) afford to buy it and get it back up and running as a home,' he says. 'Basically, I had enough money and nothing better to spend it on. The fact I shared a name with the house was just a coincidence!'
His plans for the restoration of the Grade II-listed hall, parts of which date to 1738, were granted mercifully quickly. 'Emma Woodland at Ryedale District Council immediately understood the programme of works needed. She has been a breath of fresh air.' Work began in earnest in March 2019 and Will estimates he is about 70 per cent of the way through. 'The property last had significant investment around 120 years ago, so the backlog of works is quite long,' he says. 'But this feels like a Grand Designs project gone right!'
Painstaking attention to detail has been paid to the renovations, and Will has a particular interest in the ornate plasterwork. Working with Leeds-based CSJ Bespoke Plaster Mouldings, he has accurately recreated neglected coving and ceiling roses. 'This plasterwork will outlast me and may well be here for the next 200 years or more, so it is important we do it right,' he says. Architraves in the north wing's servants' corridor have been embellished, while the former servants' kitchen is being faithfully recreated, aided by a painting of the room by local artist Mary Ellen Best, a member of the Norcliffe family. What has changed, however, is the kitchen will no longer be reserved for staff. Gone is the concept of upstairs/downstairs that would have been so familiar to Anne Lister and her contemporaries.
'Anybody can cook in any of the kitchens now,' says Will. 'It is more about function than class. I hope my time at Langton will be remembered for changing the balance of the property to make it more equal.'
The downstairs rooms typify modern country style: they are lived in and comfortable, with original tiled flooring, antique and reproduction brown furniture, impressive chandeliers and an Esse range. Large new sash windows by Sutcliffe Joinery (some of which cleverly conceal doors) frame uninterrupted views of parkland, farmland and the lower slopes of the Yorkshire Wolds in the distance, with chickens and a peacock pecking away in the foreground.
Upstairs, though, is a different story. Here, Will has let his imagination run riot. Classic Colefax chintzes and four-posters of traditional country style are not for this gentleman. His bedrooms boast jungle wallpaper, comic book murals, pineapple lamps and more. 'History is respected, but I am dragging it into the modern era,' he says.
Much of the furniture and furnishings was bought on a relative shoestring, sourced from the high street or online. One of the builders dubbed it 'The house that eBay built' due to the number of packages that arrived, containing everything from chandeliers to beds. Each bedroom has its own theme or personality. Another of Mary Ellen Best's paintings inspired the decoration of one. 'I decided it had been the bedroom of a pure, young woman, and this is my interpretation of that,' he says of the large orchid mural and white linens.
Among regular guests at the hall is Tilly Fenton, Will's girlfriend. True to theme, theirs is a modern love story with Langton at its centre. Tilly was a pupil at Woodleigh and, upon learning it had a new owner, struck up a friendship with Will via Instagram. She visited the house to see how he was transforming it, and the rest, as they say, is history. With renovations suitably far along, the couple have begun to host events, including an open day and a formal dinner. It is a convivial setting, with the dining room seating 20 and pianos in the hall and sitting room that have been put to joyful use.
From spring, four former servants' cottages will be available to rent as holiday lets, and Will is open to letting the whole house, or one of the wings, to larger groups. All include full access to the property's 20 acres of land, all-weather tennis court, swimming pool and gym.
'This house will never make any money, it's just my job to support and improve it for the next generation. But holiday lettings will help with day-to-day expenses,' he says. 'I would like the place to be used for charity balls and events for good causes. Langton's place in the community is much more important to me than making money.'
To this end, Will has forged strong links with the local church and primary school, inviting pupils to Christmas celebrations and planting acorns for them in the grounds.
'As the village has no pub or shop, it's really important everyone knows the hall is not just a home but also an important part of the fabric of the community. No one lives in an ivory tower round here. I have to thank the local community for accepting a city boy in the countryside. I have not got any wellies yet, but they are on my wish list!'