Medieval Markenfield Hall in the UK, untouched for centuries, has been given a new lease of life





In the end it was the North Yorkshire restorers, in the Great Hall, with the lead piping.

Competition was stiff: runners-up included a bedroom rehung with 18th-century Chinese wallpaper and refurnished with Chinese Chippendale near Harrogate, and a rejuvenated 1820s kitchen with roasting range and baking oven in Scotland. But this week the first annual restoration award sponsored by Sotheby's and the Historic Houses Association (HHA) goes to Markenfield Hall, near Ripon, for work on its 13th-century Great Hall.

"It was described as 'forlorn' in a 1999 architect's report," says Ian Curteis as we ascend a right-angled staircase into the winning room. "Apart from being used as a grain store by farmers, it had barely been touched since 1570."

In 2001, when Curteis – a playwright and dramatist – married Lady Deirdre Grantley in the private family chapel next to the Great Hall, the chapel had not been in regular use for just as long. And when Lady Deirdre arrived in the early 1980s with her first husband, the 7th Baron Grantley of Markenfield (who died in 1995), the house had been part-occupied by tenant farmers and otherwise neglected. They had to undertake a lengthy initial restoration before they could move in.

Today, the stone walls of Markenfield's 30ft by 40ft Great Hall soar up to a 40ft-high ceiling, with a gabled roof and cross beams. One of the beams is not a beam; the Scots pine conceals lidded lead piping that carries rainwater from the roof across the room and expels it into the moat below. Occasionally a bird gets stuck in it, causing Curteis to teeter about on a ladder to remedy the situation.

The hall, flooded with light from four double windows topped with quatrefoils, is now lined with towering English oak bookshelves, painstakingly "aged" with woodstain. Its massive stone fireplace has been restored and equipped with a wood-burning stove. It has assumed a new and flexible identity as a welcoming library, living room and events venue.



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