Historic Shropshire hall back in hands of family
One of England's finest timber-framed houses has been woken from a 25-year slumber of neglect and steady decay.
Pitchford Hall, which is half way between Shrewsbury and Church Stretton, has been bought back by Rowena Colthurst, whose parents had to sell the house in 1992, with her husband James Nason.
The house, which dates back to 1560, will primarily be a family home but will also be available for pre-booked tours, holiday lets and weddings.
The hall was the focus of a major rescue campaign in 1992, when the National Trust was keen to take it over but failed to do so.
The Colthursts had offered Pitchford and 76 acres as a gift to the nation if £1.8m could be found for the contents, which would have been topped up by a tax rebate that is given on such sales.
But the National Trust request for funds came in a year when the National Heritage Memorial Fund had just bought Chastleton in Oxfordshire.
The chairman of English Heritage, Sir Jocelyn Stevens, stepped in to save the Elizabethan hall, but was prevented from doing so by the Minister for the Arts David Mellor, who said: "Support for Pitchford can only take place to the detriment of other activities."
Instead, the historic contents were auctioned and dispersed in a house sale in September 1992, and the property sold to a buyer who allowed its condition to deteriorate. The hall is currently on Historic England's Buildings at Risk Register.
Although the Grade I listed house was sold, the 1,000-acre estate passed to the Colthurst's daughter Rowena.
The house and the wider estate are now back in single ownership and look set to have a brighter future after being restored. While renovation work is carried out, increased security will be in place at the hall.
Marcus Binney, executive president of SAVE Britain's Heritage, said: "Pitchford proves that as long as a great historic house stands hope should never be given up. Pitchford Hall is one of the three or four most beautiful timber-framed houses in England, the embodiment of Elizabethan England and the Age of Shakespeare."
Tim Barker, Shropshire councillor for the Burnell Ward, which includes Pitchford, said: "This marks the re-unification of the hall with the estate and provides an ideal home for Mrs Colthurst and her family.
"They have kept closely in touch with the area over the past years, partly through their continued involvement with the estate businesses, and we are all very much looking forward to their return. The hall is a family home and, despite its very obvious historic and heritage significance, remains as such.
"I know that the family are very keen to address those matters that have fallen into disrepair over the years and take a very keen interest in ensuring that a secure and positive environment exists for the necessary works."
In 1940, Pitchford Hall was one of three country houses chosen as safe retreats for the royal family in the event of a German invasion. There is also a black and white tree house with rococo Gothic plasterwork in the grounds which is believed to be the oldest surviving in Europe, and perhaps in the world, unless there is an older one in China.