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Fairytale Shropshire home awakens as family returns home to mansion - video and pictures

Shrewsbury | News | Published:

A fairytale house in the depths of the Shropshire countryside is awakening from a 25 year slumber thanks to its new owners.

Pitchford Hall, near Shrewsbury, has lain derelict and unloved for more than two decades.

The half-timbered, Grade 1 listed Elizabethan mansion, parts of which date back to the 1560s, has fallen in to disrepair and been prey to burglars, vandals and trespassers.

Birds and bats have made their homes in many of its 42 rooms, while trees grow through walls and ivy covers the windows. But this has not put off 45-year-old Rowena Colthurst, her husband James Nason nor their three children, Georgiana, 11, Serena, five, and Edward, four.

Since moving in last month, the couple have been hard at work organising tradesmen, talking to restoration and renovation experts, clearing vegetation and setting up camp in several of the mansion's many rooms.

"I felt like I had won the Olympics when we were handed the keys," said James, 45.

"We had been building up to this for 25 years and it was like our dream had come true. Since we moved in, we have been hard at work and the children have loved every moment of it. It is the best place for hide and seek and they have loved exploring."

Pitchford Hall

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And like many old houses it comes complete with hidden tunnels, mystery doorways and a number of rumoured ghosts.

In 1992, Rowena's mother Caroline was forced to sell the mansion, which stood on part of the estate which had been in her family since 1473.

Caroline and her husband, Oliver, lost their fortune after investing in a Lloyd's insurance syndicate. They had offered the house to English Heritage but the deal was scuppered by the prime minister, John Major, who said that the house was of "insufficient national importance".

This was the same house that had played host to Princess Victoria before she became Queen and which Sir Winston Churchill proposed as a bolt hole for the Royal family should an invasion happen in World War Two. It is rumoured that Prince Rupert hid in the priest's hole after the siege of Shrewsbury.

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Instead it was sold, for £700,000, to a Kuwaiti princess, who used the stables for a stud farm, but never moved into the house. "It was weird and we have never understood why she didn't move in," said James.

"It is possibly the most beautiful timber framed house in the country so it's very bizarre and puzzling. Why wouldn't someone want to live here?"

The bedroom where the young Princess Victoria stayed

Although the hall and its contents had been sold, Rowena was gifted 1,000 acres nearby from her mother which she transformed in to a successful arable farm and holiday let business. But just over the hedge was the house she grew up in and to which she vowed to return.

"She dealt with it amazingly well but she could see what was happening to the house right before her eyes. It galvanised us to think we really had to do something about it, no one else was going to. So we came up with the idea of buying it back.

Inside the clock tower

"Finally, we approached the agent for the princess and asked him if she would consider our offer. It was a goosepimple moment when she said yes. It was very last minute and we never counted our chickens. We never dared to think it would actually happen as the deal could have fallen apart at any time," said James.

The plan now is to restore the east wing first.

The tree house

This will be the family wing and is the oldest part of the house. The couple and their team of workers will then move on to the west wing which they intend to turn in to a holiday home. The Victorian part of the hall is in the worst condition as the roof has been leaking and caused a great deal of damage. This will be left for the future. The Orangery which stands in the grounds of the hall as well as the tree house, which is believed to be the oldest in the world, will also be renovated. The Orangery could then be used for weddings and other events.

The drawing room

Although James wouldn't be drawn on how much the deal had cost, the expense of renovating, and in some parts rebuilding, the hall will run in to hundreds of thousands of pounds.

To meet these costs, James and Rowena have been applying for grants from various bodies including the Country Houses Foundation and are due to set up a crowd funding page to help bring in more money.

"We want this to be part of the community," said James. "We felt that for many years people had forgotten about Pitchford. Everyone who lives in the village would see the hall as they drove by but to outsiders it was forgotten. We want to have the support of Shropshire and beyond to really get this place restored. We will be preserving the English heritage."

The clock tower

The programme of works will run for years. "This isn't something that just happens," said James. "Just before the house was sold in 1992, it had undergone a 10 year long project. We want to get it back to how it was pre-sale."

The couple are also hoping to get back as many of the contents as we can that were auctioned off when the hall was sold in September 1992. A grand two-day sale was organised by Christies when more than 1,000 lots of furniture, paintings and other items were laid out on the lawn under giant marquees and sold off to the highest bidder.

A carving of one of the men who built the hall

"We want to try and collect those pieces back together," said James "Whether that is by people donating them to us, loaning them to us or us buying them, it is important to us that we get the hall back to how it should be. We want it to be as it was in its hey-day."

For more information about the hall and the works that need to be carried out, go to pitchfordestate.com

Rowena Colthurst and her husband James Nason, with their children Edward, four, Sarena, five, and Georgiana, 11
Rowena with Edward and Georgiana in the attic
The whole family enjoying the scale of the great hall of the house which dates back to Elizabethan times
Pitchford Hall

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