Renovation Overview

Why was Rise Hall such a problem?

It was a combination of its location, its size and its listing that created the problem with Rise Hall. If it was somewhere with passing trade then all sorts of commercial uses would be more feasible, from a hotel or conference centre to a care home or even dividing it up as flats. But the cost of turning this sort of building into one of these would likely far outweigh the end value, so commercially it just doesn't stack up.

So the sensible thing to do with this building would be to demolish it (or at least part of it) to end up with a home that was fit for the purpose of living in. Today, dozens of staff quarters are simply no longer required in all but the rarest of homes in the UK. But it's the grade 2* listing that stops you being able to do this. It has been deemed (quite rightly I believe) to be of architectural and historical importance by English Heritage. This tries to ensure its survival with the end sanction being that, should you not do repairs, they are able to carry them out and bill you for them. In reality it's pretty rare for this to happen as they would much rather you deal with the problem rather than them, but it is the ultimate sanction to avoid losing another great swathe of our architectural heritage.

So what happened to stately homes?

At the turn of the 20th century there were many more stately homes in the UK. Society was different and wealth was held by a few with the majority of the population earning comparatively little. As labour was cheap, having the large numbers of employees that enabled large homes to be maintained and run was not a considerable expense. Indeed, in many communities they were the only/main employer of the neighbourhood.

Though sadly not all were happy places, many were. In a time before any sort of welfare state, employees generally had doctors bills, free schooling for their kids, a home, food, and pension provided and there tended to be a strong sense of community amongst those that worked there.

The change in the fortunes for these big houses really happened in the first half of the 20th century. During the First World War (1914 to 1918) the horrors of No Mans Land wiped out men in their droves. Many families lost a father and several sons in quick succession leaving them forced to pay double or treble death duties.

The Second World War (1939 to 1945) created even more problems and the shortage of people to do a job not only drove women into employment but also drove salaries up, and by the end of the Second World War, having lost so many men, the UK needed all hands on deck. And that deck wasn't maintaining a great dinosaur of a building. They became very much surplus to requirement but, as they generally sat in the middle an estate of land of hundreds or thousands of acres, most landowners were reluctant to sell the land they sat on; they just wanted them to 'go away'.

It is believed that around 1,784 houses have been demolished, blown up, torn down or, in some cases, just abandoned, allowing nature to claim back the land whilst the families who once lived in them moved into much smaller accommodation that they could afford to upkeep elsewhere on the estate.

Then, in 1950 the listing of buildings was introduced. This protected about half a million buildings in the land, claiming them as monuments that needed to be preserved for generations to come, to ensure our country's history and heritage is there for the future.

And that's where Grade 2* listed Rise Hall comes in.

Surplus to requirements after the 2nd World War, it was rented out as a convent who opened the house as a girls boarding school. 50 years on, with limited money available to be spent on the house, it began to creak with the strain of skeleton maintenance and the nuns moved out. Whereupon it lay dormant and empty for 10 years, with the owners desperately searching for something to do with it. No body wanted to rent it - flats didn't stack up - and eventually they decided to sell it before the roof caved in completely.

» Find out about the roof

Worker

"Rise Hall has been deemed to be of architectural and historical importance by English Heritage."

Graham Swift and Sarah Beeny