How part of Buckshaw Village history is being brought back to life
The man behind the renovation of Chorley’s historic Buckshaw Hall has spoken of his pride in uncovering and preserving a piece of the borough’s history.
Chris Langson also revealed that the £1.2m project should be complete by Christmas, as he opened the doors of the village landmark to the Post to show off the work done so far to bring the property back into use after more than 75 years.
It comes after he was given the go-ahead to build four detached dwellings in the grounds of the seventeenth century timber-framed manor house - on Knight Avenue - in order to help fund its restoration.
Chorley Council’s planning committee approved the additional homes after planning officers concluded that the “slight visual harm” that would be done to the setting of the Grade II-listed hall would be “far outweigh[ed]” by the public benefit of bringing it up to a habitable standard.
Chris says he and his team - who have been working seven days a week at the site since last December - have been enthralled by the heritage they have had the privilege of revealing after it was hidden away for so long.
“You're uncovering stuff that nobody has touched for 450 years. There's a wooden beam running through [the building] as a mantle. That possibly would have come from a 300-year-old oak - so that piece of wood could be 800 years old.
"The lads I've got working on it are such good craftsmen. We don't see much daylight from one day to another - but we're buzzing doing it.”
Chris hopes that his passion for the project will shine through in the attention that has been given to “every little detail”, which includes adopting - and, in some cases, discovering - the traditional practices that his predecessors on the plot used when they built the hall from scratch.
“We’re using all the old techniques, including how they used to scarf the joints together, so there are no screws in the door frames. There was also an old front door we found that we have mounted in the bathroom almost as a work of art, it’s just beautiful.
“With the fireplace - we've renovated every single brick and put it back to how it should have been.”
While the work has been painstaking in order to remain true to the history of the hall, there is one Tudor technique that has something of a modern, almost flat-pack feel to it.
"There are numbers engraved in the wood, because when the Tudors were assembling the building, they needed to know what piece went with what piece. They built it like a jigsaw - and every Tudor house was basically the same sort of design," explains Chris, who works in the construction industry and plans to make the renovated hall his own home. He first moved to the borough from his native Bristol seven years ago.
Locals can look forward to an open day once work is complete, when they will be able to take a look inside the finished building whose distinctive external features will be so familiar to regular passers-by.
Meanwhile, Chris also hopes to be able to sell the four surrounding plots - complete with planning permission - to people living within a 20-mile radius of Chorley to give them a chance to build their own home in the gated grounds of the hall. The designs have been specified in the planning approval and so cannot be varied - however, Chris says he will be on hand to help self-builders should they need it.
The additional homes were a source of concern amongst councillors when the planning committee first considered an application to build them last May. While officers had recommended their approval, committee members had resolved to visit the hall to see for themselves the potential impact of the properties before coming to a decision.
However, Chris withdrew his application before that point - and submitted a revised plan designed to address the issues raised.
Planning service lead Adele Hayes told the committee meeting that the changes were an “improved solution”. According to papers presented to councillors, these included pushing the new housing “away from the principal views of the building”.
Committee member Martin Boardman noted that the proposed properties were also ”significantly smaller” than had previously been planned - and said that the overall effect addressed a desire expressed by the committee last year for the hall to “stand in its own grounds”.
Cllr Alistair Morwood said that the original designs were “really not suitable - they virtually enveloped the whole hall”.
But he added: “I think this [current proposal] is the best design we’re going to get and I think it’s better to see the hall survive - if something isn’t done, we're going to lose it and that would be a shame.”
The so-called “enabling development” will partially bridge the gap between the bill for the restoration and the £700,000 the building is estimated to be worth when complete. The hall has passed through several hands over the past 18 years, but has always proved uneconomic to refurbish to the standard required for a Grade II-listed building.
Chris thanked the local authority - and the town's MP Sir Lindsay Hoyle - for their support for the project. And in spite of the relentlessness of the renovation schedule, he says he is yet to tire of the work - and doubts that he ever will.
“They reckon Buckshaw Hall is one of the most historic timber-framed buildings, at least in Lancashire, so it’s such a pleasure to be saving it. It's going to be beautiful.”
HISTORY OF THE HALL
Buckshaw Hall is thought to date back, in part, to the mid-1600s. A detached barn was added to the site in the nineteenth century.
The main property underwent extensive renovation in 1885, but has been unoccupied since the end of World War Two. Prior to that, in 1936, it was subsumed into the Royal Ordnance Factory development in Buckshaw. The hall was Initially used as office accommodation for the munitions site, but after the war, it was abandoned and earmarked for demolition.
Ultimately, however, the building was left standing and was eventually listed in 1975. Its condition continued to deteriorate until Redrow Homes invested £600,000 to make it structurally sound, as part of planning permission for the wider Buckshaw housing development.
It went under the hammer at auction in 2018, at which point it still had mud floors.
Sources: Historic England, Chorley Council and OnTheMarket.com