One of the North Easts oldest houses up for sale

19th August 2013

A beautiful Grade II listed house in Stanhope, Co Durham, built originally in the year Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn – in 1533 – is now for sale through George F White.

Stonehouses is a fantastic example of a 16th century home that has truly retained its character yet also offers 21st century comforts, thanks to sympathetic and informed restoration by the current owners. It has six bedrooms, three reception rooms, family kitchen with mezzanine floor, large terraced south facing gardens, a two storey stone store, timber workshop/garage and lovely views over the village and beyond. Asking price is £350,000.

Since it was built, Stonehouses has seen off five of Henry VIII’s six wives, survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries, seen numerous heretics being burnt at the stake, the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the English Civil War, Jacobite Rebellion, Napoleonic Wars, the Industrial Revolution, two World Wars and the dawn of the internet. What tales it could tell if only its walls could speak!

‘Stonehouses’ has its name because houses built of stone in this area were a rarity in the troubled 15th and 16th Century. It was fortified with walls one metre thick, with small barred windows upstairs and the roof specially strengthened. Many buildings were attacked and destroyed by marauding raiders or ‘reivers’ – Scots as well as English – and as a result many houses in the North of England and Southern Scotland were built in wood and thatch or rubble stone, so they could be rebuilt quickly and less expensively.

There was a very good reason for this particular house to be built of local stone, as well as being fortified. Cuthbert Tunstall, Bishop of Durham commissioned the house to be built for his Rector, Cuthbert Ogle, in Stanhope – the richest parish in the land at the time. The Rector would manage his financial as well as ecclesiastical affairs in Weardale. Importantly the ground floor was used as a tithe house or collecting point for his silver and lead with the rector living above. The building therefore had to be totally raider-proof.

Through the ages, Stonehouses has been altered dramatically inside. In the mid 1660’s the Hearth Tax records for the property show it being taxed for eleven different ‘hearths’. This indicated that not only were there a large number of additional dwellings here, but the building and adjoining barns may have also had industrial uses, perhaps with a forge.

The original house was built into a hill in 1533 with its sides following the slope of the hill. A later Rector of Stanhope and Archdeacon of Durham, Isaac Basire, made the house grander in the early 17th century. He moved downstairs adding large windows, a large fireplace and oak panelling with medieval painting including a Tudor rose frieze and a geometric design. This is still present on the hidden reverse of the central lounge panelling.

Similar panelling on an altar screen was found in a chapel at Ireshopeburn in Co Durham, with a donation note from Isaac Basire.

Major alternations to the house took place around 1700 when the Rector moved out. The main house was divided into at least three dwellings, with a horse byre at one end and a barn at the rear. One hundred years later the house was sold to several landed gentry and became a private rental property. The adjoining barns were converted into 6 cottages to become a row called Stonehouses. The byre was then given an internal staircase to the first floor in 1908 which necessitated blocking up an original first floor fireplace which is still intact within the western wall.

Colin Rees, Chairman the North East Vernacular Architecture Group, bought Stonehouses in 2000. He loved the house as soon as he saw it, and immediately set to work painstakingly restoring it into a beautiful 21st century home, while still retaining the 16th century character. It took him over five years of careful, meticulous work. Stonehouses was also the only house Colin had seen that could accommodate his 12ft dining room table and 7ft high bookcase. Colin reroofed three roofs, rebuilt two chimneys, rewired, replumbed and replastered. New central heating was introduced and the house properly opened into one house again after 300 years. The byre first floor was replaced and a stone cupboard and staircase removed to allow a modern kitchen and the mezzanine. The western end byre was extensively underpinned, rebuilt and structurally tied into the main house. The rear barn also required rebuilding with a new upper floor and concrete ground floor. A new ground floor WC was introduced, and the ensuite and first floor shower room rebuilt. All the windows and doors on the front of the house except the main door have been replaced with more draft proofed versions. All the internal doors except the panelled one were replaced. The downstairs floors were waterproofed and tiled or laminate floored.

Colin now lives in Tynemouth and Stonehouses has passed to his daughter and son in law who have put the house on the market as they live in Southampton.

Colin says: “We loved bringing this lovely old building back to life and living here. The place has a very welcoming atmosphere which family and friends would often remark on when they visited. Stonehouses is steeped in history but it’s a friendly and inviting house. It would make a lovely happy home for a family who wished to bring up their children in a safe rural village community”.

Richard Jones of George F White says: “It’s very rare that a house dating back to the Tudor age and Henry VIII comes on the market. And it’s even more unusual for it to be in such a fantastic state of repair. This is an absolute gem of a home and it’s been beautifully restored. It’s set right in the middle of the pretty village of Stanhope, strolling distance from shops, pubs, school and church. It’s also commutable distance from many major North East and North Yorkshire towns and cities so will appeal to a lot of people who are looking for a quiet country home to return to at the end of a busy day. We’re expecting a lot of interest.”

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