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Words: Sarah Winstanley
Photography: Courtesy of Humberts
Featured in the January 2016 issue

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For 20 years, whenever Shaun Langley and Ian Blacklock visited their friends in Brandon, near Grantham, they would admire the house next door.

Once or twice, they would peek through the windows of the The Old Hall to wonder at the interiors of the stunning Grade II* listed property. On a visit in 2005, a ‘For Sale’ sign had appeared in front of the property and fatefully, their friend had been given a key. The temptation was too much and soon the couple found themselves walking around the glorious old building that once they had only dreamed of viewing.

“We fell in love with it!” Shaun admits. “The previous owners had bought the house as an investment and decorated it so it was habitable but they hadn’t gone into the fabric of the building.

“For the previous five years, it had stood mostly empty and had only been used at weekends. We saw it as a project so immediately made an offer.”

The timing couldn’t have been better for Shaun and Ian as they had recently taken early retirement having sold their telemarketing floristry business, Blooms Direct Express. The pair built the business up from scratch after taking up flower arranging as a hobby.

Shaun, who, along with Ian, is originally from Windsor, said: “Ian has a banking and aviation background and I’m a founding admissions director of The American College in London, specialising in business and interior design. We went into retail floristry by default. It was supposed to be a hobby but it turned into a multi-million pound business.

“It was twenty years ago and pre-Internet when people used the Yellow Pages and telephones rather than computers. We developed a telemarketing company to relay flowers worldwide. We were originally members of Interflora and then Teleflorist which is now part of Euroflorist.

“Ten year ago, in 2005, we sold all our retail units and went into retirement, moving to Lincolnshire to become custodians of The Old Hall.”

The property is of great historic interest as it is understood that several kings of England have stayed there including King James I in 1607, when he planted the black mulberry tree which still grows in the garden, and the deposed King James II in 1688.

In the eleventh century, it is believed that Hereward the Wake found shelter there and a knight escaping from the battle of Stoke Field stayed at The Old Hall in 1487.

In more recent times the architecturally important house was mentioned in both Pevsner’s Buildings of England and Thorold’s Lincolnshire Houses.

The building itself is constructed with bands of limestone alternating with golden ironstone and blue lias, with mainly stone mullion windows and a slate and tiled roof. A stone and brick extension was added in the eighteenth century; there is an adjoining Victorian block of outbuildings and a Coach House to the north of the main building.

The ground floor dates back to the fifteenth century, with the first and second floors added around 1637, a date which is commemorated by a date stone on the front of the house.

Shaun said: “It was originally a single storey house in which farm animals would be brought inside in winter to keep the residents warm and there is still the original huge fireplace in the dining room.”

Shaun and Ian initially planned to convert the Coach House into a one-bedroomed annexe in order to live in it whilst renovating The Old Hall. But the first Christmas after the Coach House was complete, Ian’s parents Queenie and Stewart, who were then in their nineties, visited and never left.

“Queenie and Stewart loved the renovated Coach House so much they just stayed, whilst we lived amongst the rubble in the Old Hall!” Shaun joked.

In reality, Shaun and Ian had no idea of the extent of the work which needed to be carried out on The Old Hall until two disasters struck during their first winter there. Firstly, the first floor bathroom fell into the room below, and secondly, the ground floor of the house flooded.

Shaun said: “The top floor bathroom must have been constructed in the 1960s using concrete paving slabs on the floor. Every time we used the shower, we were unaware that the water wasn’t going down the drain, it was going into the floor.

“The floor eventually collapsed and that’s when we realised the work was a bit more serious than we’d thought.”

He added: “The house sits lower in the ground than the road in front of it. That first year, we had really bad weather and huge volumes of water ran off the road, flooding our ground floor. The water then sat in the void under the house and affected all the lime plaster.

“It was a bit of a shock because the house was habitable and visually fabulous, so we had no idea of the extent of the renovation work required.”

What should have been a two-year restoration project took a staggering nine years to complete. The house, which features a wealth of old oak beams, exposed stone walls and inglenook and stone fireplaces, was damp-proofed, had a new heating system, new plumbing and electrics, a new kitchen and new bathrooms.

“We did it floor by floor, starting at the top and working our way down,” said Shaun. “We got to the final stages two years ago when we replaced all the old carpets and curtains and redecorated in a comfortable, traditional style. It’s been a labour of love but we’ve had some really fun times along the way.”

During the project, the stone wall in the garden, which is also listed, was completely rebuilt, with dry stone waller Andy Craig taking two years to complete the work. The wall features fourteen niches, said to represent the stations of the cross, which date back to when the house was allegedly used as a nunnery.

Once the garden project was complete, the couple held a summer garden party with a marquee on the lawn and invited the entire village. Shaun said: “We are quite private people but once you finish a project you like to show it off!”

One of the couple’s fondest memories was hosting a visit by HRH Charles, Prince of Wales during which he planted a white mulberry tree and took part in some dry stone walling. Ian recalled: “The mulberry tree in the garden was planted by King James I because the court decided they should encourage the English silk trade. At the time, people of wealth and nobility wanted to wear silk and it was being imported from China and the Far East. King James I decreed that there should be a line of mulberry trees planted right across England; unfortunately he planted black mulberry trees, which make great jam but silkworms don’t eat.

“Prince Charles was visiting Lincolnshire in his role as patron of the Dry Stone Walling Association. So I wrote to him asking if he would like to correct the error of his ancestors by planting a white mulberry tree and he agreed. It was meant to be a private visit but everyone from the village turned out.

“Before his visit, we had several rehearsals when plain clothed protection officers in black security cars would meet up at the house. At the time my elderly parents were living in the Coach House and our next door neighbours thought there had been bereavement!”

Now the couple’s favourite place in the house is the vaulted Garden Room, which was reconstructed in 2013. Shaun said: “The Garden Room was originally the wash house and cold store and prior to it being converted, we couldn’t appreciate the whole garden from the house. Now the Garden Room, which has south facing views of the main garden and access to the kitchen courtyard garden, is the place we both utilise the most.”

After a blissful year enjoying their home since the restoration work has been completed, Shaun and Ian now feel the time is right to move on and have placed the house on the market.

Shaun said: “We’ve done it now and two people don’t need a seven bedroomed house, even if we threw parties every week.

“We’d like to downsize and go back to Windsor because all our family are in the south. If we could find a miniature Old Hall, that would be perfect!”

The Old Hall at Brandon, near Grantham is on the market with Humberts Lincoln for £1.2 million. For more information contact the estate agents on (01522) 546444.

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