Plans to restore historic Doncaster landmark Hickleton Hall and bring it back to community use
It is a famous piece of Doncaster history dating back almost 300 years.
But after years of decline, there could be a fresh future for Hickleton Hall, with a new owner keen to bring it back into use at the heart of the community.
Paul Stroud became the latest owner in the building's long history last year. He is aware that the building is in need of a lot of restoration work and expects it to take time to get it into the condition he would like.
First built for a wealthy banker, Godfrey Wentworth, by the famous architect James Paine in 1745, it was extended over the years. It was subsequently home to the Whig politician and Chancellor of the Exchequer Charles Wood, first Viscount Halifax from 1846 to 1885; and then used by the army during the Second World War, by which time it had become home to the then Viscount Halifax, Edward Frederick Lindley Wood, a former Viceroy of India and British Foreign Secretary at the start of World War Two.
It was used by the army as the headquarters of I Corps after the Dunkirk evacuation in May 1940.
It was used for a while as a girls’ school, before becoming a Sue Ryder care home in the 1960s, closing in 2012.
But it has gone unused for the subsequent nine years.
But Mr Stroud has high hopes for the building, and wants to return it to a central role in village life.
His sister, Claire, is working with him on the project.
She said: “Paul is passionate about the property.
"He took it over about a year ago, and has started to look at refurbishing the gardens initially.”
Buckinghamshire based Mr Stroud has set up a company called Hickleton Hall Heritage Centre Ltd to restore the building. He has carried out similar projects in the past.
He is waiting for planning permission before he can carry out all the work he would like to do at Hickleton.
But he believes it will take three to four years before his plans are complete. And he expects the work to cost between £2 million and £3 million.
Claire said he had spoken to local community leaders who had told of how the grounds of the hall had been used for village fetes and other such community events in the past.
The plan is to see that tradition restored in the future.
Under the plans Mr Stroud is putting forward, part of the building would be developed into apartments. But the east side of the hall would remain in public use, said Claire, including the main entrance area, which would hopefully be used for functions.
When the grade two listed building was originally listed in the 1990s, Historic England described it as requiring ‘extreme extensive alterations to be restored to its former glory’.
“It is going to take a few years to get it to the standard he wants,” said Claire. “He is very particular and will take some time.
"But we have spoken to people locally who have said it used to be a hub in Hickleton, and people would use it. Over the years that has stopped, and people have not been able to go there.
"People may not be able to get into the building while work is being done, but while work is being done inside, we would like to use the grounds.
"There are 17 acres of land, with a lot of woodland and a fantastic fountain that we’re trying to get back to its original state.
“Eventually, we would like to have some community use of the reception area and one of the rooms off there.
"The east of the hall, he’d like to keep public.
“The apartments will be quite big – there will be three or four of them. But it is a big building – I think it is 164 rooms.”
She said there has been talk of music and bands in the grounds, possibly before any residents move into the building when apartments are completed.
Claire has been fascinated with the history of the buildings, and is aware of a network of tunnels running below the building, which she thinks may have once been an underground escape route.
She said Winston Churchill and TS Eliot were among the famous faces to visit the hall in the past.
There has already been a lot of interest in using the building after the coronavirus pandemic ends – by ghost investigators.
A number of media organisations have been in touch to ask about using it for shows that look at haunted houses, possibly filming live events in the centuries-old property.
"Events are on hold because of Covid,” said Claire, who confirmed that there had been interest from ghost hunters. “We can’t confirm anything about the ghost hunting until Covid finishes, but there will be a lot happening.
“I’m a skeptic when it comes to ghosts, but we’d had things like chandeliers swinging on their own,” she said.
"I spent a night there and took a photo. It showed a flash that looked like it had a face on it.
"Also, I took my daughter up there with one of her friends. They said they both heard whispering at the same time.
“The plans for the building are in with the council, but it’s a long process. Paul is very passionate about bringing back buildings like this to where they should be.”