Pitchford Hall: A day in the life of a historic home

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Pitchford Hall. Credit: Grahame Mellanby

James and his wife Rowena Nason returned to the beautiful Tudor Pitchford Hall in Shropshire where she grew up, 25 years after it was sold and fell into neglect. They are now restoring it to its former glory…

We spoke to them to find out more about life at historic Pitchford Hall

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James and Rowena Nason. Credit: Grahame Mellanby

What’s the first thing you do in the morning at Pitchford Hall?

The first thing I do is walk around with a big bunch of keys and make sure everything in the house is ok. Every historic house owner will do the same. You’re almost wedded to your house and you have this fascinating, protective bond with it.

Can you describe a typical day at Pitchford Hall?

Every day I check what needs doing – there might be a leak here, or a fallen tile there. The house is on display all the time, because we run guided tours and events around the house, and a section of it is a holiday home, so it is important to maintain its beauty for everyone to see – and in my opinion it’s one of the most beautiful houses in England.

But with a house that has been derelict for 25 years it is not going to be perfect – there’s always lots to do!  

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Pitchford Hall. Credit: Jay Williams

What is the history of the Pitchford Hall estate and how did you come to buy it back?

The actual estate goes back to 1473. There’s a direct line between the original owners and my wife’s family. The estate was inherited by Rowena’s mother in 1972 and she looked after it for 20 years and then tragically had to sell the house and all the contents.

The house was sold to a Kuwaiti princess and for 25 years Pitchford Hall was empty and sadly the house went derelict, as any house would, but particularly a house that was built in 1549.

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Pitchford Hall is the Nason’s family home. Credit: Grahame Mellanby

The princess sold it back to us in 2016 and we reunited the house with the estate. It was an emotional moment, Pitchford coming back into the hands of the family who had owned it since 1473, and my wife returning to the house she had grown up in. 

What other projects are in the works for Pitchford Hall?

There are quite a few other buildings around the hall that need restoration, like the treehouse, which is the world’s oldest, dating back to 1670, and which Queen Victoria visited in 1832.

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Pitchford Hall’s treehouse is the oldest in the world.

The treehouse is in a very old broadleaf lime, actually believed to be the oldest in the British Isles, so there’s fragility there as well. Every time a storm sweeps through (which they often do!), we’re constantly checking that everything is ok.

We’ve also got a restoration plan for the ice house, and there’s a Georgian plunge pool that we’re seeking to restore. We run a history festival in September called Marches of Time, so we meet up with historians and plan the programme for the festival. 

Have there been any major setbacks?

There are lots of setbacks. It’s a bit like playing a game of snakes and ladders. You make some progress and then a storm comes along and knocks out a gutter or something.
Recently, we woke up to sinkholes that had appeared in the main lawn. Things like that are part of the job in a way, but you always climb back up again. As long as we can look back each year and think we’ve actually made progress, that’s fine.

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Inside Pitchford Hall. Credit: Grahame Mellanby

Can you tell us about your ‘treasure hunt’?

When the house was sold there was a huge auction to sell off all the pieces of art and furniture and our aim now is to return it all to its home at Pitchford Hall. Treasure appears all the time, and there have been huge acts of goodwill by strangers who want to return pieces to their rightful home.

One example is a painting of the hall by James Ward in 1822, which is a really important picture for Pitchford Hall in terms of the collection, and an American very kindly helped fund that to get it back in the hall. There are a few other pieces that are at the top of our priority list, like a sketch Queen Victoria did when she stayed at the hall in 1832, and so the treasure hunt continues.

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Pitchford is a Tudor Hall. Credit: Grahame Mellanby

Does Pitchford Hall have any ghosts?

Yes, it does! Elements of the house go back to 1280, if not earlier, so there are many human stories here. Both Rowena and I have had experiences where we’ve felt a presence, but we’ve never actually seen the ghosts, though our children have. There is a ghost that smokes a cigar and quite a few people have smelt the tobacco smoke from it. 

In the first few months of living in the house I could hear people above me in the attic. I think that was the ghosts adjusting to having this young family living in the house, having had no one there for 25 years. They were sizing us up and making sure we were ok. But now I don’t have that sense at all, the house has a very relaxed and welcoming energy.

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Pitchford Hall

 What has been the best thing about doing the restoration?

Being able to open Pitchford Hall up again after 25 years and share this incredible Tudor heritage and history with so many people has been wonderful. I remember someone local coming and saying that it was the first time they’d seen a light on in the house for 25 years. The house is alive again – that has been the best thing. 


Read our interview with the Crooked Men who live in Lavenham’s Crooked House, here. 

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