Grand Designs Hellifield Peel Castle

Reviving an English Heritage property

Francis and Karen Shaw sympathetically restored Hellifield Peel Castle

By Karen Stylianides and Emily Seymour |

Undertaking the first-known conversion of an ancient scheduled monument, Grand Designs saw Hellifield Peel Castle reborn. It is the only remaining castle in Britain built by the Knights Templar and involved liaising with English Heritage and hiring an archaeologist to oversee the work.

Architect Francis Shaw and his wife Karen had to begin the two-year long project by clearing the fallen stonework that had accumulated as the 14th-century building fell slowly into dereliction.

‘This was with English Heritage’s permission, so the building could be inspected properly,’ said Francis. A low point came when a 700-year-old wall collapsed costing the couple £150,000 to put right. The renovated 1,022 square metre castle ranges over four floors and includes eight bedrooms.

Grand Designs talks to Francis about the couple’s journey.

Grand Designs Hellifield Peel Castle. Stone alcove with Aga oven wooden table china vase flowers

Photo: Jefferson Smith

Restoring Hellifield Peel was a huge project. What made you take it on?

It was always a childhood dream to restore a castle; and Karen and I wanted to live near Skipton where our daughters go to school. When we stumbled across the ruin we knew we had to live there.

Do you have any advice for anyone else thinking of renovating a listed property?

You need to understand that even though you own the building, there are certain rules and regulations that you need to adhere to which restrict what alterations you can and can’t make to it. It’s a difficult concept to get your head around.

How did you handle those restrictions?

Sometimes it was as simple as waiting a day before responding to the relevant authorities just to make sure any frustrations were out of my system. It also helps to be open to compromises. For example, English Heritage let me build a very modern attic conversion but put its foot down about the stone porch. I think it was the right decision in the end.

Large stone fireplace dark wooden table orchids in white plant pot

Photo: Jefferson Smith

What about specialist surveys and reports?

There are lots of different surveys that need to be undertaken, such as environmental reports and protected species surveys. For instance, if you were to find a rare breed of bat living in your property, all building work would have to stop until an expert had advised upon a suitable solution.

What was your project’s biggest challenge?

Halfway through the scheme, our building society withdrew all of our funding. I think it lost faith in what we were doing. We had to find new financial backing within a month. It was a terrifying time.

A wall collapsed halfway through the build. How did you resolve the problem?

Fortunately, I had set aside a contingency sum for the possibility of having to rebuild a wall. In the end the one that we thought would fall down stayed up and we had to rebuild a different one. It just goes to show that you have to be prepared for any eventuality. Having back-up funding is really important, but we still had to cut costs in other areas to afford the extra work.

Grand Designs Hellifield Peel Castle. Balcony overlooking field. dining table on wood flooring

Photo: Jefferson Smith

Which parts of the project did you save money on?

We sourced a lot of things from eBay and auction houses. The Grosvenor House Hotel in London was being refurbished at the same time and that’s where the marble on the bathroom walls came from.

On eBay we sourced some lovely Cumbrian slate that has been used for flooring on the ground level, stained glass for the old chapel and also a tapestry that’s now in the drawing room. It’s my favourite piece and only cost £76.

Are you currently working on anything similar?

I’m restoring a thirteenth-century Scottish castle for a client with my architectural firm Shaw & Jagger Architects. The plot is set into the rock face looking out to sea. The coastline is crumbling, so it’s going to be a big challenge.

Open field castle trees

Photo: Jefferson Smith