The Historic Houses Association have announced that the 2014 Restoration Award has been given to Norton Conyers, near Ripon, North Yorkshire, home of Sir James and Lady Graham. The late medieval house, extensively rebuilt in the 17th century1, has been the home of the Graham family since 1624. It is perhaps most famous for being an inspiration for Thornfield Hall in Charlotte Brontë’s celebrated novel Jane Eyre. The novelist is believed to have visited Norton Conyers in 1839 and the family legend of a “madwoman” secretly confined to an attic room might have given her the idea for the crazed Mrs Rochester.
Sir James and Lady Graham, a former museum curator, began the restoration of Norton Conyers in 2006. Their assiduous work over the past eight years revealed fascinating layers of history, which visitors will be able to discover in July 2015, when this Graded II listed house reopens to the public.
Richard Compton, President of the Historic Houses Association comments: “Norton Conyers is a very special house, steeped in history. It has been so sensitively and painstakingly restored in recent years by its very knowledgeable owners, Sir James and Lady Graham. I always look upon Norton Conyers as a classic HHA Member property whose owners are so dedicated towards the maintenance of this special place. Great care has been taken to respect the history and development of this historic house and in so doing, over the past eight years, successive layers of history have been uncovered. The HHA is delighted that this award is being made to mark and celebrate the Grahams’ remarkable achievements”.
Harry Dalmeny, Chairman, UK Private Clients said: “The Grahams have achieved an heroic restoration. Their passion, extensive research and great attention to detail have lifted the veil on over 1000 years of history, while retaining Norton Conyers’ impenetrable mystery. Almost 200 years after Charlotte Brontë, visitors will with no doubt be mesmerised by this fascinating house”.
The restoration works have enhanced many features of Norton Conyers that Charlotte Brontë mentioned in her description of Thornfield Hall: the battlements around the roof, the lawn, the rookery, the broad oak staircase lit by a high latticed window, the high square hall covered in family portraits and, of course “the Mad Woman’s room” in the third storey attic where, in the 18th century, the inspiration for Mrs Rochester is rumoured to have been confined.
Following the discovery of a staircase leading to the attic, a “secret” door has been created in the 19th century panelling, opening the space to the public for the first time. The library has also been restored and furnished to resemble
Mr Rochester’s study in Brontë’s novel. Further finds made during the restoration process include Tudor painted boards hidden behind 18th century plaster and a 1760s wallpaper, a rare survival, discovered in the main staircase passage. THE HHA/Sotheby’s Restoration Award recognises and celebrates the restoration work that is continually being undertaken by members of the HHA throughout the United Kingdom. These projects reflect the dedication of owners to the care and sympathetic restoration not only of the principal houses but also of the gardens, parks and estate buildings. The Award seeks to generate publicity for the winning properties, to encourage more visitors to them and to stimulate increased interest in historic houses and support for the role of the private owner.This year, from a short list of applications which included Bruisyard Hall in Suffolk (Paul Rous), The Orangery at Burton Constable Hall in East Yorkshire (The Burton Constable Foundation), Cogeshall Abbey in Essex (Roger Hadley), Elmore Court, Gloucestershire (Anselm Guise), Great Fursdon in Devon (Francis Fulford) and Pentillie Castle, the judges commended the following three: