Keeping it in the family

PUBLISHED: 09:00 20 November 2014

Hallsannery, which sits a mile from Bideford

Hallsannery, which sits a mile from Bideford

Matt Austin Images 2013

THE £500,000 renovation of one of North Devon’s most picturesque period properties was more than just an investment or development opportunity. For Hannah Evans it was also about ‘coming home’, reveals NAOMI TOLLEY

The dual-aspect Bridal Suite at Hallsannery is inspired by the magenta in the fireplace, giving the room a feminine airThe dual-aspect Bridal Suite at Hallsannery is inspired by the magenta in the fireplace, giving the room a feminine air

IT is very much a local, family affair at Hallsannery. On the outskirts of Bideford, sitting on a hill in acres of parkland overlooking a beautiful bend of the town’s estuary, sits the Grade II listed manor house, which was formerly Hallsannery Field Centre.

The property has recently undergone a total transformation to become a prestigious wedding, holiday and corporate venue - a process which began in September 2012, when Hannah Evans and her husband Charles, a Plymouth-based Logistics Commander in the Royal Navy, took on the property from Hannah’s family, who were semi-retiring.

Hannah, 42, and Charles, 41, gathered ‘a fantastic team’ of local tradesmen and businesses to undergo an ambitious, six-month restoration programme to bring the house back to its original, former glory.

“We wanted to renovate Hallsannery to put it back to what it would have been like when it was built in the 1830s - to recreate the ‘gentleman’s residence’ it was in late Georgian/early Victorian times - but with all the modern comforts,” says Hannah.

Their achievement is second to none. Entering the magnificent, ornate hall with its stunning cupola and sweeping staircase is like stepping into a chapter from a Jane Eyre novel, igniting feelings of large, familial Georgian abodes and true upstairs-downstairs living.

Despite the changes, Hannah’s memory of it as a family home is still very much alive, albeit in a different era when the building had a very different function: “I grew up in Scotland but left at the age of 11 when my parents and aunts and uncle bought Hallsannery to run as a field centre, providing educational courses for students.

“My parents were the wardens and so we lived upstairs in the ‘servants’ quarters’. I can remember sharing my life at Hallsannery with 70 or so students who were staying at the field centre. It was nowhere near as plush as it is now but it was home - and I loved it,” she says, standing in the stunning kitchen, which is now her favourite room in the house.

“The 14ft tall dresser and amazing slate flooring are all that remain of the field centre kitchen,” she laughs, “we took out the commercial kitchen and replaced it with one in which our guests would be able to eat, chat and relax.” The 11ft long pine table is one of Hannah’s favourite renovation ‘finds’ at auction and it’s easy to see it gets plenty of use.

It was a big decision for Hannah to leave her Hampshire home, where she had lived for 12 years, to return to Devon and oversee the renovation. It also coincided with her first book, MOB Rule, Lessons Learned by a Mother of Boys, being published in January 2013, meaning repeat trips to London.

“We were driven to take on Hallsannery by a desire to help to continue to preserve the house and to keep it in the family for future generations. We recognised that it’s a beautiful - but big - house and would crumble if someone didn’t care and look after it. For me in particular, it was also very much about coming home and giving our children the same childhood that I was fortunate enough to have here,” she says. “Added to which, we all love the sea so being so near the coast is perfect.”

The intense six-month renovation schedule meant that not only did Hannah immerse herself in the intricacies of plumbing and electrics, but she also became a familiar face at Devon’s renowned auction houses, including Pyles of Hatherleigh: “I had a clear vision of how I wanted the house to look and the things we needed to do that.

“We based the ‘look’ and colour scheme around the distinctive listed fireplaces and took inspiration from original plans and sales particulars we have of the house. Much of our furniture – including the well-loved kitchen table – was bought at auction. Fortunately for us there aren’t many homes that can house such large pieces,” adds Hannah, with a glint of self-satisfaction in her eye.

“We were also very lucky to find some wonderful businesses right on our doorstep here in Bideford. We used local architects, Gale & Snowden who designed our quirky ‘pod’ en-suite wetrooms and have a great builder from just up the road called Bob, who played, and continues to play, a huge part. All of the soft furnishings were done painstakingly by Myra at Montage Interiors under the Pannier Market in Bideford and our carpets came from Bradworthy.

“Wherever possible, we bought local,” says Hannah, her eyes wandering to all corners of the house, reminiscing at the combined efforts put into making the house the glorious property it is today.

Not only was the focus on local, it was also on ‘green’. The installation of a wood pellet boiler in the cellar means the house now basks in a constant 20 degrees: “It is not like it was when I was a child,” says Hannah, “it could be freezing then.”

The house now has 11 impressive double bedrooms and sleeps 22 adults, plus four to six children, with the adjacent Coach House sleeping an additional eight. So far the result has been a huge hit with guests: “Since opening in April 2013, we have hosted 25 weddings and we are now fully booked at weekends until November. Christmas and New Year are obviously also proving popular.”

And so the family affair continues, but now it is extending to their guests: “We are welcoming a lot of special birthday and anniversary parties as well as big groups of friends and family,” enthuses Hannah. n

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