A family tradition: the restoration of Dissington Hall

Dissington Hall, Northumberland (Image: dissingtonhall.co.uk)

Dissington Hall was largely derelict when it was bought by Eric Brown in 1968, despite the then preference for new properties.  A senior dentist and dental lecturer, he was not the obvious buyer for such a large Georgian house but he and his wife had fallen in love with it and now were determined to rescue it from its long decline. Their success and love of the building has been passed on to his son Michael, who was just four when he moved in, and it is now he and his family who have completed this labour of love and brought back into use this elegant house.

The house was originally built for the Collingwood family in 1797 who had been commissioned the architect William Newton (b.1730 – d.1798) in 1794.  Newton had designed a number of significant local country houses including Capheaton Hall (1758), Backworth Hall (1778), Howick Hall (1782), Whitfield Hall (1785) before his work at Dissington.  Dissington Hall is an elegant design with a first-floor string course to relieve the mass of the vertical elevation and a ground floor cornice which was a Newton characteristic.  It was built in the local sandstone in fine Ashlar with the blocks being so finely cut that the joins are near-invisible.  Further changes where made between 1820 and 1850 with a new clock tower, stables, porch, alterations to the roofline and the additions of a new servant’s stair.

Despite the obvious quality of the house, it was to suffer much during World War II when it was requisitioned.  It served as a dormitory for 50 WAFF ladies who worked at the Polish Airforce Headquarters at Ousden Aerodrome, a hospital and, at one point, a TNT storage depot.  These various roles caused many poor quality or poorly planned alterations along with the general damage caused by huge numbers of people.  Perhaps the single biggest cause of damage was a bomb dropped in 1940 which caused cracking to the east and south elevations.  Following the war, the house was unoccupied and so was the target of thieves who, in 1947, stole all the lead from the main roof.  Water penetration followed, combined with some earlier alterations which lead to long and inefficient guttering which frequently leaked.  This led to extensive outbreaks of  both wet and dry rot which have all had to be conquered.

The story brightens from 1955 when it was bought by the local Sharrett family who lived there and carried out some restoration before selling it to the Brown family in 1968.   Michael recalls that they only lived in a small part of the house as much of the rest was then uninhabitable with sections of the roof having fallen in.  Since then, the house has been painstakingly restored and is now filled with antiques and appropriate fittings.  The Browns have even managed to acquire the original architectural plans.  The house has been a wedding and conference venue since 1992 but is also, perhaps most importantly, still their family home; a heartening example of how dedication can rescue and protect a key piece of our local architectural heritage.

Full story: ‘Living History: Dissington Hall‘ [journallive.co.uk]