Tag: Property

Story of the week: Last of the summer wine in Holmfirth, Yorkshire


A wintery Friday afternoon and Ashley Jackson is holding court.

In the upstairs office above his West Yorkshire gallery, the 68-year-old, Barnsley-born landscape artist is nursing a crystal tumbler of well-aged single malt.

In the background an array of photographs show him receiving his courtiers: Sarah Ferguson, Rudolf Giuliani and professional Yorkshireman Fred Trueman.

“The quarry and mill men started the creative tradition of Holmfirth,” he chuckles to himself.

“The town had poets, musicians and intellectuals long before Last of the Summer Wine arrived. I had a gallery in Holmfirth for many years BC – before Compo.”

According to Ashley, Homfirth’s appeal is simply its visceral beauty – and the people inspired by it.

“Holmfirth is masculine country. If you appreciate the moors and nature, you’re welcome in Holmfirth with open arms,” he winks. “But the moors breed a certain type of person. They don’t breed bankers, that’s for sure.”

Coach parties

Ashley has granted me an audience to help me discover why this small West Yorkshire community is booming with house buyers chasing the life-work-balance dream.

To the outsider, the proposition seems unfathomable with dark, satanic mills looming over rough, forbidding moorland.

To the coach parties that clog up the triumvirate of main streets each weekend, the unique draw is the long-running television series Last of the Summer Wine, which first started filming in the area in 1972.

But to the converts, Holmfirth is a burgeoning arts hub with the Picturedrome Cinema, a glorious arthouse institution dating from 1912, the trail-blazing CragRats Theatre and a slew of well-regarded art galleries.

Ashley is right too – there was life before Compo. Bamforth & Co a publishing, film and illustration company based in Holmfirth, not only pioneered the saucy seaside postcard, but also preceded Hollywood as a film-making centre, making its first monochrome films in 1898.

Well connected

Located ten miles south of Huddersfield, Holmfirth is the main settlement in the Holme Valley.

A mill town since the Industrial Revolution, it’s overflowing with bucolic charm – think local stone-built cottages perched precariously on steep, twisting roads.

It’s also very centrally located for commuting to Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester, all university towns, and all within one hour’s drive. Within 20 minutes you can be cruising down the M1 or M62.

Despite the rural location, house prices are well above the district average and there is a high demand area for housing, while 11.3 per cent of economically active locals are self-employed compared to a national average of 8.3 per cent, according to figures from Kirklees Council.

“Holmfirth is small enough to feel friendly but big enough to be worth coming to.”

“It’s come of age as a destination with the advent of broadband,” says Max Earnshaw, Managing Director, EarnshawKay estate agents.

The broad range of housing stock ranges from a farmhouse with 30 acres for £1m to a two-bed cottage for £125,000, while a typical, four-bedroom detached house with a garden sells for around £250,000.

Particularly popular for conversions are the three-storey weavers’ cottages, as are the outlying villages of the Holme Valley, such as Upperthong, Netherthong and Wooldale.

“We get quite a young clientele – typically people in their early thirties who have done their time in London. People who want to retire head for North Yorkshire,” says Earnshaw.

“We have mill conversions with aspects of new build, but they cost £200,000 plus, so there’s not much for first-time buyers. But there are lots of empty old mills, which are ideal for setting up a business,” he adds.

Time for tea 

Sue and Chris Gardener moved to Holmfirth seven years ago from Harpenden and did just that.

They bought the Wrinkled Stocking Tea Room, part of the building used as the film location for Nora Batty’s cottage in Last of the Summer Wine, as a going concern.

Downstairs an exhibition of memorabilia marks the 25th anniversary of the programme. But, as outsiders to Yorkshire, they are known as ‘comer-inners’ in the local parlance.

“We weren’t fans of the show. I always took the theme music as my cue to leave the room on a Sunday evening,” says Sue, as we sit amid floral tablecloths and china cups with an array of mouth-watering homemade cakes on the heaving sideboard.

“It’s okay as a comer-inner. People are genuinely warm and friendly. They may take a while to get to know but, when you do, you have a friend for life,” explains Chris. “And the countryside is stunning.”

“We walk the dogs every day and love the space. In Harpenden, we used to queue just to get into the car park at Waitrose.”

Cultural life

The Last of the Summer Wine set still draws the crowds but, in recent years, it’s the town’s cultural scene that has really captured the imagination – leading to a new influx of comer-inners. The HD9 postcode is now the second-highest theatre going audience in the region.

CragRats, a theatre, communication and education business, founded in 1991 and housed in a converted woolen mill at the edge of town, is the best exponent of the thriving arts community.

The company employs 80 staff and has over 300 actors on its books, running training programmes for companies as diverse as Diageo and West Yorkshire Police. The sprawling labyrinthine building is home to a theatre, a multi-media department and a corporate training facility.

“People think Holmfirth is the back of beyond but there’s a lot of raw talent in this area,” says David Bradley, Chairman of CragRats and co-founder of the business.

“The arts scene started with the film industry and I think the sense of creativity has been built into the fabric of the area ever since.”

“We chose Holmfirth for the building, the location and as a geographical centre as it’s close to Manchester and Leeds,” he adds.

“Most of all, I wanted to live somewhere that has a strong sense of identity and community.”

 Your round

Back at the Ashley Jackson gallery, we’re draining our whiskies and bracing ourselves for the icy bite of winter.

“People round here tell it straight and I enjoy their directness. It comes from the moors. But go into any pub in Holmfirth and you’ll soon find out if you’ve been accepted,” chuckles Ashley.

The secret? “It’s the greatest gift you can give a Yorkshireman,” he winks.

“You know they’ve accepted you when they ask you to get a round in.”

What did you think of this story? Post your comments below.

This article was first published in the Weekend FT in 2008.

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Story of the week: Urban regeneration in Derby



Derbyshire is back on the silver screen with Keira Knightley, who spawned a local tourism boom in 2005 while filming her role in Pride & Prejudice, returning to the region to depict Lady Georgiana Spencer in the film The Duchess.

Many of the scenes were filmed at Chatsworth House, where Georgina lived following her marriage to the Fifth Duke of Devonshire, with Kedleston Hall, five miles from Derby, standing in for the Spencer’s family home of Althorp.

But Derby is causing ripples in more than just the film-location business these days.

The ongoing £2bn transformation of the city highlights the potential of this lesser-known East Midlands city as a place for relocation.

With strong employment growth, a vibrant high-technology sector and blue-chip endorsement from the likes of Toyota, Bombardier and Rolls Royce, the latter this year celebrating its centenary in the city, Derby is attracting an influx of well-qualified professionals seeking a higher quality of life.

The Masterplan 

The Derby Cityscape Masterplan is designed to transform the city centre by 2020, but the first fruits of regeneration are already on display.

The £340m Westfield Derby shopping centre opened last October, incorporating the UK’s first Cinema de Luxe with its Director’s Lounge for airline business class-style service.

The Cathedral Quarter Hotel, Derby’s first boutique hotel, opened in May in a £3.8m refurbishment of the former council offices. The old safe vaults are now a particularly well-stocked wine cellar.

Finally, QUAD, a major new arts centre, will open its doors late September in time for the annual Derby Feste weekend, while Cathedral Green Bridge, an iconic new bridge across the River Derwent, will be unveiled around the same time.

Pouring over the 12-project regeneration masterplan amid the genteel surrounds of the Cathedral Quarter Hotel’s Opulence restaurant with John Cadwallader, the avuncular CEO of urban regeneration company Derby Cityscape, we map out the future of the city centre over lunch.

When completed, it will add 5,000 new houses to the city centre, mixing townhouses with apartments, plus 1.5m sq ft of office space and a host of leisure and cultural developments.

“Derby has been described as a Southeast city in the Midlands but the city centre didn’t reflect the strength of the local economy.”

“When I first walked around the city I felt it lacked impetus. It was very understated and lacked the right retail offer,” says John, tucking into an apple and raspberry streusel with crème fraiche sorbet.

“But, by 2020, it will a complete place to live and enjoy the amenities of a city centre, appealing to a broad range of people – young professionals, downsizers and retirees.”

City tour 

After lunch I head off to explore the progress at grass roots level.

Strolling down Amen Alley behind the imposing Cathedral, the Cathedral Green area marks the start of the Unesco-listed Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site, which stretches 15 miles down the river Derwent from Derby to Matlock Bath.

The Mills were the crucible of the regional industrial revolution in Derby’s heyday. Cathedral Green Bridge, designed for pedestrians and cycling, will bring the region into the 21st century, linking the riverside apartments, office space and restaurants of Cathedral Green to the proposed hotel, retail and leisure developments of North Riverside.

Over the next two years, further developments will add 1,000 new homes as part of the Friar Gate Goods Yard development, 30,000 sq ft of retail at Saddler Square and the opening of the Roundhouse, a new vocational centre and visitor attraction, plus the completion of the £20m regeneration of the central train station.

Having found my bearings, I then don a hard hat and plastic-bag overshoes for a sneak preview of the finishing touches at QUAD.

The £11m project, comprising an arthouse cinema and community arts centre on the fringe of the currently unloved Market Square, aims to foster regeneration via culture.

“It’s a real statement of intent, a symbol of the changing face of Derby,” says QUAD Director, Keith Jeffrey, a former deputy director of BALTIC, which helped to bring urban regeneration to NewcastleGateshead.

House prices

Chris Brown, of Boxall Brown and Jones, President of the National Association of Estate Agents, who has worked in Derby for 40 years, says:

“Derby has finally stopped playing second fiddle to Nottingham. Ten years from now, I doubt I will even recognise the place.”

“I sense a move towards more development in Derby with apartments, but also two- and three-bedroom houses, fostering more of a community feel. And the planners are on board.”

Brown believes affordability is a key selling point for Derby with houses prices below the national average.

A typical three-bedroom semi in a reasonable location costs around £170,000, an estate-type, three-bedroom semi £200,000. A substantial, four-bedroom detached house with a garden and a double garage costs around £400,000.

Transport links are good with easy access to East Midlands Airport and strong rail links, while families are attracted by the good reputation of local schools, notably Ecclesbourne at Duffield and Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in Ashbourne.

“The north and west of Derby, market towns like Ashbourne and Belper, are known as the Golden Triangle. It boasts more green space, good access to the train station and the M1, and a weekend escape to the Peak District right on your doorstep. Prices start from £200,000 for a semi up to £1m,” adds Brown.

“The market is down but I still have several homes on the market at over £1m.”

“I think Derby is better placed than most to withstand the current economic climate.”

New start

Patrick Welsh, Development Director of the Creative Industries Network (CIN) has certainly been won over.

He relocated the family from London to Derby in 2006, exchanging a two-bedroom flat in North Kensington for a five-bedroom family house in the Darley Abbey area, close to Derby’s university district, for £300,000.

“People don’t know Derby like Nottingham and Leicester, and it’s still got a way to go, but I find the quality of life is superb.”

He adds: “We park on the street, have a decent-sized garden, a good school for our two children round the corner and the countryside is just a few miles away. We’ve even formed a little neighbourhood group.”

“But it’s not a provincial life. I find a lot of people have come from London and brought their skills with them. People have traditionally moved to Derby for the high-tech industries, but there is an increasing number of outlets for the creative arts – and the opening of QUAD will help to foster the city’s cultural life.”

So, if Keira and her current co-stars, Ralph Fiennes and Charlotte Rampling, are back filing in the region over the next few years, they may find a city changed beyond all recognition. John Cadwallader certainly hopes so.

“By 2020, Derby will be, in a word, busier. Quite simply,” he smiles, “that’s our goal.”

What did you think of this story? Post your comments below.

This article was first published in the Weekend FT in June 2008.

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