Holy Conversion

A nondescript exterior and a yard dominated by headstones give no indication of the residential nature of this historic church in Kyloe, Northumberland. A couple decided to purchase and re-adapt the structure, investing nearly three times the purchase price into renovations over the course of several years. The exterior remains mostly untouched, save for skylights running the length of the roof. Inside, the owners took a similar approach. Restoration is more prevalent than renovation, with original stained glass windows throughout, and  church fixtures abounding. Much of the original seating in the church was refinished and placed throughout the home, and unused wood and building materials were fashioned into a dramatic staircase leading from the main living space to an upper level library. The choice to live in a church is an unorthodox one, but this home’s owners managed to salvage a structure that might have otherwise been doomed to deterioration.

Kyloe parish lies on the coast of north Northumberland overlooking Holy Island. It rises from the shore westward to the Kyloe Hills. Here, there are rocky crags where Iron Age  settlers built their homes. Elsewhere, there is a mix of arable farming and forestry plantations.

The St. Nicholas Church was built in 1792 on the site of an earlier church dating from around the 1100’s, it was deconsecrated in the 80’s after which it stood derelict for around 20 years. Taken on as a conversion project in 2002, it is now completed and listed at approx. $1.3 million USD.

The property comprises 1 acre of land, a large garden, outbuildings with planning permission for conversion to a 2 bedroom cottage and the church itself. Carefully and thoughtfully converted for domestic use, offering 4/5 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 2 reception rooms, 2 kitchens and huge open plan living area

A deconsecrated church is a church which is no longer used for worship.

There are several reasons why a church may be deconsecrated, such as damage to the structure rendering it dangerous or impossible to use, changes in parish structures or the population in the area, or simply that it is no longer practical to use it for some reason.

St. Nicholas Church House in Kyloe, Northumberland, is an impressive Grade II listed Georgian building, dating from 1792 and constructed of dressed stone. It features a prominent west tower with battlements as well as stained glass by Clayton & Bell, whose windows adorn many of the country’s largest ecclesiastical buildings.

When pilot Ian Bottomley and his partner, Sally Onions, a bookkeeper, first saw the  church ten years ago it was already in the early stages of conversion. Planning permission had been secured for a change of use to a craft centre with accommodation above, but the owner was struggling to cope with such an ambitious project and had decided to sell.

The church stands in a peaceful, elevated position and enjoys views over Northumberland’s heritage coastline to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. “We were bowled over by the setting,” says Ian. “Sally and I had been looking for our first home together and liked the idea of doing up an old vicarage. Converting an old church seemed even better.”

Ian and Sally each owned a terraced house in Northumberland, and sold one of these properties to fund the purchase of the church. Their first task was to remove all of the ugly breeze block partition walls and the new first floor, which divided the beautiful stone mullioned windows in half. All of the blocks were then carefully cleaned and reserved for future use to help reduce costs.

“The whole place was in quite a state,” says Sally. “Neither of us had ever tackled a renovation before — let alone something as daunting as a cavernous church. Ian preferred a contemporary approach, with lots of glass and steel, but in the end we opted for a more conventional look.”

Ian has a background in computer graphics and created a 3D model of the church, which allowed the couple to take a virtual tour around the interiors. They then presented their final design to a local architect specialising in historic buildings, who tweaked the plans ready to be submitted for planning and Building Regulations approval. Various organisations needed to be involved, including English Heritage and the Church Commissioners, and the initial design stage took almost two years to complete.

The main body of the church has been left open  and incorporates the chancel, nave and vestry. This space includes living, dining and kitchen areas, with new stairs rising up to a galleried library at one end. A separate kitchen and sitting room provide more modest winter quarters for Sally and Ian, who were aware that heating the entire church year-round would prove impractical for just two people.

“We devised a layout which gives us the best of both worlds,” says Ian. “An impressive, open plan entertaining space, and smaller, cosier rooms for everyday use. We’ve effectively built a small three storey house to contain three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a lounge, kitchen and utility room, using structural steelwork inside one end of the church.”

Initially, the most pressing task was to weatherproof the listed building, a process which included replacing a missing window, eradicating damp and employing a company to strip and repair the huge roof. Around 80% of the original slates were suitable for reuse and externally the church remains virtually unchanged. Inside, a huge concrete raft was poured, with friends helping out — fuelled by pizza and beer and supervised by Ian’s father, a retired builder.

“Ian and I are both quite practical, and although we left the roofing, plastering and plumbing to the experts, we tackled everything else ourselves,” Sally explains. “Ian’s brother supplied the structural steel frame which we infilled with stud walls, and I became quite proficient at plasterboarding, laying floors and decorating. My mum is now accomplished at erecting scaffolding, and I was happy to work at high levels.”

For six years the couple laboured on the church, insulating the building, fitting conservation rooflights and installing underfloor heating. A wooden floor has been laid in the nave, and the stone aisle was taken up and used to patch an incomplete flagstone floor in the chancel. The church porch opens into a lobby situated within the tower, complete with a stone flagged floor and original baptism font. An inner hallway with Brazilian slate flooring passes the winter kitchen and sitting room, which features a carved stone cross thought to date back even earlier than the church.

Steps lead up to the impressive full-height living area, which has an open timbered ceiling and a tinplate frieze on which a psalm has been painstakingly hand-painted by a former vicar’s wife. Lit by stained and clear glazed stone mullion windows and the new conservation rooflights, the 35-foot-high space is heated by underfloor heating backed up by cast-iron radiators. Care has been taken to ensure that the main architectural features have been retained and, where appropriate, fittings have been sourced from other ecclesiastical properties.

Finding suitable items became a virtual obsession. “Doors are out of a school in Manchester and the wainscot panelling around the living room came from a chapel in South Wales, and was probably our best find,” says Ian, who hand-built the impressive staircase leading up to the library using roof timbers from a hospital in Bradford. He also crafted the vestry kitchen from reclaimed pitch pine using pew frames, with worktops made from old pew seats.

Repairing between the rafters uncovered some slivers of vivid blue plaster, which Sally and Ian took to be colour matched. They have reinstated the striking blue ceilings above the vestry kitchen, the chancel dining area and the open plan altar bedroom, which is lit by four stained glass windows and may be curtained off from the main body of the church.

“Everything needs to be scaled up to avoid being dwarfed by the building,” says Sally. “Ian made the long dining table using left-over pitch pine and pew seats, with newel post legs, and the top of our coffee table is actually a full-sized kitchen table.”

Once the interiors had been completed the couple turned their attention to the churchyard, which extends to almost an acre. Permission was granted by the Church Commissioners to move some of the gravestones against one wall of the church, creating a private lawned area with sweeping coastal views.

“Taking on this conversion has been a real labour of love,” says Ian. “It has totally changed our outlook and the way we live. In fact, now we can’t even visit another church without wondering where we would put the bedrooms!”

When a church is no longer required, it becomes a ‘Redundant Church’ .  Planning permission is normally required for a change of use, and listed building consent may apply. You will also need to submit your plans to the Uses Committee Secretary. If there is a graveyard attached to your church, the human remains must be removed and interred elsewhere, although if your plans will not disturb any graves the Home Office can grant an exception.

Sally Onions and Ian Bottomley have painstakingly converted a listed Georgian church into a stunning home including the original stained glass windows.The buyers of a deconsecrated church in Northumbria have produced a home of sublime craftsmanship, says Mary Wilson

From the outside, St Nicholas church in Kyloe, Northumberland, looks just as it did 100 years ago. So much so that the owners who converted it, Sally Onions and Ian Bottomley, have put a sign outside the gate saying that the building is no longer a church, but a private home. Now a five-bedroom house, it is for sale for £650,000 through Smiths Gore.

The Georgian church, which the couple bought in 2001, is in a heavenly position. It is said by Pevsner to have been built by George Robinson and Thomas Hindmarsh in 1792 and has a Saxon cross in the churchyard which pre-dates the building. A number of the stained-glass windows are by Clayton & Bell, whose creations adorn several large ecclesiastical buildings, including Peterborough Cathedral.

St Nicholas was deconsecrated in 1984 but its size shows it was once an important church. “Any C of E worshippers now go to church in Lowick,” says Sally, “but I have met lots of people who were confirmed or got married at St Nicholas.”

Before Sally, 42, and Ian, 44, got together, they had both owned terrace houses in Alnwick, 21 miles away. They wanted to buy something completely detached with some land. “We couldn’t find anything that fitted the bill,” says Sally. “Then this turned up. The church had space, a good-sized garden – although mostly full of gravestones – and it was in a lovely situation. When we realised it also had stunning views over the fields to the sea, that was the icing on the cake.”

A previous owner had begun to convert the church, but they reckoned what he had done was badly conceived, so the couple ripped it all out and started again. “The saddest thing was that the stained-glass window depicting St Nicholas ended up stuck down a corridor in the loo,” says Sally.

From the outside, St Nicholas church in Kyloe, Northumberland, looks just as it did 100 years ago. So much so that the owners who converted it, Sally Onions and Ian Bottomley, have put a sign outside the gate saying that the building is no longer a church, but a private home. Now a five-bedroom house, it is for sale for £650,000 through Smiths Gore.

“We had to get our plans approved, so we didn’t start work until 2003. Until we moved in in 2005, we lived in Ian’s house, which was a very civilised way of doing a major conversion. We could go home, have a bath and a pizza and no dust.”

Sally, who is a bookkeeper, and Ian, a pilot, spent every free evening and weekend turning the church into a fabulous home with a voluminous living area, incorporating the chancel and nave and stretching 31ft up to the apex of the roof. At the far end, beneath four stained-glass windows and where the high altar would have been, is a double bed. There are two bedrooms on the ground floor and three in the tower.

Ian did all the woodwork – every lavatory seat, cistern cover, cupboard door and even the split stairs to the galleried library and rear rooms are his. Sally worked on all the travertine and Brazilian slate tiles.

They also laid the underfloor heating and pitch pine flooring in the living area, and relaid the flagstones. “It only took us a couple of days,” says Sally. “My mum was a wonderful help. She trimmed all the rough edges while Ian and I put them down.” In fact, the couple did everything themselves except the plumbing, the roof, the steel work (taken on by Ian’s brother) and the plastering.

The only items left in the church had been the stone font and pulpit. The couple have left the font in situ, but dismantled the pulpit and stored it in the garden, where it lay in pieces for several years. “When we came to put it together, it was like a jigsaw. We had numbered the pieces, but these had washed off over the years,” says Sally.

“For ages we thought we were never going to get the job finished and often wondered what on earth we were doing. But once we’d started, we had to carry on.

“The worst thing was waiting to get permission for the top of the tower. The planners wouldn’t allow us to put in windows behind the louvred openings. We did the two floors below – making a dressing area and two bedrooms and applied again four years later. This time they said yes.” Now there is a sweet little bedroom at the top with the best views of all.

During the time of building the house, Ian sold his share of an IT business and re-trained as a commercial airline pilot. He is now flying for Scottish airline Loganair.

Ian, originally from West Yorkshire, said: “Everything was on an outrageously big scale. Rather than a few bags of concrete, it was a waggonload of concrete and you’re not talking about a few pots of paint. Everything had to be multiplied by 10.”

Kyloe is a quiet hamlet six miles from the coast, 10 miles from Berwick and a few minutes from Belford.

“The location sold it to me,” admitted Ian. “When my dad, who’s a builder, saw it, he said ‘the roof is jiggered, there’s wet and dry rot – but just look at the view!’”

At the heart of the home is the breathtaking full- height open-plan living area, which incorporates the chancel, nave and vestry and has stone mullioned windows all around.

This huge room, which has cast iron radiators and underfloor heating, serves as a living, dining and kitchen space.

The former Vestry is now the backdrop for a bespoke kitchen. Steps lead from here to the fourth bedroom within the former High Altar, which has five stained glass windows.

Also on the ground floor is a further winter kitchen and second lounge/fifth bedroom. This room has a multi-fuel stove and stone-carved Saxon cross, which pre-dates the church.

Two staircases lead to the first floor from both the entrance hall and main open-plan living space. Above is a galleried library and shower room. On the second floor are two bedrooms with timber roof trusses along with the stunning tower bedroom suite, within the former bell tower. A lobby opens to a dressing area with steps up to a further third floor bedroom boasting spectacular views on three sides.

Set within 1.4 acres, the church also comes with a few sitting tenants – namely the inhabitants of the graveyard. Although relatives have a right to arrange a visit by appointment, Ian says this doesn’t pose a problem. We tend to get a note through the letterbox about once or twice a year,” he said. “It’s usually if someone has been studying their family tree.”

For those who want to develop the property further, there is even planning permission to convert a detached stone outbuilding into a two-bedroom cottage providing 781sqft of accommodation. This would be ideal as a granny/nanny flat or holiday let – something Ian and Sally didn’t have the energy for once they’d finished the church.

Now the couple are hoping to move closer to Glasgow airport where Ian has been based since becoming a pilot three years ago. “I spend most of my time going up and down the A1,” he said.

“So it’s not ideal. In some ways it’ll be a wrench to leave as we put so much work into it.

“But in other ways it’s a relief it’s over!

“We don’t have to feel guilty now if we’re sitting out in the garden rather than working on the house.”


About hopeseguin

Who am I? I'm still discovering just who I am, I suppose. A. Powell Davis writes that "Life is just a chance to grow a soul."

Posted on December 9, 2009, in World News and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. It’s an original home for sure, but it is beautiful.

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