IN DAYS past, it was not uncommon to be married in the same church in which you were christened — and even have your own children christened there. For Anne Monroe, these events were only the beginning of a lifelong connection with her childhood church, in Northumberland, which she and her husband, Bill, went on to buy and convert into a luxury holiday let.
“It does feel a bit strange letting it out,” she says, “but, having seen it through the 24 weeks of conversion, it just felt so different when it was finished that, while I do have memories of it as it was, I enjoy it as it is now; I don’t look back.”
The church was St Luke’s, in Kielder National Park. Her parents had bought the Old Rectory next door in 1950, when she was a baby — 20 years after it had been sold by the parish.
Anne MonroeExterior view of deconsecrated St Luke’s, in Kielder National Park, which is now run as a holiday let
She was christened in St Luke’s in 1951. Her father, Edward Grierson, a novelist, was the churchwarden for many years. “Every Sunday, he would light the church stove. There was not a large congregation — this is a sparsely populated rural area — but the church was always very well attended at Christmas and Easter when I was a child. It was very much an important part of our lives.”
Mrs Monroe met her husband, an American, at the Courtauld Institute of Art, in London. They were married at St Luke’s in 1987. After the first of their four sons was born, two years later, the couple returned to the Old Rectory to look after her mother. Her father had died in 1975.
“We have stayed ever since,” she says. “Our sons, Nicolas, Edward, and the twins William and James, were all christened at the church.”
IN 1998, the church was deconsecrated by the bishop. “Bill and I went to the service, which was very well attended and incredibly moving. It was very sad. We had such a long connection with it.”
The building was put up for sale by the Church Commissioners with restricted covenants, including that it could be used only for household storage, and not as a residential property. This, and the fact that the churchyard had to remain open, curbed interest from other buyers. The Monroes leapt at the chance, and bought the church for £5000.
“We decided to buy it simply because we lived next door and we were worried that, despite the covenants, somebody might buy it and try to use it in some way that we considered, as conservation-minded people, was inappropriate. Also, because it was so much part of our family history, it felt like a natural extension.”
Raising four children put any potential plans for the building on hold until 2008, when the couple, who had already been letting out the coach house since 2004, decided that the time was right to negotiate a future for the Grade II listed church with the Church Commissioners.
Anne MonroeBill and Anne Monroe outside Greystead Old Church
“We felt it was our duty to maintain it; we wanted to maintain it and provide a future for it. The difficulty was, if could only be used for household storage, and would cost more than £200,000 to restore, it just wasn’t practicable. We needed a use for it to get an income and pay for the mortgage we would have to take out.”
The Commissioners were “very supportive”, and agreed to change the use of the building, she says, but National Park restrictions meant that it still could not be converted into a house and sold; it could be used only for business.
In 2012, after four years of negotiations with the Commissioners, National Park planners, listed building officers, the diocese of Newcastle, the Rector of the parish of Greystead and Thorneyburn, the Revd Dr Susan Ramsaran, and the PCC, building work began to transform the church into a three-bedroom holiday let. .
“I like challenges, which is fortunate, because it was very hard work. I was working very late at night, and our solicitor was working long hours to sort out the legal agreements. We also decided to put in an eco-friendly biomass boiler which services the rectory and the coach house, which also complicated things.”
THE building work, carried out by Historic Property Restoration Ltd, was bolstered by two significant grants: £8000 from the Northumberland National Park Sustainable Development Fund, which supports projects in the area and which was used to restore the church’s frosted stained-glass; and £25,000 from Northumberland Uplands LEADER, a county council programme for rural development projects which support the local economy and create jobs.
Their architect, Tristan Spicer, of Doonan Architects, Hexham, designed the main body of the nave (there is no separate chancel), which houses the three bedrooms, so that it could be made back into one space in the future.
The rest of the living area, including a kitchen and dining space, is on a two-thirds mezzanine. A balcony looks over the former east end of the church, which is full height to accommodate the original stained-glass window. “The mezzanine is also a cut-out around the west door, which means that you can look down the west end on to the beautiful sandstone arches with lovely leaded windows.”
THE business is named Greystead Holiday Cottages. St Luke’s was renamed Greystead Old Church, and is booked, alongside the Coach House, 46 or 47 weeks of the year to allow maintenance in the other months. Prices are between £678 to £1903 per week for the Old Church, which sleeps eight, and £397 and £907 per week for the Coach House, which sleeps six. It can be booked through Sykes Holiday Cottages.
Anne MonroeAnne Monroe
Future plans for Greystead include converting the bell-tower and its original bell from 1817, which remains closed off and unrestored. Mrs Monroe also envisions a spiral staircase to a look-out space with a possible star-gazing platform.
Running the business has been hard work, but enjoyable, she says. “It has been lovely to find out how many of our visitors are fascinated by the history of the church. People take an interest.”