Lendal Tower - one of York's famous landmarks is now a majestic family home

A landmark building in the heart of one of the world's most visited cities is now an exceptional private home. Heather Dixon reports

Iain Berg-Jenson usually thinks twice before he throws back the curtains in the morning in case the eyes of the world are upon him. For he is the owns and lives in one York’s most famous landmarks, the circular 700 year-old Lendal Tower, which sits on the banks of the River Ouse at Lendal Bridge.

From his castellated roof terrace he has a head-spinning 360 degree view of the city, with York Minster towering above the rooftops and the river rushing past his courtyard garden. But although his home stands in the middle of one of the world’s busiest tourist routes, with millions of sight-seers annually tramping past the door, the property inside is so quiet and private that it’s almost an oasis in the heart of the city. It is one of the reasons Iain bought the once dilapidated, 14th century property and turned it into one of the most unusual homes in England.

‘It had changed hands a few times over the past 10 years and it was quite damp and dilapidated,’ says Iain. ‘It was in a sad state and I really wanted to bring it back to life. I felt it deserved it.’

The property came with two adjoining houses but Iain wanted only the three-storey tower and finally secured a deal in 2010, gaining planning permission for its conversion between exchange and completion. At that time the historic building included a board room, a committee room and a former toilet block which served as the entrance.

The ground floor was bare soil.Working hand-in-hand with the conservation department, York City Council and Ancient Heritage experts, Iain put the renovation work out to tender. ‘I looked at what I wanted to do, what I could do, and then changed and redefined the details so that everyone was on board,’ says Iain. ‘I had renovated listed buildings before so I knew how important it was to understand all sides of the project, to communicate effectively and compromise where necessary.’

Work began by concreting the basement floor with material approved by English Heritage, and pointing the 4ft thick walls inside and out with lime mortar. A team of local craftsmen then created a ‘house within a house’,

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building an independent structure within the walls which could be dismantled at a later date without affecting the original fabric of the tower. The roof was replaced and fitted with a modern glass and steel safety barrier, all the service wires, pipes and insulation were fed through the cavity between old and new walls and original panelling was cleaned with warm water and a soft cloth before being re-oiled.

‘I brought in people who had the relevant skills, so the windows were made by those who had worked on the Minster and I employed builders who respected the integrity of a historic building. They appreciated the standards I wanted to achieve,’ says Iain. ‘I also spent hours sourcing the right materials, such as extra wide red pine floorboards imported from Scandinavia, green oak beams for the mezzanine and oak for the doors and stair treads.’

But Iain was determined not to create a museum and has introduced 21st century luxury to create a home full of character and mod-cons including en-suite bedrooms, under floor heating and a fully equipped modern kitchen.

‘It’s been a real labour of love,’ he says. ‘Nothing has been easy as you can imagine with such an historic building, but it’s really been fantastic to work with local Yorkshire craftsmen on a landmark which means so much to the people of York. I was able to find an impressive range and depth of renovation skills right here in Yorkshire. I really enjoy the process of taking something that is ailing and transforming it into something viable and with a future. Whether it’s a business or a building, I enjoy the challenge of making changes for the better – and I’m ready, now, for the next project.’

The year-long renovation has been so successful that the tower has already attracted attention from film makers and TV production teams as a unique location venue. It’s exactly what Iain wants for his unusual home and when he is working away – which is often – he lets the tower through English Country Cottages as a way of sharing the building of which he is ‘just a custodian’.

‘Lendal Tower is not only my home, but is also a key part of York’s history which is why it is a pleasure to share it with those who want to stay at the heart of York. I don’t think of it as mine alone. I am just a custodian. The tower has been a major part of York’s landscape for centuries and what I’ve done is only a small part of its history, so I want other people to enjoy it.

‘My impact on it is minor in terms of years but huge in terms of its future.’

About the tower

Lendal Tower was built in the 14th century as part of York’s city defences.

In medieval times an iron chain, which was stored in the tower, was pulled across the river to Barker Tower on the opposite bank, protecting the city in times of trouble and enabling tolls to be charged for entry.

In 1677 the tower was leased for 500 years to the York waterworks company. Water was pumped from the tower into pipes that ran throughout York.

In the early 1700s a beam engine was installed by the first civil engineer John Smeaton, who designed Eddystone Lighthouse.

In 1836 a dedicated engine house was built in a red-brick building adjoining Lendal Tower and the tower itself was used for offices.

It was bought by Yorkshire Water in 1999 and sold again in 2004 to a property developer.

Iain bought the tower in 2007 to renovate and turn into a private home.


Edwards Brothers (builders) 01759 373575

Robert Bailey-Hague (joiners) 01977 680121

Listers (electrics) 01904 798649

Keith Hilton (window renovation) 01904 793545

Colin Lindley of LHL Surveyors 01904 690699

Jim Kiernan (plumbing and heating) 07979 791103

English Country Cottages 0845 268 0785 english-country-cottages.co.uk

The print version of this article appeared in the February 2012  issue of Yorkshire Life 

We can deliver a copy direct to your door – order online here 

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