The iconic Castle Hotel in Hornby is undergoing a much needed transformation

One of our fine old buildings is back to its best despite rotting floorboards, mouldy walls and years of neglect. Mike Glover reports

One of north Lancashire’s iconic buildings has been rescued from years of neglect. Thousands of people driving through the village of Hornby will have spotted the sad decline of the Castle Hotel, once a cornerstone of the community.

But now developers have spent �2.5 million, turning it into two cottages and four apartments, known as Lingard Gate, together with an adjoining inn and bistro.

The restoration didn’t come without its challenges, most bizarrely the renegotiation of a covenant allowing the Lord of the Manor to have the right to hire the former ballroom.

The hotel was regarded as particularly important because it sits in the heart of the village, opposite the site of the original market-place.

An archaeological survey commissioned by developers Applethwaite found the group of Grade 2 listed buildings is an important part of the historic fabric of Hornby, occupying a site of considerable prestige from the end of the medieval period.

There is evidence of an inn here from the late 16th century, when it was occupied by Henry Chapburn, deputy bailiff for the Hornby Castle Estate. In the 18th century it became a coaching inn with several modifications between the 17th to 19th centuries.

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Various owners carried out modernisations throughout the 20th century. It was renovated again in 2001, but the venture failed and the contents and internal fittings were auctioned prior to its acquisition by Applethwaite.

The conversion work has been carried out by sister company Robert Hughes Ltd. Both firms are based in Bowness-on-Windermere and are part of Preston’s Eric Wright Group.

Architect Tony Hills, of Levens-based Damson Design, said: ‘The project has taken longer than expected because of the historic interest and our determination to retain the historic features.’

Original roofing, oak timbers and lintels have been retained and incorporated with the help of Lancaster City Council conservation officer, Stephen Gardner.

Another man to keep an eye on the make-over is former owner and neighbour, 87-year-old Harry Hurst, who bought the hotel and a ramshackle reportscollection of outbuildings and land back in 1969.

Wigan-born Harry previously ran the Glen Lea Hotel, in Clarendon Road, Morecambe and bought the building with Blackpool builder Geoff Jackson.

‘It was a post-house style drinking pub, with very good trade. We introduced silver service meals with waitresses in pinnies and white hats,’ said Harry.

But the building was already suffering from rotting floors and mould. There was a grand ballroom which had been used for hunt balls until it was no longer deemed safe. So it was filled with antiques and used as a store room when Harry moved in.

‘We decided to do up the hotel room by room,’ he said. That led to the strange covenant when Sir Harold and Lady Parkinson, then owners of Hornby Castle, decided to downsize and move to the Old Rectory in the Castle grounds.

He asked Harry if the ballroom could be used by his family when he wanted to entertain in style and he sent in estate workers to perform the refurbishment.

Another customer was Admiral Stanley Miles, a surgeon admiral, who was in charge of the NHS in the north west. He loved the Castle Hotel so much he bought a cottage that was developed out of stables to the rear.

Another building on the site which needed renovation during Mr Hurst’s time was a shippon next door. According to local legend it had been turned into a piggery in the 1950s by local priest Father McGuinness with comedian Frank Randall and contractor Paddy Ryan. The trio formed Hornby Pig Company, although Harry was told it was really a drinking club.

Under the management of Harry and his wife, Kathy, and Mr Jackson, the Castle Hotel thrived and they sold out in 1973.

A brewery then took it over and put in a succession of managers until it was bought by Freeport Millionaire Sean Collidge in 2001. But it failed to attract enough trade and closed six years ago.

Mr Hurst still lives with Kathy in Lingard Gate, an address he retained when he sold the hotel. He has watched the job with keen interest and said: ‘They have done a grand job, with an attention to detail and qualitythat is eye-opening. The old Castle Hotel is finally getting the treatmentit deserves.

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