As College House, a Grade II-listed property in Masham, North Yorkshire, goes on the market, Ruth Addicott reveals its extraordinary story

WHEN Clayton Moore began restoring College House, he had no idea it formed part of a puzzle that had stumped historians for years.

It wasn’t until he started ripping out walls and came across ancient doorways and fireplaces that he discovered it dated back to the 12th Century and was in fact a Grade II-listed Prebendal Manor Hall where church dignitaries such as Cardinal Wolsey – and possibly even Henry VIII – wined, dined and lodged in from the medieval period onwards.

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The house in the picturesque market town of Masham, North Yorkshire, is now on the market for £675,000. It is owned by Frances Turner and her partner Tim Colbert, who acquired it in 2010. It was converted into three flats when they bought it – one of which was occupied by Frances’s nephew, Clayton. A builder by trade, he could see the hall had potential so they bought it and set him the task of restoring it.

“I could see it had a lot of value, but it was a mess. It had cheap and nasty Seventies decor and was like a rabbit warren with low ceilings and lots of little rooms, passages and staircases,”

says Clayton. “The idea was to restore it as much as I could and try and bring it into the 21st Century and make it liveable for a modern family.”

As the building was Grade II-listed, Clayton wasn’t allowed to touch the outside, but did have permission to renovate the interior. He knew the house had history from the large medieval arch window, but it wasn’t until he started stripping everything out that he came across even more period features which appeared to date back even further.

“I kept finding fireplaces and doorways that had been bricked up; it was literally like peeling back layers of time,” he says.

Clayton notified the council and English Heritage and soon detailed analysis was underway to establish the origins of the building.

After numerous tests, visits and in-depth research by Jennifer Deadman of Historic Buildings Survey and Research, they discovered the house fitted the piece of a puzzle that had been missing for a long time. The property was mentioned in the archives at York Minster, but until now, no one had been able to identify where it was. “They kept saying there is 860 years of history here – you are a very small link in a very long chain,” says Clayton.

Although he’d had extensive building experience in Australia, it was mainly doing multimillion dollar cutting-edge, contemporary homes. “Going to a 12th Century house was a pretty steep learning curve, as you can imagine,” he says. “It was the opportunity of a lifetime, but also very daunting and was in the back of my mind the whole time. There were old pieces of stonework that had just been smashed and shoved back into walls. I had to be extremely careful and stitch them back together very delicately, because if you drill a hole and it cracks, it’s gone forever.”

“The ecclesiastical tracery stone windows were the giveaway to the whole history of the house. There are also two massive timber cruck frames, which we think date back to the 16th Century, and a huge medieval arch opening on the ground floor.” Clayton also discovered an original cobbled floor two feet below ground level.

The property is believed to date back to 1158 when the Church of St Peter, in York, was granted the churches of Masham and Kirby Malzeard. Documentary evidence suggests it was originally a single storey building with high status features, including a columnar stack and Romanesque arch. It is recorded as the “manor house” of the prebend of Masham.

“It was like a tax collection house for the whole area,” says Clayton.

In the 13th Century, the house was raised to two storeys and the upper chamber became the seat of the ecclesiastical court for the area and was known as the Peculiar Court of Masham.

The court, then known as a “college” probably gave the house its name.

The tracery windows on the first floor are typical 13th Century style as well as the blocked external doorway. It is believed two roof trusses were added in the 14th Century, or later, possibly to add stability to the common rafter roof.

At the Reformation, Masham church and its lands were granted by Henry VIII to Trinity College Cambridge. Henry VIII’s last wife, Katherine Parr, was from nearby Castle Snape, and Clayton believes it could even be possible the king visited.

After the Reformation the ecclesiastical court was moved to Masham and Kirby Malzeard churches, but the ecclesiastic function (if any) of the property during the 16th and 17th centuries is unknown.

By the late 18th/ early 19th Century, the upper chamber, referred to as the “Old Court Chamber”,’ functioned as a meeting place for both Methodists and Baptists until their own purpose- built places of worship were established in the 19th Century.

Improvements were made again in the 18th Century and by the early to mid-19th Century, the building was being used in a commercial and domestic capacity. Tacked onto the west side of the house is a small cottage which is also believed to date back to the 18th Century or earlier.

While the inside of the house now has a more contemporary feel, the original features have been retained. The drawing room, for example, opens to the rafters with exposed roof trusses and is lit by grand Romanesque arched windows.

There is also a spacious open plan kitchen /family room, plus a snug, study, utility room and cloakroom. The master bedroom and guest bedroom have en suite facilities and there are two further bedrooms and a family bathroom.

“English Heritage told me there are probably only 30 or so properties in the whole of the UK as old as this that are in private hands,” says Clayton. “If walls could talk, they could tell a few stories, that’s for sure.”


  • College House is on the market at £675,000 with Buchanan Mitchell. Tel. 01423-360055.