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A lengthy project to rebuild historic Hankelow Hall is gradually taking shape, as Paul Mackenzie reports

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It took quite some vision for the Shenton family to see a future for Hankelow Hall when they bought it in 1989. The hall had stood empty for many years and when they first arrived it was possible to stand in the cellar and see the sky through the collapsed ceilings of five storeys.
Now, 21 years on, some of the 14th century building's floors still need to be replaced, sections of roof remain missing and only a tiny corner of the imposing hall is habitable, but Kirk Shenton, the property developer who owns the hall, can see real progress.
'We are gradually working our way round the building putting floors back in and restoring what used to be here,' he said. 'When we bought the hall it was in a perilous state. If we hadn't come in and started work straight away, the place would have fallen down by now. Two years from now it should all be finished.
'We lived in caravans when we first came here. We said that would be for no more than two years but we ended up staying in there for six years.
'Bits of the roof would fall in during storms and one night we heard a strange noise coming from inside the hall and found someone's sheep had escaped and were running around in the ballroom.
'In spite of all the obvious problems I knew when I first saw the place that it could be a beautiful house and a beautiful place to bring up the family. I could see there was terrific potential here.'
Working with his son James, a joiner, Kirk is now starting to realise that potential and return the once grand hall to its former glory. Using English oak and following the original design, they are restoring the hall one room at a time.
'We had been told the house was early Georgian but we have had the windows dated to the 1600s and staircase is Tudor. The first record of the hall is from 1369 and we have found some sections of wattle and daub wall. We have also found within the walls - some of which are up to three feet thick - the remains of what was once a timbered building.
'Our original plan was to restore the hall into a family home and to build five dwellings in the grounds. It has taken 21 years but that is what we finally have the planning permission for.
'We bought it for 328,000 and at today's prices we have spent more than 1.8million on the hall and the grounds. The hall is in five bays and so far we have made three structurally sound.
We've done the worst of it and we have completely re-built the chimney - that alone uses 25,000 bricks, that's enough for two semi-detached houses.'
The hall stands in rolling parkland just outside the picture-perfect village of Hankelow five miles south of Nantwich and while a lot of work has been done inside the hall, greater transformations have taken place outside.
Thousands of trees and shrubs have been planted and a new lake dug which Kirk and Beverley have named in memory of their first grandchild, Ava, who died when she was just ten weeks old.
'We also dug a frog pond which children from the local school can come and use for study sessions 12 times a year. The wildlife we have here is fantastic and we are also building a 20 foot wildlife tower to attract even more creatures.
'We have had ravens and buzzards nesting in the coppice and we've had a red kite here too.
'We put bird boxes and bat boxes and barn owl accesses in the roof spaces in various buildings and we've re-done the kitchen garden where we have tried to retain the original gardening techniques.
'Once we have completed the hall we will build five luxurious homes in the grounds. When the hall was at its peak there would have been buildings in the grounds and that is what we are restoring, lodges and barns, all in character with the surroundings and the hall.
'I am working seven days a week and James is doing a lot of the work too. Hopefully it will all be completed in two years.
'I have always been enthralled by the building industry. I love the trade so doing seven days a week isn't a hardship, it's more like a hobby.'

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