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Mitton Hall, near Whalley - one of Lancashire's stunning historic houses

PUBLISHED: 00:40 23 December 2009 | UPDATED: 20:19 09 March 2016

A gallery running around Mitton's great hall

A gallery running around Mitton's great hall

Emma Mayoh meets the man who is reviving one of Lancashire's stunning historic houses.<br/>Photographs by Kirsty Thompson

The house was built in 1487 The house was built in 1487

IT has been like taking a base metal and turning it into gold.' The words are from James Warburton, a man who gets a glint in his eye when he talks about achieving his seven year ambition of reviving one of Lancashire's finest houses.

It was 2001 when he first tried to buy Mitton Hall, a beautiful 550-year-old Grade II listed Tudor mansion near Whalley. 'I'd been looking at it for years and thought it deserved better. It had started to look very sad and I wanted to bring it back to life.'

The 43-year-old's big idea has been to transform the run-down hall, a former wedding venue, into a country club and restaurant. The project, which has so far included a refurbishment of the great hall, bar, restaurant and gardens, has already cost just under £1million. But property developer James plans to spend another £2.5 million to achieve his vision of a country club with gymnasium, spa, swimming pool and top class bedrooms.

He says:

'The recent heyday of Mitton Hall was more than 20 years ago. I was only 17 or 18 when it was an Italian restaurant called the Old Stonehouse and I used to come here with my friends. I want to bring back the atmosphere that was here then.'

Much of the work has been cosmetic and the building has been stripped back to look more like it would have done when it was first built. Gone is the anaglypta wallpaper and bright pink carpets revealing the building's fantastic historic features.

James, who has spent most of his adult life in the Ribble Valley, adds: 'It had become a place that had completely fallen out of time with the world. It wasn't keeping up. I would love to be able to afford to live here but then people wouldn't be able to see this amazing place.

Mitton Hall is a property that has to be shared. I want this to be a place that people can feel is their own, their home from home.' Looking around the vast main hall you can understand James' thinking. A huge stone fireplace dominates one wall, there's a magnificent crystal chandelier and large, inviting armchairs and sofas littered around.

But the Moroccan influenced bar, which leads off the main hall, has been one of James' biggest challenges. He says: 'The hall is the oldest part of the house and we have worked with craftsmen and historians to make sure our restoration work has been sympathetic.

The main hall is also quite unusual because no one ever installed a ceiling to split it into two levels. This is quite rare for a building of this period. 'When you've got such an incredible space that really hits impression that the hall gave. I think we've managed it.'

A 'Manor of Little Mitton' was first granted by Robert de Lacy to Sir Ralphe de Little Mitton in 1189 but the current house was not built until 1487.

Over the years it has been owned by many different families and wealthy businessmen including Horatio Bottomley, managing director of Blackburn-based Duttons Brewery, and Wilfred Burill, then owner of the Dunkenhalgh Hotel in Accrington.

James, who also owns the Waddington Arms, The Emporium, and some holiday cottages with wife Helen, is now writing the next chapter of Mitton Hall's history. But his first foray into property developing was not plane sailing.

It was a terraced cottage in Chatburn. It had two bedrooms but he decided to make it into a one bedroom all singing, all dancing bachelor pad. 'I ended up selling it for less than I had bought it for. It started to get better when I met Helen. We bought an old Methodist church in Moor Lane and it was in desperate need of some TLC.

This ended up being The Emporium where we have a shop, brasserie and a cafe. We've not done badly really considering that when we first opened the shop we didn't have enough money to buy any stock. But it's gone from strength to strength and we've never looked back.'

James, who also owned the Lower Buck pub in Waddington before he sold it to his brother a year ago, takes on a new project about every 18 months to avoid being bored.

James Warburton James Warburton

One of his previous and most enjoyable jobs was working as a motor racing illustrator travelling around the country to different race meets. He now uses those skills with the properties he owns. 'I've always enjoyed being creative, it's something I've done since being a boy,' he says. 'I love the buildings I own and I love playing with them.'

The work on Mitton Hall could take another two years but James is happy to enjoy its current success. 'I think it will be very difficult to top this. I feel like we've taken something on that didn't work and we've brought it back to life.

It's been absolutely fantastic and I can't wait until everything is finished. It's been a dream for me and hopefully other people will share in that dream.'you in the face when you walk in, we knew we would have a big task on our hands. The bar had to live up to the same impression that the hall gave. I think we've managed it.'

A 'Manor of Little Mitton' was first granted by Robert de Lacy to Sir Ralphe de Little Mitton in 1189 but the current house was not built until 1487. Over the years it has been owned by many different families and wealthy businessmen including Horatio Bottomley, managing director of Blackburn-based Duttons Brewery, and Wilfred Burill, then owner of the Dunkenhalgh Hotel in Accrington.

James, who also owns the Waddington Arms, The Emporium, and some holiday cottages with wife Helen, is now writing the next chapter of Mitton Hall's history. But his first foray into property developing was not plane sailing. It was a terraced cottage in Chatburn. It had two bedrooms but he decided to make it into a one bedroom all singing, all dancing bachelor pad.

'I ended up selling it for less than I had bought it for. It started to get better when I met Helen. We bought an old Methodist church in Moor Lane and it was in desperate need of some TLC.

This ended up being The Emporium where we have a shop, brasserie and a cafe. We've not done badly really considering that when we first opened the shop we didn't have enough money to buy any stock. But it's gone from strength to strength and we've never looked back.'

One of his previous and most enjoyable jobs was working as a motor racing illustrator travelling around the country to different race meets. He now uses those skills with the properties he owns. 'I've always enjoyed being creative, it's something I've done since being a boy,' he says. 'I love the buildings I own and I love playing with them.'

The work on Mitton Hall could take another two years but James is happy to enjoy its current success. 'I think it will be very difficult to top this. I feel like we've taken something on that didn't work and we've brought it back to life. It's been absolutely fantastic and I can't wait until everything is finished. It's been a dream for me and hopefully other people will share in that dream.'

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