A short history of Old Kelleth Hall, Tebay

PUBLISHED: 00:00 21 March 2014 | UPDATED: 10:33 28 April 2016

Open plan living area and first floor gallery in the Gatehouse

Open plan living area and first floor gallery in the Gatehouse


As the daughter of one of the most flamboyant political characters of the 20th century, Charlotte Fairbairn’s life has never lacked colour. The same can be said of her wonderfully quirky home, as Ellie Hargreaves discovers

Living room in the HallLiving room in the Hall

There’s a place for minimalism and magnolia – but it’s not in Charlotte Fairbairn’s home. Behind the plum-coloured front door of Old Kelleth Hall, near Tebay, lie a thousand stories, all wrapped up in brightly coloured rugs, family furniture and a collection of 30s pottery that its owner describes as ‘hideous but amusing’.

The author and mother of two has called the hall her home since 2010, when she happened upon it and fell ‘immediately in love’. Since then, she and children Jake, 19, and Clara, 15, have crammed it with fascinating heirlooms from across the recent centuries – some of which the family have been forced to take a saw to, just to make them fit.

‘The term “hall” rather oversells the place as it’s by no means big, but I knew I wanted to live here as soon as I saw it,’ says Charlotte, who first moved to the Lakes with her ex-husband, a cellist she met when he was director of the London Festival Orchestra.

‘I was brought up in a castle in Scotland with my two sisters and we’ve all got a thing for romantic houses of some description. I think this place is wonderfully romantic, if a little wonky. It has charm and it has faults – and I like that.’

Bathroom in the GatehouseBathroom in the Gatehouse

A hall in the traditional sense – it is built around a main reception room which has a huge fireplace – the property has three bedrooms, with a study downstairs currently being used as a fourth, and Charlotte lets the largest room on a B&B basis.

‘The house has more external doors than bedrooms, which is a bit nuts. The ceilings are very low and it’s impossible to keep the weather out – when the wind comes in, it comes strong and blows right on the nose. We get the fire going though and it’s cosy. You can see for miles and the views of the Howgills are wonderful. Guests come in from a day walking and lay in the big, claw-footed bath in their en-suite and just gaze out at them.’

Grade II listed and dating back more than 300 years, Kelleth Old Hall has changed little since it was built by Thomas Carleton of Appleby Castle. A cheese room remains on the ground floor, while architectural features include stone-mullioned windows with deep sills and flagstone floors that echo laughter whenever the Oxford graduate hosts one of her colourful dinner parties.

Across the yard, Charlotte offers more guest accommodation in the form of The Gatehouse – an eccentric but cosy love-nest that she and a local builder fashioned out of a ‘glorified stone shed’ that had previously been used to store antiques.

‘It’s funky and quirky with big furniture, a grand piano and salvage pieces including a reclaimed Georgian staircase and a cast iron bath that’s Edwardian. I wanted to have fun in here and so one of the walls is covered in corrugated tin and I had this idea of creating a heating system out of copper piping on one of the ceilings. It’s sort of New York loft meets London apartment, meets Cumbrian shed. You don’t get these views in a city,’ she says.

On her website, Charlotte describes her homes as perfect hideouts for writers seeking peace and inspiration – and she should know. As well as being the woman behind the Soho Literary Festival, and the co-founder of an international festival of chutney in Scotland, she has three successful novels to her name – A Bear with an Egg in Her Paws, God Breathes His Dreams Through Nathaniel Cadwallader and With the Sound of the Sea. She also has a fourth book ready to go ‘just as soon as I find the time to hawk it around’.

Her writing is as imaginative and playful as her interior tastes and Charlotte is in no doubt that she inherited her creative side from her father – the headline-hogging, high-heel wearing Sir Nicholas Fairbairn – a prominent Tory MP from the 70s through to the 90s and a one time Solicitor General for Scotland.

Her love of clothes is undoubtedly passed down from the same parent too, her father having frequently donned self-designed kilts, scarves and flares for parliament.

At Kelleth Old Hall Charlotte has transformed a room off her own bedroom into a boudoir filled with interesting clothes, accessories and trinkets, while the main bathroom has become a showcase for a collection of unusual vintage coats.

During 2014, Charlotte will be sharing her eclectic taste with a wider audience, having been asked to lend her creative talents to a team of designers overhauling the flagship stores of Swiss fashion brand Tally Weijl.

‘We’ve come up with a whole new look for the stores and it’s a fantastic project that I’m thrilled to be a part of,’ she says.

‘I love visiting antique fairs and reclamation yards and searching out unusual pieces that most people wouldn’t look twice at. Now I’m being paid to do it and that’s a joy.’

Charlotte’s father was a colourful character

Sir Nicholas Fairburn was a politician who was as famous for his eccentricities as for anything he said in the House of Commons or his Scottish constituencies. An accomplished artist, he was called to the Bar in Scotland in 1957 and won the Kinross and West Perthshire seat for the Conservatives at the 1974 General Election. In spite of the Tory party’s decline north of the border he held his seat until his death in office in 1995.

He was noted for his flamboyant clothes – many of them he designed himself – and was often seen in tartan kilts, flares and cravats. He was a colourful character who admitted to multiple infidelities and once referred to greyness as a creeping disease in politics and added that to call John Major grey would be an insult to porridge.

He bought and restored Fordell Castle in Fife which had been in his family many generations earlier and that’s where Charlotte and her siblings were raised.

Get the look

Try visiting charity shops and using clothes as décor. ‘As pretentious as it sounds, I love to mix textures and some clothes are too beautiful to have hidden away,’ says Charlotte, who displays a vintage Afghan coat decorated with a sparkling Kenneth Lane brooch, in her bathroom.

One man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure. Charlotte recommends scouring second hand shops and imagining the pieces in your home. ‘Some of my pottery I’ve picked up very cheap because it’s hideous - but it makes me laugh and for that reason I love it.’

Yew Tree Barn at Newton, near Grange over Sands, is an architectural reclamation yard that specialises in interior furniture – and is one of Charlotte’s regular haunts.

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