Anne and Bill Monroe bought the church for just £5,000, plus an undisclosed uplift fee and spent £200,000 restoring it into a holiday home
St Luke’s Church in the heart of the North Tyne Valley held many fond memories for Anne Monroe and her husband Bill.
The historic building, in Hexham, within Northumberland’s Kielder National Park, is where they wed in 1987, and each of their four sons were christened.
Anne was even christened there and has had a lifetime connection with the building – she went to services there as a child and her father was the church’s warden.
Anne, 67, and Bill, 73, who met at university and have for many years lived in the Georgian rectory next door, wanted to revive its period charm.
“Converting the church has been hugely enjoyable. It had fallen into disrepair and needed heavy work doing to the roof and tower.
“Bill and I are both art historians and when the church was made redundant we wanted to see this beautiful listed Georgian building brought back to its former glory.”
The building, which has now been renamed Greystead Old Church, was decommissioned as congregation numbers fell due to its remote location.
The Church of England put it on sale in 1998 and Anne and Bill bought it for just £5,000 due to the restrictions placed upon it – they weren’t even allowed to live in it and could only use it for household storage.
But the couple negotiated with church commissioners and were permitted to use the property for business use, including running it as a holiday home. The Monroes then had pay an ‘uplift’ fee to reflect its new market value, which Anne says cannot be disclosed as it was a private legal transaction.
They own another holiday let on the same site, The Coach House, the income from which, alongside a mortgage, funded a complete conversion of the property.
Work then began on the building in 2010 by restoration experts and a local architect. It took six months to complete the project, and now it has four bedrooms and three bathrooms as well as a spacious living room formed from the original altar area, and a newly created mezzanine level.
The pair were able to obtain generous grants for the restoration – £25,000 from Northumberland Uplands Leader, a UK/EU grant to encourage holistic development in rural upland areas, as well as obtaining just under £7,000 from the Northumberland National Park Sustainability Fund to restore the stained glass and other windows.
“We’ve tried to restore it in keeping with original features,” said Anne. “There’s a fully-restored Victorian stained-glass window and Gothic archway, as well as exposed Georgian stonework, flagstone flooring and panelling.
“Another window was restored and cleaned by experts who have worked on Westminster Abbey.”
A popular location
The property, which sleeps eight, has proved hugely popular with tourists visiting the national park which is well-known for its dark skies and stargazing opportunities.
Anne and Bill earn £40,000 a year from the church, which is typically booked out for 48 to 50 weeks of the year by advertising through Sykes Holiday Cottages, and commands between £700 and £1,800 a week depending on the season.
“I can’t believe how popular it is, last year we were completely booked up every week of the year,” said Anne. “We knew that in remote areas like this one, it can be difficult obtaining long-term tenancies. It’s a great tourist hub though and being within Northumberland National Park and near the Kielder Observatory is a massive draw for visitors.”
The couple plan to further renovate the church, which has an estimated market value on Zoopla of £333,000.
Having just installed a stargazing platform in the grounds for guests, plans to convert the church tower and install a spiral staircase to allow visitors to enjoy the panoramic views looking out from across the bell tower are in the pipeline.
Anne and Bill have also been busy converting the neighbouring church hall, built in the 1890s, into another holiday let on the Greystead site which they opened up for renting last week.
“We are so glad we were able to save the church and that we’ve been able to continue its legacy.”
Written by: Claudia Tanner