BB1219:  Withnail and Tim

Sunday 3rd June 2012

Had it not been for the cult film Withnail and I, Sleddale Hall would probably have quietly slipped into oblivion.  

However as Uncle Monty's country cottage, Crow Crag, it acquired cult status.

It was much visited (including, several times, by the BOOTboys) in its increasingly derelict state under the ownership of Manchester Corporation Waterworks and its successors.

Sleddale Hall

When put up for auction in 2009, the successful bidder failed to come up with the funds and the house fell into the hands of the under-bidder, Tim Ellis, a conservation architect from Kent.  

He has been renovating the property and is remarkably sympathetic to Withnail fans, even setting up a section on the Withnail and I Forum describing Progress at Sleddale Hall and inviting comments.

Tim kindly agreed to show the BOOTboys around the partially renovated property.

However, before relating the tale of our visit, let me tell you some of the history of Sleddale Hall.  If you already know (or don't wish to know) this, you can skip directly to Today's Visit.


A Brief History of Sleddale Hall

The stone and slate built house and its outbuildings form a quadrangle in the valley appropriately named Wet Sleddale near Shap.  It is thought to have been built in the 18th century, possibly on land once owned by Shap Abbey.  Between 1740 and 1758 it was the home of William Rawes, Yeoman of Sleddale.

In 1802 a report stated:

Sleddale Hall is situated a few miles south westwards from Shap in a narrow valley among the mountains. We could find nothing to give us any information as to the quality of land in this farm. There is a considerable extent enclosed on each side of the vale which is at present singularly divided in to different fields. This we calculated to be about 250 acres, consisting partly of woodland, partly of poorish meadow ground, and partly of pasture, all of which, or nearly all, lies in rapid declivities. Besides the above inclosed ground, there may be about 2,300 acres of barren mountains, forming altogether a tolerably good sheep farm. The meadow ground is mostly capable of improvement by draining, & that at a reasonable expense. This farm, every thing considered we suppose may be worth a rent of £150. But as observed before, our means of calculating the value were very defective.

An 1829 record reads:

Sleddale Hall, now a farm-house belonging to C. Wilson, Esq., was long the seat of the ancient family of Sleddale, one of whom was the first Mayor of Kendal, and possessed Gillthwaite-Rigg, and some other estates.

In the 1920s, Manchester Corporation Waterworks (subsequently subsumed into United Utilities) was seeking to build a large reservoir to satisfy its ever expanding needs for water.  It bought land around the Shap area and built a long access road for the construction of the Haweswater reservoir. Sleddale Hall was acquired by the Corporation around that time. The Wet Sleddale reservoir, however, was built much later, in the 1960s.

Sleddale Hall was still occupied in the 1940s and is mentioned in a book by Sir Clement Jones entitled:

Walks in North Westmorland

a 1955 sequel to:

A Tour in Westmorland

Around the time of the First World War, Sir Clement was a diplomat  

He had a strong family connection with Westmorland as his mother was a Cropper of the paper-making family in Burneside.

His father was Rector of Burneside Parish Church.  

For many years Jones and his wife owned Godmond Hall which is pictured on the cover of his first book.  The tours described therein are thought to date from shortly after WWII.

The North Westmorland compendium talks about the average rainfall being 74 inches per year compared with a national average of 44 inches.

Everything that can be done to dampen and depress our spirits before going there has been done.  It only remains for me to declare that I have been twice to Wet Sleddale for a walk and that on both occasions we had a fine day.

He goes on to observe that the gated road up the valley is quite a good one - good enough anyhow for a large truck belonging to Manchester Waterworks.

The farmhouse (Beckside) is a perfect little gem of a Westmorland picture with all the usual, well-loved, familiar features; the farm at the foot of the fell; sycamores and oaks round the buildings; alders along the river; a typical hump-backed narrow bridge, with great boulders for its foundations.

The farmer, Mr Atkinson, showed him the way across his fields up the fell, first to Sleddale Grange, an empty farm fast falling into ruins, and on to Sleddale Hall where they stopped for a minute to see the Harrisons and their two "bonny" girls who lived there. Mrs Harrison was a daughter of Mr Atkinson.

Sir Clement contemplated whether Sleddale Hall was the original of Humblethwaite Hall in Anthony Trollope's novel Sir Harry Hotspur but concluded that neither this nor Thornthwaite Hall, a large Tudor house below Haweswater, was the model.  He speculated whether Trollope ever got beyond the Greyhound Inn at Shap!

Sleddale Hall he described as a lonely sheep farm, high on the fell side, containing a mixture of Rough Fells and Swaledales .

Richard E Grant as Wiithnail

Paul McGann played "I" (Marwood) and Richard Griffiths was Uncle Monty.

Paul McGann as "I"

Withnail and I  was filmed in 1986 by which time Sleddale Hall had been abandoned and was in danger of falling into ruin.  

Richard E. Grant, who played Withnail, recorded his first impressions of the farmhouse in his published diary:

2nd August.

Mini-bus together out to the location in Wet Sleddale, supposedly the wettest corner of the United Kingdom, through numerous gates, up a mountainside to an abandoned cottage on the water board estate.

Perfect. Looks exactly like the script suggests.

The downstairs rooms and the exterior areas, including the small courtyard appear in the film but the interior shots of the bedrooms and staircase were filmed at Stockers Farm, Rickmansworth.

Richard Griffiths as Uncle Monty

Following its appearance in Withnail and I, North West Water had planned to renovate the Hall and convert it into a holiday cottage and workshop. However, planning permission was refused on the grounds that it would alter the character of the valley.  

In 1998 the Hall was placed on the market, but did not sell.  It was re-roofed in 2006.

Sleddale Hall

Over the years the Hall was regularly visited by Withnail fans who left their often amusing comments on the walls (and, on one occasion when we visited, appeared to have been holding seances) but it gradually deteriorated.

The ouija board and ghosts of Crow Crag 2008

The Halloween Dining Room  2008

In February 2009, United Utilities put Sleddale Hall to auction with a guide price of over £145,000. A trust named The Crow Crag Collective was set up to try to buy the house and preserve it for the fans of Withnail and I. They were not successful and the house sold at auction for £265,000. The would-be purchaser was Sebastian Hindley, owner of the Mardale Inn in nearby Bampton which also featured in the film.

Hindley spoke of his purchase:

It's part of our heritage ...I would like to transform it back to how it was in the film. It could be a working museum, with self-catering accommodation and maybe a tea room

BOOTboys 2010 visit

However, the sale fell through due to funding problems. United Utilities then sold Sleddale Hall to the underbidder at the auction, Tim Ellis.

Tim had actually tried to buy Sleddale Hall several years earlier when a fellow Withnail fan told him about it being in a seriously dilapidated state.  However, at the time United Uitilities told him it was not for sale.  He nearly didn't attend the 2009 auction, thinking that it would be bought by some celebratory with deep pockets.

Sleddale Hall is now being converted into a private home, retaining a “Withnail atmosphere”. Tim, who specialises in the restoration of historic buildings, said at the time:

I am delighted to have had a second chance to buy this beautiful building. I first saw the film about seven years ago and have been a fan ever since. I would like to restore the building in a way that other fans of the film would approve.

Work commenced in August 2011 and is due to be completed around August 2012.


Today's Visit

In years to come, our grandchildren will ask "Where were you when the Queen had her Diamond Jubilee?"  

The answer will be "At Uncle Monty's Cottage".

When I arranged the visit, I had quite forgotten that today was the Jubilee, though I doubt if Withnail would have cared. Nor did it seem to worry Tim, who had come up for a few days to work on and sleep in the Hall with no TV in sight.  Perhaps I do him a disservice and he was, un-Withnail-like, recording the event at home on his skybox .

Not being sure of the Sleddale Hall parking situation (and to make a bit of an excursion out of the visit) we met up by the Wet Sleddale reservoir car park.

Wet Sleddale Reservoir

Sleddale Hall

We approached the Hall from the west (i.e. wet) end of the reservoir. I think this was our first visit to the valley in which it failed to live up to its name, although it was certainly threatening so to do.

I had been worried that a large-ish group might prove inconvenient for Tim but he didn't seem to mind.  Given the number of groups he has shown round (five this weekend) he must sometimes feel more than a tour guide than a property owner overseeing the development of his property.

The appropriate word for how it is being developed is "impressively".  There is a long way to go yet but it is clear that enormous care is being taken to be sympathetic to its historical and cultural (if that's the right word) heritage.  We noted that the building work is being done by a local firm of repute.  Conveniently, if things should go horribly wrong, they are also undertakers.

Our original entrance blocked off

The new dining room

Work in progress in the yard

Room   with a view

Tim describes the room shown to the right here, the lounge, as being the one least needing renovation.

It seems not that much different to when we saw the Ouija board therein (see above) in 2008!

On that visit, we were warned not to go upstairs as it was too dangerous.

Now, it is perfectly safe and we could see the high quality manner in which the building is being developed.

The ghost room

Outside, Tim hopes, in time, to turn one of the outbuildings into a cottage whilst restoring the byres to their original state.

The byres

Denise inspects the Owl Hole

As a thank you, we presented Tim a bottle of wine.  It wasn't quite the Finest wine available to humanity but it was the finest Chateauneuf du Pape available in ASDA!

Comitibus :  Sleddale Hall with Tim

Tim has yet a lot of work to do before he achieves his dreams but, from what we saw today, the end result is going to be a remarkable synthesis of real and imaginary history coupled with modern technology.  We look forward to a return visit once the development is complete to see the realisation of the dream.


More about Withnail and I

The IMDb website summarises the film, written by Michael Brooke, as follows:

London 1969 - two 'resting' (unemployed and unemployable) actors, Withnail and Marwood, fed up with damp, cold, piles of washing-up, mad drug dealers and psychotic Irishmen, decide to leave their squalid Camden flat for an idyllic holiday in the countryside, courtesy of Withnail's Uncle Monty's country cottage. But when they get there, it rains non-stop, there's no food, and their basic survival skills turn out to be somewhat limited. Matters are not helped by the arrival of Uncle Monty, who shows an uncomfortably keen interest in Marwood.....

The film contains a number of lines that have passed into folklaw.

Some years ago I was on a business trip to a game reserve in Zimbabwe with my boss. On being told, at breakfast, that there were no lions to be seen, he thumped the table and demanded of the staff :

Lions.  There should be lions.
 I want lions and I want them NOW!

Ten minutes later they returned to say there was a lion on Fotheringay Island that had just killed a zebra and if we were quick we could see it dining.  This summons stuck in my mind but it was several years before I realised that it was a reworking of the Withnail demand:

We want the finest wines available to humanity.
And we want them here, and we want them now!

The other Withnail line that I always remember is Uncle Monty's unusual slant on burglary.  I will say no more for read of offending those of a delicate disposition. However you will find this and many more at IMDb.

For a fuller description of the film see the Shap Community website.

For more views of Sleddale Hall see Visit Cumbria

Withnail celebrates the Jubilee

Finally, it seems that I owe Withnail an apology. 

Having doubted his allegiance to the Monarchy, I was told (and this picture independently verifies the fact) that he was to be seen on TV standing on Westminster Bridge talking to camera and celebrating Her Majesty's sixty glorious years on the throne.

Somewhat surprisingly, the aging process seems to have treated him quite kindly but I never expected him to be part of the pageant. It just shows how time changeth man.

Don, Wednesday 3rd June 2012

Thanks to Tim Ellis for his hospitality
John S for discovering about Sir Clement Jones
and to Wikipaedia for other historic information




Sunday 3rd June 2012

Distance in miles:


Height climbed in feet:


Wainwrights :


Other Features:

Sleddale Hall


Alex, Bryan, Denise, Don, Jamie
Roger, Richard, Tony



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