An oriental garden complete with tea house and Japanese warrior in a former mining village – that’s just one of the surprises in Frank Sleightholme’s garden.
He and wife Ann have lived in the impressive detached home for the past 15 years, and have transformed the large space into a series of rooms, each with its own individual character.
Frank said: “The house was built by a master builder for his own occupation. He was Jack Henderson, a great builder. But he was a builder and I’m a gardener. The garden was very plain and simple, red chippings and a grass bank.
“There’s a burn, you couldn’t buy that, but there was nothing in it by way of planting. I’ve created the oriental area, a woodland walk and various areas where you can sit in complete privacy.
“You wouldn’t even know the house is here because it’s shielded by a beautifully-maintained massive conifer hedge.”
The property is in Ashfield Court, High Spen, Gateshead, and named Lilyburn after the builder’s mother as one of her favourite spots was next to the burn running through the garden. The stream runs off from the old mine workings down to the Spen Burn.
“I don’t think it’s got an official name but it’s beautiful,” said Frank.
The property is larger than the other eight in the close in which it is situated, which came in useful when the couple would entertain their four children and seven grandchildren, to say nothing of a sister, niece and mother.
There are four double bedrooms, bathroom and a play room upstairs, but it is really the ground floor that shows off the impressive nature of Lilyburn. An outstanding feature is a pool room with central swimming pool, adjacent shower room and bathroom with sunken Jacuzzi bath.
Frank said: “My favourite room is the pool room. I look across to see the field with horses grazing and the eucalyptus tree rustling in the breeze.”
There is also a luxury master suite on the ground floor, with en suite and dressing room, plus a grand reception hallway, principal living room, breakfasting kitchen and garden room.
Although it was built to a high standard, Frank believes there is still the possibility for further improvements.
“The play room could be converted to another en suite upstairs,” he said. “The house is 25 years old, not old by any standards, but if somebody wants to update it, that’s there to be done.”
Immediately behind the property is a swathe of land owned by the Woodland Trust and there are huge oak trees there, said Frank. “That attracts all sorts of wildlife and we’re very close to Chopwell Woods and next to stables. It’s semi-rural, right on the edge of the village, and it overlooks green belt.
“We have three bridges across the stream, one at either end, and the ornamental bridge in the middle, and pathways all round the garden so you can take a tour and stop and rest in arbours. It’s a great place.”
The garden also has upper and lower patios, terrace and a laburnum arch with 20 trees.
Frank said: “I started work on the garden six months after we moved in, and it took me about two-and-a-half years to complete. They say a garden is never finished, but this one is now. It just needs keeping in shape.”
He and Ann will be sorry to leave the garden where she has made her mark by planting thousands of plants, but the house is now too big for them.
They plan to move to Tynemouth, but will struggle to find a property with as much space as Lilyburn, with its two double driveways and two double garages. Frank said: “We’ve been fortunate and privileged to be here. It will be a sad day when we go.”
- Lilyburn, Ashfield Court, High Spen, Gateshead, is for sale at £599,950 through Signature, tel: 0191 281 1037.