A Brief History Of Laythams Farm
For those of you who enjoy a little history, the story of how Laythams Farm came to be as it is today is a fascinating one. It’s been quite a journey with several generations of the Wenner family coming together to create a unique place, set in breathtaking surroundings.
Let’s start in 1969 when Michael Wenner (now 96) first became aware of the property. His four sons were at nearby Stonyhurst College, and on his return from ambassadorial duties abroad, he received a tip-off from an old friend who knew he was looking to purchase a property not far from where his sons were at school.
What he found was a traditional Pennine longhouse built in the 1500s, [though the exact date remains unclear]. What we do know is that the property was marked on a map in 1591, under the name Grass Yard Enclosure – a more typical name for farms back then. How long the place had existed before that remains a mystery.
In 1969 the resident farmer, Frank Pitman, had been living at Laythams Farm for many years. His wife had died, water leaked into every single room in the house bar one, and the entire property was in in a state of disrepair and chaos. It was also home to a number of different farm species, living side by side with Mr Pitman, who was now looking to sell the property and move on.
The three up and two down bedroom structure in the living quarters was sandwiched on either side by stables and a hayloft at one end – and at the other, a milking parlour, an internal barn housing 12 cows, and additional hayloft. The design was created in order to keep the living quarters as warm as possible out there in the wild. These compartments remain important to us today, as the stable end with the hayloft has now turned into a gorgeous self-contained flat, ‘The Hayloft’, with arguably the best views from the property.
This was a long way off, however, when Michael arrived.
Laythams around 1975
Now, you may be wondering what exactly possessed Michael to buy such a place – run-down, weather-beaten, in the middle of nowhere, and with few amenities to accommodate him. The fact is, he had a vision to refurbish the place and make it into something that he, his wife, and his sons could call a home. Stonyhurst College was a half-hour drive away, and a family home in the area would provide a welcome break and retreat.
Despite working in London at the time, Michael set about drawing up plans for turning the animal housing into living quarters. First of all, however, he had to fix the roof of the old Pennine Longhouse with Yorkshire stone in the often harsh conditions the area can provide – no small task!
Michael then began with the stables and the hayloft end. It was the early 1970s by this time, and large plate glass windows were becoming available, so he used the hayloft as an open plan living space with large windows all around so that the stunning views could be enjoyed from a number of angles. The bedroom was placed downstairs, in a more cosy and intimate setting. This is the structure we have kept today, and can safely say that we hear no end of praise for the bright, airy space, with wood-burning stove and views to die for (even when the rain is pelting down!). The central living area also received attention, so that it could become habitable again. Meanwhile the whole yard was expanded, from a cramped little farmyard into the open-spaced graveled courtyard we have today.
The internal barn, as well as the milking parlour, however remained the same for quite some time, as Michael was limited by the fact that he could only travel up from London on weekends to oversee the mass of reconstruction work. Gunilla, Michael’s Swedish wife, was involved in overseeing most of these works until their split in 1975, and much of the Scandinavian feel of the place is down to her influence. Who would have known that Scandinavian design would be so popular today? Laythams, one could say, was ahead of its time!
Michael continued to make progress on the property well into the late 70s, slowly converting the rest of the house. The downstairs internal barn was one of the final pieces of the puzzle, and is now a games room equipped with a pool table and a dining table. It’s come a long way from being littered with hay! Michael’s youngest son, Martin, headed up the next stage of renovations which saw the push-through from the kitchen and into the ‘barn’ area to create the utility room and the games room. It was in the 80s that the cows were re-accommodated elsewhere, which gave way to the creation of ‘The Cottage’ and a potential living space for a caretaker for the property. Some 35 years on, there is a modern space for David, the Farm Manager, to live comfortably whilst overseeing the Holiday Lets business.
It was Christopher, another of Michael’s sons and an ex-Blue Peter presenter, who instigated the holiday lets business, initially in a very simple form. Also involved in major refurbishment projects, alongside his brothers, he paved the way to introducing holiday visitors to the farm. Initially the central Farmhouse portion was occasionally let out for self-catering holidays. By 1989 this became more regular. The Cottage was then added as an inter-connectable, self-catering, unit that could be enjoyed by larger groups of friends and family. The Hayloft was originally kept as a private refuge for friends and family but today, we are happy to say that the Hayloft is also open to visitors.
The activity was not, however, only going on indoors. As well as heading the refurbishments at the house, throughout the 1970s, astonishingly Michael would spend much of his weekend planting saplings, as well as maintaining them and protecting them from weeds, creating 24 acres of woodland. Much of the woodland you see in the surrounding areas, at the bottom of the fell, for example, is all down to him. It has been so successful that sometime in the near future the trees will gradually need to be harvested.
So, what was once used solely as a home to be reunited with his sons, gradually became a place for all to enjoy – for those looking to get out of the city and to bathe in the tranquility that only a visit to the countryside can provide. Michael ran the farm initially, but later it was slowly taken over by the four brothers, who would each leave their own mark on the place as they undertook refurbishments, repaired stone walls and fences, and worked tirelessly to make the place into what it is today. The entire, extended family would use the place for a number of weeks every Christmas, as a retreat, as a reunion and a place to refresh. Eventually in 2010 Martin completed a long process of buying the rest of the family out. It was after this transferred ownership that he began to convert an old hay barn (now The Lakehouse) into a beautiful and luxurious house overlooking our lake.
Laythams and its various properties is, of course, ideally situated. With its isolated and rural location and breathtaking views, it is the perfect retreat for those who love walking, bird watching, mountain biking, star-gazing, horse riding, shooting and fishing. To cap it all off the Bowland Bridle way goes right through Laythams land. Not only that, but the area is so rich in history you could keep yourself entertained for weeks. Educate yourself on the Pendle Witch Trials or visit Clitheroe’s Norman Keep, or investigate the Roman ‘motorway’ that was discovered running through Laythams land, a mere two feet down under the ground.
This Roman road has always been on the map, described as being about 30ft wide with a drainage ditch. It was only in 2011 when Martin and his workers were required to do a professional dig before expanding farm buildings that they stumbled upon the road, and were amazed by its size and its actual significance. Judging by its size and structure, there is no doubt that this road was heavily used, with ‘traffic’ going in both directions. It is thought that this road went from two major Roman strongholds – from Ribchester up to Lancaster or even up to Tebay in the Lake District. It was doubtless used by the military due to its makeup of compacted sandstone, according to Dr. Graham Morgan, an experienced archaeologist who was investigating the history behind it.
After the dig, the road was very much still intact, but had most likely not been used for over 1000 years. It remains a mystery as to why the road was not kept in use, whereas the inefficient and windy country roads were. Perhaps the natives to Lancashire did not want to maintain a road that was built and used by invaders that also crossed over numerous peoples land. It appears there was a shift from journey efficiency to the importance of land and personal boundaries.
While we may never know the exact details of what happened up there thousands of years ago, what we can be certain of is that the history of the place is fascinating and rich. We can safely say that Michael was certainly lucky when he stumbled across this beautiful property without the knowledge of what it really was, or what it would become, and we are lucky that his vision to convert the place became a reality.