From brooding landmark to des res with a view, castle is coming to life
WITH its dark brooding exterior, Riber Castle has towered over Matlock for more than 150 years.
Only a few years ago, it was estimated that the place had a life expectancy of about 30 years.
That was until a Derbyshire businessman, who still wishes to remain anonymous, bought it in 2000 and decided to bring it to life again with the creation of a number of apartments inside and outside its tired walls.
But it took a public inquiry in 2006 and a decision by the then Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, to finally give the go-ahead for the conversion, which was opposed by neighbours of the castle.
With every new aerial installed by AMC aerials I will fit an extra point in your bedroom or kitchen for an extra £10
New aerials fitted from £70
Call Adrian on 01332 418856
Terms: Must be an aerial supplied and fitted by AMC aerials
Contact: 01332 418856
Valid until: Friday, July 12 2013
Planning permission to create homes in and around the ruined shell had previously been given by Derbyshire Dales District Council in 2004, though this was questioned by Mr Prescott's department, which called a public inquiry.
Six days of evidence were heard, in which developer Cross Towers Ventures said the plans were the only financially viable way to restore the castle.
Finally agreeing to the project, Mr Prescott said it was a scheme which "preserves the architectural and historic integrity of the listed building, and one that minimises disbenefits to its special interest".
Six years on and the vision of 2006 is now becoming a reality. The castle is emerging like a phoenix from the ashes. No longer is it just a series of stone walls with its floors and roof long gone.
Project manager Ivan White has been working hard to make the plan come to life for the entire team and he has taken the scheme to his heart.
Each day he lives, works and breathes every piece of wood, each lump of stone and all the delicate panes of glass which are lovingly being shaped and moulded to try to keep faith with John Smedley's original building.
Mr Smith said: "The plan is still to have apartments on three floors of the castle and a number on the outside in the grounds.
"Seventeen people are working here, including five pairs of joiners and the owner, who works from dawn to dusk each day because he enjoys the work."
Industrialist John Smedley, whose mill business started at Lea Mills and who built the famous hydro at Matlock, now the offices of the county council, constructed Riber Castle between 1862 and 1866 as a home for himself and his wife, Caroline.
He also wanted dignitaries wishing to take the waters to stay at Riber Castle, which had its own bath house, rather than the hydro, while he stayed in the castle's lodge.
The castle was built using pink gritstone from the adjacent quarry and not the one in Matlock, which was originally thought to be the case. But replacement stone for the building during the repairs and renovations is still local, coming from Birchover.
Mr White said: "We are sourcing materials locally wherever possible and we are sizing, cutting and dressing the stone here on the castle site.
"Timber is also local and has been recovered from older buildings dating back to 1760 through to 1850, so that authenticity and recycling is maintained."
It was after the death of John Smedley, and his wife, Caroline, some 18 years later, that the demise of Riber Castle began.
A relative in Australia inherited it under the terms of John Smedley's will and many items were stripped out of the place to be sent abroad, although the relative never came to Riber.
Between 1910 and 1920, the castle became a boys' school under a head teacher from Yorkshire but eventually was forced to close.
The county council subsequently used the place for storage, particularly during the Second World War. The lack of a roof meant sugar kept there became wet and turned into alcohol, burning its way through the wooden floors.
A couple of decades later, the grounds became a zoo and people flocked to see the animals in a mini-revival for its fortunes.
In the meantime, the castle itself had become just a series of walls, without any internal structures, and so for a while a shed was erected inside to house a model railway as an additional attraction.
Mr White, 71, said: "Nature began to take over and by the time Cross Tower Ventures Ltd took it over in 2000, trees were growing out of the walls."
After the planning problems, work began in earnest restoring the castle in January 2009.
Since then, the team of workers have lovingly restored many aspects of the original decoration and fabric.
This has included 119 hardwood windows, the creation of new concrete floors and a roof for the first time since the 1930s.
The entrance hall will eventually become a focal point of the development with an atrium towering over it, inset with ornate plasterwork reproduced in Victorian style.
The current owner of the castle is to be found most days working on the building.
Mr White said: "Although he doesn't have to do this, he enjoys working on the project and is often here from dawn to dusk."
The plan for this year is to complete the first fix of plasterboard and wiring throughout the castle.
Mr White said: "By 2014, we intend to have one or two show apartments ready to be viewed.
"We are still deciding how to let or sell the apartments and what types of lease to issue.
"But it will be a managed site and there are likely to be holiday lets in the grounds and not in the castle itself."
The apartments are likely to attract home buyers anxious to have a room with a view.
With roof gardens and large windows, there is not a bad view from anywhere in the castle as it soars above the surrounding countryside.
Even on a dull and misty day, the panorama from Riber Castle still has the wow factor.
Eventually, the grime that has given the dull colour to the walls will be removed with a wet wash.
Mr White said: "At the moment, it's obvious where the new stone's been placed but, with a wet wash, the colour should even up a bit more.
"We have been told there is no need to sand-blast the building, though."
It is clear from the way in which Mr White speaks about the castle that the project is more than just a job to him.
With a myriad of previous civil engineering jobs behind him around the country, this one ranks very highly on Mr White's list of favourites.
He said: "I just love it to bits. The ambition for this place all along has been to lovingly restore it to something like the original.
"We have pinned walls and replaced chimneys and by the time we have finished we will have repaired much of the ravages of time that rendered the building unusable.
"Everyone involved in the project feels the same and I am sure that anyone who has wondered about the castle as they drive through Matlock will be relieved to know that it is going to survive."