The legendary Dame Fanny Waterman has put her Leeds home up for sale

The rich, famous and influential were regular visitors now Dame Fanny Waterman's home is for sale

Sunday, 28th June 2020, 6:08 pm
The remarkable Dame Fannny, co-founder of the Leeds International Pianoforte Competition, at home with one of her Steinways

When the owners of Woodgarth put their magnificent Victorian home on the market in 1966, they could think of many reasons why a buyer would fall in love with it.

Obvious selling points were the lavish period features, the premier location in Oakwood close to Leeds city centre, not forgetting the large garden but Dame Fanny Waterman confounded expectations when she arrived to view the house.

She fell for its 37ft by 17ft drawing room on the basis that it had space for two Steinway grand pianos. Her Steinways, a B and a C model, have been at Woodgarth for 54 years but are about to leave the stage now that the undoubted star of the show has left the building.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Woodgarth, Oakwood, Leeds, is on the market for 1.5m with Manning Stainton

The remarkable Dame Fanny, who co-founded the world-renowned Leeds International Pianoforte Competition and who co-devised the best-selling Me and My Piano books, has moved to a retirement home in Ilkley. So Woodgarth is now on the market with Manning Stainton for £1.5m and comes with numerous claims to fame.

“My mother turned 100 in March and she is getting more frail so it was the right time for her to move,” says her son, Robert de Keyser, who was 16 when he moved to Woodgarth with his parents and his brother.

His father, Dr Geoffrey de Keyser, was a music lover and very supportive of his wife’s working life, which centered on their house. It was here that she taught piano, planned “The “Leeds” competition and held regular soirees.

“If walls could talk they would tell some fascinating stories,” says Robert, who recalls that the rich, famous and influential were regulars at his mother’s legendary musical evenings.

The downstairs cloakroom is lined with pictures of the famous people Dame Fanny met and who enjoyed her musical soirees

Many of these events were covertly aimed at raising money for the world-renowned triennial piano competition, which she started in 1961 with Roslyn Lyons and with her friend and fellow pianist Marion, then Countess of Harewood. It was aimed at giving young, gifted pianists a chance to shine and has attracted the greatest talents.

Dame Fanny was herself a brilliant pianist who won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in 1941 but she used her skill to teach and to build “The Leeds” into one of the world’s most respected international music competitions. She was founder chairman, artistic director and chief fundraiser until she retired at the age 95.

“She jokingly referred to herself as ‘Field Marshall Fanny’, all 4ft 10ins of her,” says Robert. “As a person and as a mother she was dynamic and always immaculately turned out.”

She was also known as Yorkshire’s answer to Gertrude Stein, whose Paris salon featured the foremost artists and writers of the early 20th century.

The dining room at Woodgarth

Dame Fanny was adept at inviting the right people and used her musical ability, intellect and her charm to help raise much of the £1m needed to stage the competition, though she never asked for money. She just let it be known that the event relied on donations.

Her gallery of celebrity photographs are on the walls of the downstairs loo and on the pianos, which were played by luminaries including Lang Lang. Sir Benjamin Britten also played at Woodgarth when he stayed there with tenor Peter Pears.

“Her life has been full of famous people. She met Her Majesty the Queen on several occasions and had lunch at Windsor Castle. She especially liked musicians, lawyers and politicians,” says Robert, who adds:“Ted Heath played piano here. She met Harold Wilson, John Major, Gordon Brown and Theresa May.

“Prince Charles called to wish her happy birthday a few years ago and Don Revie was a regular visitor to the house, as was Alan Bennett.”

Dame Fanny is a gifted pianist and has two Steinways

She also played duets at Woodgarth with Peter Taylor, the former lord Chief Justice, and Lord John Dyson, former Master of the Rolls, was one of her favourite guests.

When she visited Australia, where Robert had a business, she asked him to invite musicians, lawyers and prime ministers to her welcome party.

“I managed to get her ex-prime minister Bob Hawke,” he says as he plans to say goodbye to a house that holds many happy memories.

Woodgarth, which has eight bedrooms, was built by a Swiss tycoon in 1898. He sold it to well-known retailers, the Schofield family, in the 1890s. The property still has many period features intact. The decor Dame Fanny chose was partly inspired by Harewood House, which she visited often to take lunch with Marion and her mother-in-law Princess Mary.

Robert de Keyser would like the house to be bought by the University of Leeds or by Leeds City Council as a museum and somewhere for visiting professors of music to stay but knows this is impossible.

His brilliant mother has an OBE, a CBE and a DBE but a plaque on Woodgarth celebrating one of Leeds most famous residents would, he feels, be a fitting tribute and not impossible.

Woodgarth is full of period features and Dame Fanny took inspiration for the decor from Harewood House, where her friend, Marion, former Countess of Harewood lived

“She really put Leeds on the international map so that kind of recognition would be nice,” says Robert who feared there would be an outpouring of emotion from his mother when she left her home.

Once again she defied expectation. When she walked out of the door for the last time, Dame Fanny Waterman did not look back and she didn’t shed a tear as she climbed into the car ready for what she saw as a new adventure.

Robert says: “I was amazed that she was so unemotional but she is excited about her new life and is looking forward to meeting new people in the residential home. She really is 100 years young

Woodgarth in Oakwood, Leeds, is for sale for £1.5m with www.manningstainton.co.uk. Built in 1884, it boasts many Arts and Crafts features

The property has a magnificent hall, a drawing room, dining room, kitchen, cloakroom, utility room, garden room and cellars. On the first floor are four bedrooms and two bathrooms with four bedrooms and a bathroom on the second floor. The 0.7 acre grounds have a garage and stable block.

*Editor’s note: first and foremost - and rarely have I written down these words with more sincerity - I hope this finds you well.

Almost certainly you are here because you value the quality and the integrity of the journalism produced by The Yorkshire Post’s journalists - almost all of which live alongside you in Yorkshire, spending the wages they earn with Yorkshire businesses - who last year took this title to the industry watchdog’s Most Trusted Newspaper in Britain accolade.

And that is why I must make an urgent request of you: as advertising revenue declines, your support becomes evermore crucial to the maintenance of the journalistic standards expected of The Yorkshire Post. If you can, safely, please buy a paper or take up a subscription. We want to continue to make you proud of Yorkshire’s National Newspaper but we are going to need your help.

Postal subscription copies can be ordered by calling 0330 4030066 or by emailing [email protected] Vouchers, to be exchanged at retail sales outlets - our newsagents need you, too - can be subscribed to by contacting subscriptions on 0330 1235950 or by visiting www.localsubsplus.co.uk where you should select The Yorkshire Post from the list of titles available.

If you want to help right now, download our tablet app from the App / Play Stores. Every contribution you make helps to provide this county with the best regional journalism in the country.

Sincerely. Thank you. James Mitchinson, Editor

The staircase is one of the main Arts and Crafts features at Woodgarth