Cleveland Yankee claims a bit of Olde England

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The Independent Online

An American millionaire is laying claim to impeccable lineage that he says grants him ownership of a Yorkshire stately home once occupied by William the Conqueror.

Walter de Hawksworth, the first owner of Hawksworth Hall near Guiseley, Leeds, came to England with William and died at the Battle of Hastings. King William is believed to have held the manorial rights in 1069.

Jay Hawkesworth Elias Jnr, who has made a fortune from a laundry business in Cleveland, Ohio, claims direct descendent and is disputing the proposed sale of the hall by Scope, the charity for the disabled, which has owned it for the last 44 years. He says he possesses the deeds.

Mr Elias claims the charity, which has already conditionally sold the property to developers, has been no more than a tenant in his home, which has been on the market for more than £1m.

"My family has always, and will always, hold the deeds to the property," he said. "It has never left our family and I am determined it never will."

Diane Armington, a property adviser, said Mr Elias's direct ancestors had lived in the hall for over 900 years. "It has never left the family and Scope were simply allowed to use it," she said.

"In America, when squatters leave a house, the house immediately returns to the possession of the owners and that is what we will contend should happen in this case," she said.

Lawyers concluding the sale by Scope yesterday invited Mr Elias, who is expected in Yorkshire this weekend, to show them his documentation.

But they insist that Scope has owned the property freehold since 1956 and that their own documentation has never been challenged before.

One documented history of the hall, the oldest remaining parts of which date to 1600, states that it has changed hands three times since 1899 without dispute.

A textile manufacturer was the last buyer to use it as a domestic dwelling after purchasing it in 1923.

But Mr Elias does have the support of locals, since he wants to restore the property to a single house while developers seem certain to split it into three separate dwellings. Five more homes could also be built within the grounds.

A local action group fighting to save the hall from developers said it hoped Mr Elias was successful. The Hawksworth Residents' Association doubted whether he could wrest back ownership but confirmed he had visited the village school on a number of occasions and does have ties here. "It would be very nice to have someone buy the hall as a single home," said Agnes Booth, a spokeswoman for the group.

Gerard Eve, an estate agency in Leeds that is handling the sale, said it would meet Mr Elias: "The situation has become almost unbelievable and is very unexpected," said the agent dealing with the hall's disposal.