Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
Woodhead Road, Holme, West Yorkshire, HD9 2QE


Ordnance survey map of Underhill
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Statutory Address:
Woodhead Road, Holme, West Yorkshire, HD9 2QE

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Kirklees (Metropolitan Authority)
Holme Valley
National Park:
National Grid Reference:


Earth sheltered house, designed in 1969 and constructed in 1973-5, by Arthur Quarmby as his family home. Stone and reinforced-concrete structure with external side 'walls' formed of embankments with planting and rockeries and sections of sandstone 'brick' walling, turf roof with roof lanterns and ventilators, aluminium windows and patio doors. Single-storey.

Reasons for Designation

Underhill, designed in 1969 by Arthur Quarmby as his family home and constructed in 1973-5, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* Architectural ambition: its unique and imaginative design sought to bring playfulness and creativity back into architecture and is a reaction against the dominance of Miesian modernism in architectural thought and practice in the early and mid C20; * Design interest: externally the house's low-impact earth sheltered design respects its location within the Peak District National Park, presenting itself as a series of grassy and planted mounds that enable the house to disappear back into the moor, creating a harmony between the natural and man-made worlds; * Constructional interest: its innovative sandstone and reinforced-concrete construction with earth drawn back over the roof incorporates a drainage system that protects the house from the threat of water pressure and has created a thermally efficient interior atmosphere that regulates itself; * Level of survival: it is remarkably little altered, retaining its original finishes and the vast majority of original features; * Planning: the house's sophisticated plan is influenced by historical precedents with a large central communal recreation space containing a swimming pool with private quarters off, providing a series of unique inter-related spaces with a sequence of changes in level; * Interior quality: the interior employs the use of good quality materials and craftsmanship throughout and is cleverly designed around the interaction of light and form, incorporating a small dark entrance hall deliberately designed so that the visitor is surprised by the abundance of natural light in the main body of the house, and using south-east windows to provide views out to the moors and roof lanterns to provide views upwards to the sky;

Historic interest:

* Innovation: Underhill was the first modern earth sheltered house constructed in Britain, and is a pioneering example of geotecture (underground architecture), representing a significant milestone in the development of ecological and sustainable architecture, and designed by Arthur Quarmby, a leading authority in earth-sheltered buildings.


Underhill was designed in 1969 and constructed in 1973-5 by Arthur Quarmby as his family home, shared with his wife Jean and their two children. The one-acre site had previously been bought by the owners of the neighbouring Holme Castle in the 1920s to extend their garden and construct a garage. The Quarmbys bought Holme Castle and its grounds for £10,000 in the early-1970s and then sold the castle on, but retained the one-acre plot on which to construct their house. The castle's 1920s garage was also retained and now forms the garage for Underhill. Underhill cost approximately £50,000 to build, with the construction work carried out by J B Kenworthy of Holmfirth.

Due to the site's location in the Peak District National Park Quarmby decided to build an earth sheltered house in order for it to blend into the landscape. The house's name 'Underhill', which is an appropriate moniker, is in reference to a piece of land further down the Holme valley below the hamlet of Hill, which is known as Underhill. Two of the main requirements of the house's design brief were to satisfy the family's hobbies; thus a swimming pool and a music room were both included in the design. Underhill featured in the Royal Institute of British Architects' 150th anniversary Festival of Architecture (Yorkshire region) in 1984.

Arthur Quarmby (b1934) is an inventor and architect who was born in Huddersfield and trained at Leeds School of Architecture in the early 1950s. He worked in Westminster under Geoffrey Shires during his studies, but later returned to his native Yorkshire, working in Leeds and Huddersfield.

During his studies Quarmby developed an interest in the uses of plastics in architecture; a specialism that featured heavily in his career. Whilst at Leeds School of Architecture Quarmby was awarded the Arthur Louis Aaron scholarship, which enabled him to travel around Europe where he talked to architects also working with plastics at that time, such as Ionel Schein in Paris. After his studies Quarmby worked for British Rail for approximately two years where he designed multi-purpose plastic buildings that were widely used on the railway network, and also designed a speaking device used in British Rail ticket kiosks that helped protect the clerks from the spread of bacteria.

Arthur Quarmby established his own private practice in 1960, designing a wide range of buildings in Britain and abroad, including a motor auction house in the United States. His work with plastics continued and he designed a laboratory and accommodation building for the British Antarctic Survey on Signy Island, built in 1963-4, and also developed a patent for folding buildings. In 1967 he designed the largest transparent air-supported dome in the world at that time, which was used in the Twentieth Century Fox film 'The Touchables'. Quarmby has lectured around the world on the subject, including in Shanghai, Sydney, Tokyo, United States and across Europe, and in 1974 he wrote the influential work 'The Plastics Architect', which has been translated into a number of languages, including Russian and Japanese.

As well as plastics, Quarmby's other great interest and specialism is in earth sheltered buildings; a subject in which he is a renowned authority. Underhill was his first design and was the first earth sheltered house to be constructed in Britain. Quarmby's other well known building is Mole Manor, Westonbirt, Tetbury, Gloucestershire, which was designed and built for Stuart Bexon in 1978-80. Quarmby designed another earth sheltered house for a site at Old Bewick, Northumberland, built in 1983-6, and later designed an earth sheltered visitor centre (now known as Rheged) in Cumbria in 1989. He was the President of the British Earth Sheltering Association until c2006.


Earth sheltered house, designed in 1969 and constructed in 1973-5, by Arthur Quarmby as his family home. Stone and reinforced-concrete structure with external side 'walls' formed of embankments with planting and rockeries and sections of sandstone 'brick' walling, turf roof with roof lanterns and ventilators, aluminium windows and patio doors. Single-storey.

PLAN & CONSTRUCTION: Underhill lies just off centre on its one-acre plot and is surrounded by landscaped gardens with a principal elevation facing SE across moorland and Ramsden Clough to Riding Wood Reservoir and the Pennine Hills. It has an irregular plan and is approximately 3500 sq ft in size. The house is cut five metres into the rock and incorporates sandstone and reinforced concrete walls that retain the hillside with earth drawn back over the roof. A drainage system protects the house from water pressure by channelling water down into a sump and then pumping it away to the corner of the site. The house is divided internally into separate wings/quarters arranged around a large central living space containing a swimming pool.

EXTERIOR: the house is approached from a driveway and garden path to the NW and appears as an irregular-shaped, raised flat-topped mound with embankments composed of planting and rockeries, with a main octagonal roof lantern visible to the centre of the turfed roof. The house's embankment side 'walls' were originally covered with turf and sheep grazed on the roof, but the turfed sides were quickly replaced by planting. The entrance path meanders SE-NE-SE to access the main entrance, which is located to the NE side and comprises a circular doorway eight feet in diameter and designed like a tunnel portal with curved retaining walls formed of sandstone 'bricks'. The doorway contains timber sliding double doors set behind the door frame so that they appear circular from the exterior, but are actually conventionally shaped internally. The doors' planks are arranged in a diamond-shaped pattern with studding detail, and are interlinked by a medallion depicting the Hindu god Ganesh, which represents good luck.

Adjacent to the main entrance the mound projects out to the NE where it is slightly lower in height. This projection contains the kitchen wing internally and two ventilators sit atop the turfed roof. The NW side of the projection is formed of a rockery, whilst the SE side, which overlooks a patio terrace and the children's wing, is formed of a sandstone 'brick' wall incorporating a doorway with a replaced uPVC door* (the uPVC door is not of special interest) and a window serving the house's utility room and kitchen respectively. The children's wing is set at 90 degrees to the kitchen wing and is also slightly lower in height than the main part of the house. Patio doors lead out onto the terrace from the children's playroom/lounge, which originally enabled Jean Quarmby to supervise the children from the kitchen. The children's bedrooms are located on the SE side of the wing (forming part of the house's principal elevation) and are denoted externally by a wide horizontal mullioned window (serving the two bedrooms internally) recessed into the embankment.

The main central part of the house's principal SE elevation is formed of a sandstone 'brick' wall with a single massive 20ft long horizontal window opening containing a series of aluminium patio doors (replaced in the 1980s) leading out onto a flagged patio terrace and the garden. Projecting forward to the left of the main SE window is the master bedroom wing, which appears as a planted embankment in similar style to the children's wing at the NE end, with a large recessed horizontal window that lights the bedroom. Incorporated to the centre of the master bedroom wing's SW return embankment are patio doors accessing a small patio terrace in front. Set to the right of the main SE window and built into the embankment of the children's wing is a flight of sandstone steps that leads up to the various turfed roof levels.

Set atop the roof of the children's wing is a small plastic viewing/observation dome and a bathroom ventilator, with two ventilators atop the slightly higher kitchen wing. Another short flight of stone steps leads up from the children's wing onto the main part of the roof, which includes the master bedroom wing to the S corner. The main roof has a large octagonal roof lantern set to the centre, which was installed c1990 as a replacement for the original Perspex lantern. The lantern lights the house's central swimming pool internally and is topped by a spherical weather vane finial. Surrounding the lantern to four corners are ventilators with domed caps (fans situated underneath the vents have never needed to be used). Two smaller pyramidal plastic roof lanterns lighting the music room and guest bedroom sit atop the NW side of the roof, along with a ventilator above the guest bathroom. Set to the W corner of the roof is a salvaged chimneypot serving the house's 'cave' below, which has an open peat fire. Set atop the roof of the master bedroom wing is a small plastic viewing/observation dome and a bathroom ventilator in the same style as those to the children's wing.

INTERIOR: internally the house's stone and concrete structure incorporates insulating blocks that have been screed over with insulation and waterproofing added on top. The walls are mainly plastered, but the principal central living space and the 'cave' both incorporate exposed stone walls. Stone flag floors exist throughout the central living space and in the 'cave' (the flags were salvaged from local industrial buildings being demolished in the 1970s), whilst the bedrooms are carpeted, and the kitchen and utility room have linoleum flooring. All the doors leading off the main living space are ledged and braced pine doors, whilst other internal doors are painted hollow-core doors. Most of the internal doorways have overlights above.

The main entrance leads into a small entrance hall that is not lit by natural light and which has a shower room and cloak room at the NW end and a door to the W corner leading into the guest bedroom. Ledged and braced pine double doors at the SE end of the hallway lead to a short flight of stone steps leading down into the house's vast main open plan living space (the rooms on the NW side of the house are all set on a higher ground level), which measures approximately 50 feet by 40 feet and is set upon different floor levels to create separate 'rooms' or zones, with a swimming pool as its centrepiece.

The swimming pool area is sunk below the floor level of the surrounding living spaces and incorporates a curved SW end wall of exposed stonework. The pool, which is 36ft long in total, takes the form of two inter-connecting circles (an hourglass design); that to the NE end is larger and is surrounded by four vast stone arches with plastered spandrels that support the house's concrete T-beam roof structure. Above the arches is a large octagonal roof lantern, which is a c1990 replacement. An arched timber-slat bridge without balustrading lies over the narrowest point of the swimming pool where the two shapes interconnect and at the NE end is a low-level diving board and ladder entry point. Located in the four corners of the roof above the pool and surrounding the lantern are four fans that were originally designed to be used to prevent damp, but they have never needed to be switched on as the living space's atmosphere regulates itself at 55% humidity and approximately 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

The lounge area lies off to the SE side of the swimming pool with a wide flight of three stone steps connecting the two spaces. A 20ft long window with aluminium patio doors occupies the SE wall, providing views over the garden and across Ramsden Clough to Riding Wood Reservoir. The dining area lies off to the NE side of the swimming pool and is treated as a room with walls to the side and rear, but open-sided onto the swimming pool. A doorway in the dining area's NE wall provides access into the kitchen and utility room; the kitchen units* are all c1991 replacements and are not of special interest.

Two inter-connecting flights of stone steps without balustrading lead up from the NW side of the poolside to a walkway accessing a music room and the 'cave'. A further cast-aluminium spiral stair in the style of a late-C19/early-C20 cast-iron stair also provides direct access from the poolside up to the 'cave' at the SW end. The 'cave' is a domical shaped room/chamber with exposed stone walls and a spray-foam coating covering its concrete ceiling. An open peat fire is incorporated to the NW side (Arthur Quarmby holds the title of Constable of the Graveship of Holme and his family has ancient rights to cut peat from the moorland) and an unglazed, low-level, irregular-shaped window opening with a stone trough at its base exists to the SE wall looking through to the swimming pool, and adjacent to an irregular-arched open doorway. The music room is accessed off the walkway through a set of wide sliding ledged and braced pine doors that enable the room to be shut off from the main living space and swimming pool. The room is top-lit by a small pyramidal roof lantern and a doorway in the NE wall provides access through to the guest bedroom, which is also top-lit by a roof lantern in the same style, and also has access off the entrance hall.

The master bedroom wing occupies the SW corner of the house and is accessed through a doorway at the SW end of the lounge area adjacent to the swimming pool area's curved SW end wall. The wing is on a slightly higher floor level than the lounge area and the doorway is accessed via a low flight of stone steps that follow the curved line of the adjacent wall. The master bedroom wing contains a bedroom with built-in wardrobes and dressing table, a shower room* (originally this was a bathroom containing a circular sunken bath) and separate toilet* (the modern replacement bathroom sanitary ware is not of special interest), and a lounge/study containing a Jacob's ladder against the SE wall that provides access up to a small viewing dome. A large horizontal window in the bedroom set just above the bed allows SE views across Ramsden Clough to Riding Wood Reservoir.

A doorway at the NE end of the lounge area accesses the children's wing, which occupies the NE corner of the house and is similarly designed to the master bedroom wing with a bathroom* (the modern replacement bathroom sanitary ware is not of special interest), two bedrooms, and a lounge/playroom with a Jacob's ladder alongside the SE wall that provides access to a small viewing dome. Also in keeping with the master bedroom wing, each bedroom has a square window (the windows appear as a single mullioned horizontal window externally) immediately above the bed that provides SE views across Ramsden Clough to Riding Wood Reservoir. The children's wing, which also contains the swimming pool's plant room, is set on slightly lower ground than the lounge area and has a short flight of steps at its entrance.

* Pursuant to s1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 ('the Act') it is declared that these aforementioned features are not of special architectural or historic interest.


Books and journals
Harwood, E, Space Hope & Brutalism. English Architecture 1945-1975, (2015), 568
'Under the hill' in The Architects' Journal, (13 April 1977), 687
Martin, I, 'An architect and an inventor' in The Architects' Journal, (25 November 1992), 28-29
'The Underground House' in Building, , Vol. 236. No 7092 (24), (15 June 1979), 49
Wainwright, M, 'Beneath an Earth Blanket' in Country Life, (30 October 1986), 1365-1366
'Underhill' in Building Specification, , Vol. 7. No 11, (November 1976), 23-27
'Looking at: An Underground House In England' in Architect & Builder, (September 1990), 12-13
Quarmby, A, 'Energy and Insulation Case Study: Underhill, Holme, West Yorkshire' in Architects' Journal Focus, (1987), .
'How Arthur Quarmby is putting up roots', by J Sale in The Times, 15 February 1983
'There's no place like Holme', by D Ward in The Guardian, 21 November 1980


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

The listed building(s) is/are shown coloured blue on the attached map. Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’), structures attached to or within the curtilage of the listed building (save those coloured blue on the map) are not to be treated as part of the listed building for the purposes of the Act.

End of official listing

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