The new owner of a dilapidated Keighley mansion house is on a mission to restore the property to its former glory.

James Sheldon, 35, took over Whinburn, in Utley, in January.

He is now working with English Heritage to investigate ways of sensitively reclaiming the building's overgrown, eight-and-a-half-acre gardens.

The grade-two listed mansion, in Hollins Lane, was built by Keighley textile tycoon Prince Smith, between 1896 and 1913.

The building - which includes 16 bedrooms, oak floors and a mock-Gothic baronial hall - has since been used as a school and a special referral unit.

It was closed in 2002 and has been disused ever since.

It is set in gardens which are included by English Heritage's recently published Heritage at Risk register.

They were laid out in the 1920s to the plan of influential landscape architect, TH Mawson, and include terraces, paths, lawns and water features.

Mr Sheldon, who worked as a lifeboat coxswain for 18 years, is currently based in Southport but aims to be living in Whinburn with his family by September.

He said the gardens had been like a "jungle" when he first saw them.

"The neighbours have put up with a lot because I've been bramble bashing until it gets dark," he said.

"They've been really understanding because I think they're just glad that someone has moved in at last.

"The gardens had been left completely untended for about five years and they'd also gone through two or three years of general decline before that.

"My own gardening skills are fairly lacking, so I've been reading up on what plants should be there and what shouldn't.

"It's a totally different challenge to what I was doing before but just as rewarding as pulling someone from the sea.

"I've been in contact with the granddaughter of Prince Smith. She sent us a lovely letter - she's made up that Whinburn is actually going to be a proper family home."

In its latest report into historic properties deemed at risk in West Yorkshire, English Heritage stated it was concerned about 10 gardens and listed landscapes in Yorkshire and the Humber.

Whinburn's gardens are on this list, with the report describing them as "one of Yorkshire's finest examples of an arts and crafts garden".

It adds: "The Grade II garden has become an overgrown jungle, with many of its features crumbling, causing English Heritage to deem it at high risk on its Heritage at Risk Register.

"New owner James Sheldon plans to give the landscape a new lease of life. Some clearance work has already begun."

Mr Sheldon said restoring the gardens was a long-term project but added he hoped to use the area for public charity events in future in aid of groups like the Yorkshire Air Ambulance.

"I think people would appreciate that," he said. "It would be a shame to be greedy and keep these gardens to ourselves."

He said he understood nearby residents were happy that Whinburn would resume its original function as a family home.

In 2006, a planning application by Lancashire-based developers to turn it into nine apartments and to build two blocks of flats in the grounds was rejected.