We have been in Britain for several months now but it was only recently that we ventured up into the far north. On our extended visit last year we got all the way up to Edinburgh and returned south via the Lake District without stopping except further south at Chester. This time we headed specifically for the Lakes and with the aim of visiting Chatsworth House in Derbyshire which is really in the midlands I think most people would agree.
We certainly don’t qualify as serious walkers of the sort who go yomping across the landscape of lakes with full waterproofs on carrying their daypacks with their ordnance survey maps or Wainwrights in their hands together with a compass. We are the normal walking on clearly marked paths for maybe 2 to 3 hours maximum type of walkers. To do this we booked ourselves into a hotel in Grasmere which is situated on Grasmere itself. For the non-Brits reading this I should explain by way of the hoary old joke what I mean by Grasmere. “How many lakes are there in the Lake District?” I don’t know, how many are there? One, Lake Bassenthwaite. All the rest are either meres or waters with the smaller bodies of water being known as tarns. Ha! Ha! Ha!
So Grasmere is the village that overlooks Grasmere the mere. It is famous for being the place where Wordsworth the poet lived for fourteen years. It is now a serious tourist destination with just about every business being dedicated to tourism whether it be hotels, cafes, restaurants or outdoor clothing and camping equipment shops. There must be more of these as a proportion of places business than anywhere you care to mention. Walking around Grasmere and its immediate environs gives one the same sort of feel as walking around in a ski village in that everything and everyone is in some way associated with walking in the hills and amongst the lakes (for convenience I will call them lakes). So many people are dressed up in hiking gear just as skiers are kitted out in ski wear and so on.
This can have the same sort of intimidating effect as being in a serious ski resort whilst one is not a very competent skier. One is constantly feeling as if one is under dressed or inappropriately addressed if one doesn’t have a full set of waterproofs on and is carrying those crazy hiking poles for goodness sake. Despite all that we were glad to be in Grasmere rather than either Ambleside which is situated a little south at the north end of Windermere or in Windermere itself which is further down towards the southern end of that lake. Both of these were larger towns and absolutely packed to the gunwales with tourists and visitors.
Bowness-on-Windermere was also near Windermere towards its southern end but this had a decidedly more upmarket feel for reasons that we subsequently discovered. I will quote from the “goLakes” web site on the history of Bowness which for many years had survived as a fishing town until the advent of the railway to Windermere in 1847. An arrival driven by the demand for holiday destinations it was followed in 1869 with a line to Bowness. Many hotels began opening and there was demand from the wealthy for lakeside residences.
“By the 19th century, wealthy businessmen from the urban areas began to regard the Lakes as a haven of scenic tranquility, acquiring grand country retreats. Belsfield (now a hotel) was bought by the iron magnate, Henry William Schneider, in 1869 as a commuter home (he built a jetty at the bottom of the garden so he could sail to Lakeside in his steamboat, Esperance). Storrs Hall was acquired by John Bolton in 1806 on proceeds from the slave trade. Brockhole, built in the late 1880s by Henry Gaddum, a wealthy silk merchant from Manchester, became a convalescent home before opening as the National Park Visitor Centre in 1969. And lastly, Blackwell, an architectural gem from the Arts and Crafts era, was commissioned by Sir Edward Holt, a wealthy brewer from Manchester“.
Not mentioned in this sketch was that as developers began to build housing for the middle classes the average price of a house was deliberately set at twice the value of houses elsewhere in the district in order to “keep the riff raff out” essentially.
Why am I bothering to mention Bowness at all, anyway? Because it is where Blackwell House is to be found. Mentioned above in the quote at the end it was built for Edward Holt but more importantly it was designed by Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott in the Arts & Crafts style and is considered to be one of the finest examples of this style in the country. Every single detail of the house, both inside and out, were designed by Baillie Scott and the interiors are especially beautiful, if you like that kind of thing. A particular feature of the rooms are the fireplaces and inglenooks which were, for Baillie Scott “the fire…as a substitute for the sun” and its “cheerfulness…akin to the delight sunlight brings”.
Well that is very nice but to run the house and enable the pleasant life of entertaining and parties required a large staff. They were expected to work from dusk to dawn, pay for their own uniforms from their wages -such as they were – and were allowed on afternoon off per week and were required to attend church on Sunday. After all big houses don’t run themselves do they?
I have added two galleries for Blackwell, one for the rooms and one for the fireplaces and other architectural details. I think you will agree that it certainly is Arts & Crafts on steroids.