Townend, a National Trust property in Troutbeck, is one of those places that I’ve known about for years, but had never actually visited. Since starting my blog, however, I’ve been on the lookout for fun and unusual things to see, and my interest was piqued when I noticed an appeal for a rather unusual voluntary role in the Westmorland Gazette: to give cooking demonstrations on a Thursday afternoon, dressed in traditional costume. Although I’m not applying for the job (!), I promised myself I’d take time out one Thursday to see what the demonstrations are about.
Townend is a traditional Lakeland farmhouse, which was passed down through 12 generations of the Browne family over a period of 400 years.
Most of the house’s history is told from the point of view of ‘the last George Browne’ to live there – one of a number of males in the family named George. This George lived between 1834 and 1914 and was a sheep and dairy farmer, scholar and gardener. He was also particularly enthusiastic about wood carving, and it was his passion for this craft that gives the house so much charm today and adds to its suprisingly amusing history.
The house is absolutely full of carved oak furniture, and George is known to have stretched the truth a little with the dates he carved on some items, adding up to 200 years to them in order to give a greater feel of history; the furniture might have been that old, but the carving certainly wasn’t! Beatrix Potter is also said to have detested his taste in wood carving.
After visiting several of the rooms, a picture begins to emerge of the family in which I sense more than an element of Hyacinth Bucket from TV’s Keeping Up Appearances. In the 1700s, Ben Browne designed a coat of arms for his family, even though they weren’t entitled to one (apparently quite a few families did this). There was even an incident where Ben put his own pew in the local church, and this made the villagers so angry that someone removed it overnight and burnt it!
Apparently the Brownes were not frightened to take on a fight either. An earlier George Browne, back in 1615, built a weir at his water mill, but in doing so also caught some of the king’s fish. Apparently, he had to go to court, but challenged the king’s right to own the fish and actually won!
On the day I visited, recipes were being recreated in the kitchen from a recipe book carefully written by Elizabeth Birkett, who married into the family in 1702. Recipes on show included a sweet spinach pie and bean cakes, which are made with blanched almonds and rose water. You can see a transcript of the book and a couple of the recipes online.
You can choose to explore Townend in a way that best suits you. There are guided tours (on the day I visited there had been tours at 11am and 12noon, with places limited) or you can wander around the house at leisure, with information cards available in every room. There are traditional cookery demonstrations on a Thursday afternoon, and the kitchen fireplace is currently being restored for this purpose.
During my visit to Townend, I became completely immersed in the history and intrigue of the house and its family stories. The house is also in a beautiful and enchanting setting, with Troutbeck being well known for its views. I always describe this area as ‘like being in another world’. I took a car journey back down to the A591 via Holbeck Lane, and the views across Windermere were particularly vibrant because of the fresh spring colours and a dramatic combination of sunshine and cloud.
If you’re intrigued to see the house for yourself (it’s free if you have National Trust membership), visit the website for further information on Townend’s opening times and admission prices.
Have you visited Townend or another of the National Trust’s Lake District properties? If so, tell us what you think by leaving a comment below.