What exactly is Bridge House in Ambleside?

The Bridge House on Rydal Road, Ambleside
The Bridge House on Rydal Road, Ambleside

Bridge House in Ambleside is one of the most iconic – and smallest – buildings in the Lake District. Yet how many of us have actually stopped to take a proper look at this quirky historic landmark, or asked ourselves ‘what exactly is it’? One day back in the summer, I decided to find out.

To visit Bridge House, you literally step off the pavement and into the miniature downstairs room, complete with windows and the original old stove. You can then climb the outer spiral stone steps to a surprisingly light and pretty upstairs space too. A National Trust volunteer is usually on hand to tell you all about Bridge House’s history. There were lots of people around when I visited, but I took advantage of a quiet moment to take a few snaps inside.

The downstairs and upstairs doorways
The downstairs and upstairs doorways
The interior of the downstairs of Bridge House
The interior of the downstairs of Bridge House
The light and airy upstairs room
The light and airy upstairs room
Looking out from upstairs at Bridge House
Looking out from upstairs
From the interior of the upstairs at Bridge House, Ambleside
From the interior of the upstairs

According to the National Trust, Bridge House was first owned by the local Braithwaite family. A bridge was constructed first, to allow access to land on the other side of the river, and the building itself was added in the 17th century as an apple store.

The building once had a doorway on each side of the river, and traces of this can still be seen from the outside on the footpath away from the road.

The original second doorway
You can still see where the original second door was on the other side of the river

Bridge House has had many other uses, including as a weaving shed, a counting house for the mills, a family home (for eight people!) a cobbler’s and a chairmaker’s.

The stove was added in the 19th century when it became a tea house. In the 1940s it was also used as a bric-a-brac and antiques shop.

The stove
The stove was apparently added when Bridge House became a tea house in the 19th century

By the 1920s, Bridge House was in need of repair work. Luckily, a group of supporters, including William Heelis (better known as Beatrix Potter’s husband) recognised this and raised enough money to buy it – just imagine what a waste it would have been to let this cute little curiosity go to ruin.

The building was then donated to the National Trust, who used it as their first Lake District information centre from 1956.

Bridge House is such a lovely reminder of Ambleside’s past, but it is small and so does only take a few minutes to visit. What else do you recommend as a ‘must’ while in Ambleside (especially involving food 🙂 – I like Cafe Treff around the corner)? Please leave your suggestions in the comments below.


  1. There are lots of National Trust properties in the Lake District – ideal if you already have National Trust membership, and worth considering if you plan to visit many of them.

  2. Phillip Gamble

    Hi Janine, that’s a lovely blog, and those snaps you mentioned… they are very lovely , well framed photographs indeed I thought you must have taken them with a really good camera.
    The research you went to, to uncover generations of use is brilliant. Thanks very much for sharing that with us all.
    Cheers, Phillip

    • Thank you Phillip – it’s great to hear you enjoyed the post. After so many years of passing the Bridge House without ever stopping to take a look, it was quite a surprise to discover more about its varied history!

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