At the end of the season, a number of the Lake District’s historic houses shut for the winter, however, Blackwell, just outside Bowness-on-Windermere, is an exception that is well worth visiting at any time of year.
Blackwell is a famous example of a house from the Arts and Crafts movement, and was built in 1900 as a holiday home for the Holt family, founders of a Manchester brewery, by the architect Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott. As well as being a characterful building in a beautiful area overlooking Windermere, Blackwell is therefore also an important part of architectural and design history too, and it’s rather nice to have something like this on my own doorstep in the Lakes.
According to Lakeland Arts, who run Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts movement took place in the late nineteenth century when there was a renewed interest in hand-made crafts – this was sparked by a fear that the new phenomenon of mass production would create a rather soulless world. The development of such a movement was encouraged by figures including the social reformer John Ruskin, who himself lived at Brantwood on the eastern shore of Coniston during this time (you can read more about Ruskin in my recent post about Brantwood, another historic Lakeland property that stays open during the winter season here).
Winter is the perfect time to visit Blackwell because, whereas I always feel a bit guilty being indoors when it’s good weather in the summer, on cold winter days you can relax and appreciate being in the warm, yet still benefit from the fabulous views across the lake, and natural light that pours in when you enter rooms such as the iconic White Drawing Room at the front of the house. Interpretation panels about the house say that for the Holt family, Blackwell was a ‘retreat into nature’ and designed to bring the outside in – and because the sun was streaming into the building wherever I went, I really did get a sense of this while I was wandering round.
Whether or not you have an interest in history or architectural design, Blackwell is a fascinating place to explore. There’s so much detail everywhere, from on the carved wooden panelling and ceilings, to inside the inglenook fireplaces and on the window fittings. Many of Blackwell’s decorative features are original, although not all. Here are a few pictures to give you an idea of what to expect:
Most of the bedrooms at Blackwell are used to house displays about the Arts and Crafts movement, temporary exhibitions, and information about Blackwell’s time as a school between 1941 and 1976 – the house was originally used to evacuate girls from the bombing in Liverpool, and the headmistress, Miss Murphy, apparently flooded the courtyard with buckets of water to create a skating rink! Blackwell hosts a programme of exhibitions which change throughout the year.
My latest visit was also the first time I have seen the recently opened Master Bedroom, which has been created in the style used by Blackwell’s original architect:
Another draw at Blackwell has to be its tearoom, which is worth a visit while you are passing, even if you don’t plan to go around the house – I’ve had a couple of great lunches here in the past, one of which was particularly educational as it’s where I first came across mooli (otherwise known as Daikon, which good old Wikipedia tells me is ‘a mild-flavoured winter radish’)! This was a while ago though, so I’m not guaranteeing that this will still be on the menu now!
The food is all freshly prepared and of excellent quality, so I would recommend lunch here, and you can see the current menu on Blackwell’s website. The tearoom itself is clean, bright and contemporary, and apparently is in the part of the building that was originally the servants’ wing. You can also sit outside the house itself or lower down on the terrace looking towards the lake, though you might want to revisit in the summer to do that! The original terraced garden was actually laid out by the famous local landscape architect Thomas Mawson, so there are quite a few well-known names associated with Blackwell in various design fields.
You can find out more about the history of the house and its current exhibitions (and see that all-important tearoom menu!), on Blackwell’s website.
Thank you to Lakeland Arts for their recent invitation to visit Blackwell and one of its current exhibitons, ‘Spinning the Colours of Lakeland: Annie Garnett’s Spinnery, textiles and garden’ – I will be featuring this in another post on the blog shortly, so do keep a lookout for that too!