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Indulging in the Arts and Crafts on the shores of Windermere

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When we drive along the main road running along the eastern shore of Windermere today, we pass one grand mansion after the other.  Many were built at the turn of the last century at a time when wealthy industrialists were seeking peace and quiet away from the noisy, polluted cities in the north of the most industrialised country in the world.

Some engaged famous architect-designers such as Charles Voysey and Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott to build them “summer houses” in the fashionable Arts and Crafts style, but it was to a local Windermere architect, Dan Gibson, that William Henry Adolphus Gaddum, a silk merchant from Manchester, turned to design Brockhole in the same style.

The Arts and Crafts movement took its name from the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, founded in London in 1887.  The style spanned the period between traditional Victorian building styles and the modern movement, and is characterised by design and craftsmanship, which during the late Victorian period were being generally sacrificed in the process of mass production.

The house was started 125 years ago, and in 1900, William Gaddum moved in with his wife Edith – cousin to Beatrix Potter – and two children.

Fast-forward to the turn of the following century: one hundred years after the Gaddum family were having fun in the gardens with their friends, Brockhole became my favourite Lake District destination when I was bringing up my own young family.  The sense of informality, simplicity and fun that must have been such a feature of Gaddum family life is still part of the attraction.

But my most recent visit to Brockhole – without children in tow – has me looking at the National Park Visitor Centre with new eyes.

I was able to truly appreciate this fine house and its grounds in the context of a Creative Workshop Experience Day, where I spent an enjoyable day in a small group crafting silk roses under the expert tuition of Designer Milliner Tracy Wells.  As we sat in a room overlooking the beautiful gardens designed by one of the most celebrated landscape architects of the Edwardian era, Thomas Mawson, all those decades previously, I couldn’t help but contemplate how appropriate the setting was.

The Arts and Crafts movement brought with it a taste for natural materials and handcrafted features.  It was all about a return to well-made, beautifully-designed goods and the revival of traditional handicrafts.  And here I was, sitting in an Arts and Crafts house, crafting a silk rose in the former home of a silk merchant.

The Gaddum family were living through the Industrial Revolution, and when William Gaddum returned to Brockhole from tumultuous “Cottonopolis” he must have relished the peace and quiet that he found in his dream home alongside the lake.  Today we are living through the digital revolution and information era, and we all lead such busy lives.  As we worked on our individual roses, we were all engrossed in our own worlds – what a treat it was to escape the everyday!

Arts and Crafts homes were designed to sit comfortably within their settings, and architect Dan Gibson and garden designer Thomas Mawson certainly worked together to achieve this at Brockhole.  Built on a series of south- and west- facing terraces, the gardens slope gently down to the shores of Windermere, moving from formal to informal planting.  

Over the years since Brockhole has been the National Park visitor centre, the gardens have been restored, and many of Mawson’s original ideas have been reintroduced, including the careful framing of the views north to the Langdale Pikes, which has always been one of my favourite places to sit in the garden.

Written by Tess Pike