“One bright unruffled evening must, if possible, be set apart for the splendor, the stillness and solemnity of a three hours’ voyage upon…the Lake,” William Wordsworth wrote in his Guide to the Lakes, so we planned to sail through the afternoon with our “Freedom of the Lake” tickets from Windermere Lake Cruises.
But first, a Pegasus taxi flew us to Blackwell, a place I’d been crossing my fingers to be able to see.
And what an enchanting place it was.
Blackwell was the holiday home of Sir Edward Holt, a Manchester brewer, and his family. The Lake District was the perfect place to escape from that famously industrial city of the North, and Holt chose an especially beautiful site overlooking Lake Windermere. He commissioned Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott to design a comfortable home where he and his family could relax and have fun.
Scott subscribed to the Arts & Crafts Movement, which favored beautiful, yet functional designs for unified interiors and exteriors with hand-crafted artistic details. What he created at Blackwell between 1898 and 1901 is now considered to be one of the most significant Arts & Crafts houses ever built.
Scott began by situating the house so that it faced the sun, rather than the lake. Since sunny days are so precious in England, having as much sunlight stream through the windows as possible was practical and smart, but it also created lovely aesthetic effects.
Outside, Scott called for a roof of local Westmorland slate, sandstone mullioned windows, limewashed walls and cylindrical chimneys. Rain water was channeled along grooves leading to ornate lead downspouts, some of which display Holt’s initials.The garden descends from the home in a series of terraces to appreciate the view. Clematis and roses climb up slate retaining walls, providing the perfect place for contentedly chirping English robins to perch above lush flower beds.
“On crossing this threshold, we pass into a charmed territory where everything shall be in harmony,” Scott said. Inside, it is just that — an unbelievably lovely place where Scott demonstrated his reputation for being a master of interior design. Everywhere you look, decorative details contributed by local craftspeople were carefully integrated into the home, making it a very special work of art.
Arthur Simpson, a woodcarver from Kendal, created some of the finest examples of Arts & Crafts carving in England here. He carved representations of plants from the surrounding hillsides on wooden brackets, ceiling cross beams, friezes and entrance corridor paneling. For example, the rowan tree berries that the Holts loved so much found their way into Simpson’s design for the woodwork of the main hall, as well as many other places throughout the home.
The oak paneling in the house dates from 1792, when it was installed in St. Mary’s Church in Warwick. Sliding doors from the entrance corridor open into the Medieval-inspired Great Hall, complete with a minstrel’s gallery. Original copper light fixtures in one section of this large, two-story multipurpose room once illuminated a billiard table, placed across from a built-in bench where people could watch the game. A peacock wallpaper frieze was made and installed by Shand Kydd in 1906.
Rowan berries appear again in the dining room’s rare block-printed Hessian wallcovering. Birds, bluebells and daisies also fill the design on a background which was originally bright blue but then faded to brown.
Emerge from these dark paneled rooms into the shimmering White Drawing Room, one of the loveliest rooms I’ve ever seen. Inspired by a treehouse that he designed for Crown Princess Marie of Romania, Scott created an elegant place that is hard to leave. Graceful columns flow into carved capitals that resemble flowers on long, delicate stems. The patterned frieze and ceiling overhead is equally enchanting.
Scott created wrought iron fire dogs for this room that are decorated with white enameled flowers and scarlet berries. He also designed an ebony inlaid barrel chair, basing its design on a tapestry created by Arts & Crafts legends Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris.
Some of the fireplaces in the main rooms on the ground floor are constructed from keyed lintels of green slate and pink sandstone. All have an inglenook, a cozy corner where you can sit and soak up the atmosphere for as long as you like.
Upstairs, the bedroom fireplaces feature decorative tiles depicting English flowers, all created by William de Morgan, another leading Arts & Crafts designer. There, you’ll find his “Bedford Park Anemone,” one of his earliest designs, and a glistening red lustre variation of his “KL Rose.”
Even Blackwell’s window latches and doorknobs are eye-catching.Blackwell was used as a girls’ school from World War II until the mid-1970s. Lakeland Arts, an arts and heritage organization in the North of England, restored the property, and the Prince of Wales opened its doors in 2001. It is said to be the only Baillie Scott house that is open to the public.
The former servants’ quarters house Blackwell’s tea room and shop, where you can purchase an excellent selection of Arts & Crafts books, Blackwell-themed china and tea towels, and contemporary hand-crafted ceramics, textiles and decorative items made from glass, wood and metal. A series of lectures, walking tours, family activities and rotating exhibitions encourage visitors to return often.
In 1901, Scott entered a German competition to design a House for an Art Lover (Haus eines Kunstfreundes). The competition was intended to encourage new, modern design among young, talented architects; noted Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh also submitted a design, but was disqualified. Scott’s design was awarded the top prize and was published as a large folio in 1902. The Baillie Scott Folio: House for an Art Lover is on view at Blackwell until December 31, 2015. Looking at these designs, you can see striking similarities to Blackwell’s rooms. There’s even a special activity for children to draw and submit their own House for an Art Lover design.
Another exhibit on view at Blackwell until December 7, 2015 is John Harden: Artist of Leisure. Harden was an accomplished amateur artist who lived in the Lake District for over 40 years. His drawings capture everyday life in Ambleside and Windermere.
For more on Blackwell, Scott, the Arts & Crafts Movement, and John Harden, see Arts and Crafts Master: The Houses and Gardens of M.H. Baillie Scott, by Ian MacDonald Smith; Houses of the Lake District, by Christopher Holliday; Arts and Crafts Houses in the Lake District, by Matthew Hyde; The Flora of Blackwell: A Guide to the Internal Decoration of Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts House, Bowness on Windermere, by David Ingram; Haus eines Kunstfreundes: Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Leopold Bauer, by Gerda Breuer ; The Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain, by Mary Greenstead; and Jessy and John: The Hardens at Brathay Hall, 1804-1811, by Maurice Dybeck.