Rake Up A Great Time At Dawes Arboretum’s Fall Festival

We still may be waiting for the leaves to reach their peak color this fall, but The Dawes Arboretum’s celebration of the harvest season was so glorious that it should have been my family’s annual tradition to attend long before now.

This family event was loaded with terrific activities. Arboretum staff offered expert advice on trees and shrubs to shoppers during the event’s plant sale. Licking County Historical Society representatives were on hand to show people how to make candles the pioneer way, by suspending a wick from a twig and dipping it in wax. Arboretum volunteers helped children decorate small pumpkins. Animal ambassadors from Ironwood Wolves gave presentations. Ochs Fruit Farms sold just-picked apples. The Energy Cooperative, the event’s presenter, distributed sought-after swag in the form of reflective jack-o’-lantern trick-or-treat bags and fluorescent orange thermal drink cups.

Look through this spiderweb hand-crafted from natural materials near the entrance to the Arboretum and you’ll see one of the excellent guided wagon tours of the grounds under way that were given by Jeff Bowman, curator of conifers.

After taking one of Jeff’s tours, we made our way to the Zand Education Center, a recently refurbished horse barn.  There, we picked up complimentary packets of cilantro, “California Wonder” peppers and “Beefsteak” tomato seeds to take home and plant.  We also admired the seasonal display of ornamental peppers and cabbages, pansies, chrysanthemums, gourds, bales of hay — and even a green roof — in its newly expanded Learning Garden. 

 We took a break on swings overlooking the pond behind Daweswood House…

and snacked on the tastiest-ever batch of kettle corn, a sweet-and-salty mushroom popcorn confection made right before our eyes.

Bees weren’t the only things swarming around samples of apple cider, created minutes before on a cider press operated by Bring the Farm To You, a local provider of on-site farm programs.

Glass Rooster Cannery, a Sunbury-based instructor of modern homesteading practices, also demonstrated how to make apple butter, then shared delicious, warm samples of the product. 

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Wake Up! We’re At Wallington!

What’s the first thing that you did when you became the owner of your home?

Sir Charles Trevelyan, his wife, Lady Mary (known as Molly), and their six children aged between 8 and 22 gathered in the central hall of their 43-room ancestral home and shouted, “Wake up, Wallington!”

A re-enactment of this stirring command took place when this anxious vacationer finally pulled into the car park of Wallington Hall for a much-anticipated return visit. It also occurs every afternoon at 3:00, as part of the National Trust’s seasonal interpretation of this magnificent 17th-century Northumberland estate.

“Moving In: Lady Molly Turns a House Into A Home” envisions how the Trevelyans transformed Wallington from a run-down, silent summer place into an inviting, year-round home with all the latest improvements after 61-year-old Sir Charles inherited the estate from his 90-year-old father, Sir George Otto Trevelyan, in 1928. The new owners were the biggest and youngest family to occupy Wallington for years.

“I always had a feeling that the old house was awaiting a time of reawakening after many years of somnolence,” Lady Mary wrote in her diary. “It was a great delight to us both to feel the life coming back to the old house with the ring of children’s voices, and the scamper of feet down the long passages.”

From her desk in the parlor, Lady Molly managed the house and its needed renovations. She learned to make scale drawings that would allow her to collaborate in an informed manner with the architects, builders and engineers who executed her plans. These included rebuilding the whole structure; installing electric lighting in both the house and the whole estate; planning for a pumping station and an engine in case of fire; and putting in bathrooms.

Lady Molly also installed a new Aga cooking range in the kitchen for Mary Smith, the cook from the Trevelyans’ home in nearby Cambo, to use. Today, interpreters rely on the working vintage Aga to explain what went on in the kitchen, to cook a few recipes, and to describe the history of the world’s first heat-storage cooker, invented in 1922 by a Swedish physicist who was confined to his home after being blinded in an experiment. The shiny cast-iron range with a boiling plate, a roasting oven and a simmering oven that emanates consistent heat continues to be made by hand today in Shropshire.

Each of the Trevelyan children also had their pick of 13 bedrooms — and could name the one they chose.

To recreate how it might have felt to be at Wallington in 1929, November Club, a Northumberland performing arts company that makes site-specific historical productions, created fantastic installations and soundscapes in the form of trunks interests. Open the lid of the trunk, see objects that display something about each child’s personality, and hear recorded music and spoken words from family papers.

Pauline, the eldest, chose the Tapestry Room, with its 10 beautiful needlepoint panels stitched by a 18th-century ancestor.

Marjorie and Patricia opted to share “Four and Six,” so named because the girls were fourth and sixth in order of their birth.

Kitty chose a beautiful, south-facing room apart from the others, with sash windows twice her height.

Geoffrey made himself at home in the “Pigeon Hole.”

In Wallington’s magnificent walled garden, Lady Molly also designed the “Mary Pool,” which feeds a stream that trickles down through the garden. When her husband decided to turn the property over to the National Trust in the 1930s, her parting gifts were in the form of curving stairs sweeping down either side of the pool, as well as a terrace at the west end of the garden.

Thought to be the work of Lancelot “Capability” Brown, the four-acre, L-shaped walled garden was created in 1760 to provide a place for fruit and vegetables to grow, sheltered from climate extremes. Enter the garden through the Neptune Gate and find a raised brick terrace, built around 1766.

Lady Molly’s father-in-law, Sir George Otto, created the walled garden’s Edwardian conservatory in 1908. Originally intended to be a winter garden, it includes a fuchsia planted in the same year, lemon verbena that was established before that, and a heliotrope dating from 1940. Amid wall-trained geraniums, bougainvillea and plumbago, you can buy seeds of plants from the Wallington gardens, such as Campanula latifolia “Brantwood,” a brilliant deep purple bellflower.

Sir George Otto designed the garden’s walks, borders, terraces and lawns, all still arranged in that form today. On the top terrace, he also placed 18th-century lead figures in the form of Medusa, Perseus and Scaramouche, all from the family home in Newcastle. The terrace by the conservatory also features the Owl House, a potting shed-turned-gazebo topped with a stone owl, the Trevelyan family emblem.

From the top terrace, the garden cascades down into the valley through the Plum Bower, with its clematis-covered brick wall. A small nuttery filled with spring bulbs is enclosed by yew hedges. Ornamental trees are planted to resemble an orchard. There are even small vegetable plots. At one time, greenhouses were filled with rare plant specimens collected by Sir Walter Trevelyan.

In the 1960s, esteemed 20th-century landscape designer Graham Stuart Thomas created a garden filled with colorful themed borders, shrubs and plants.

At the bottom of the garden, find a pond, a lawn, and the Garden Kiosk, which serves refreshments in the summer.

Outside the walled garden, there’s the “Woo Woo Loo,” an environmentally friendly waterless and composting toilet.

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For Sweetest Day, Give The Rose Named For A Darling Girl

A gale of chilly wind propelled us down the steep slope from Bamburgh Castle along Radcliffe Road as we scurried past snails, rushed by rose-covered cottages and passed up petting jacketed dogs on walks. I was on a mission to see Grace in less than 30 minutes.

Few knew this gentle girl, but when duty called, her courage made her a national heroine, prized far and wide throughout the United Kingdom for her bravery and modesty.  Meet Grace Darling.

Grace’s story begins on November 24, 1815, when she was born in Bamburgh, the seventh of a lighthouse-keeper’s nine children. Grace’s life took a fateful turn during the stormy early morning of September 7, 1838, when the 22-year-old looked out of an upstairs window of Longstone Lighthouse on the Farne Islands off the Northumberland coast. She spotted the wreck of a steamship on a nearby island called Big Harcar. The SS Forfarshire, carrying more than 60 crew and passengers, had hit Big Harcar and broken in half, and one of the halves had sunk overnight.

Grace and her father, William, jumped into action to rescue the survivors. Since the North Sea was so rough, they decided to take a coble — a rowboat designed for working in shallow waters — instead of a lifeboat for the half-mile journey. When they reached the wreck, Grace held the coble steady in gale-force winds while her father helped the first five of nine survivors climb aboard. William and two of the Forfarshire crew returned to pick up the remaining survivors, while Grace and her mother stayed behind in the lighthouse, caring for those who had been rescued first.

News traveled fast about Grace’s bravery while risking her life to rescue others, and she soon became famous. Several artists came to the lighthouse in order to paint portraits of her that would accompany newspaper stories about the event in those pre-photography days. Tourists came to Bamburgh hoping to get a glimpse of Grace. Others wrote to her asking for locks of her dark brown hair that they could plait and place into memorial brooches. The attention was so great that the Duke of Northumberland stepped in to ensure her well-being.

Grace and her father were awarded with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s Medal for Gallantry in risking their lives to save others; the medal was the first to be awarded to a woman. Queen Victoria sent her £50. “The girl with windswept hair” was immortalized in verse, including Grace Darling, by William Wordsworth, the soon-to-be Poet Laureate.  Porcelain figurines depicting Grace, the Longstone Lighthouse and the rescue were cast. Cadbury and Rowntrees produced “Grace Darling” chocolates. “Grace Darling,” one of the first hybrid tea roses, was introduced. An artistic depiction of Grace and her father in their coble even appeared on Lifebuoy soap wrappers.

Four years after her brave deed, Grace died of tuberculosis and was buried outside St. Aidan’s Church in her hometown of Bamburgh. According to the Venerable Bede, the Anglo-Saxon Northumbrian scholar best known for writing The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, St. Aidan of Lindisfarne built a wooden church in Bamburgh in AD 635. The dying Aidan is said to have rested on a wooden beam that is still stored for safekeeping inside the present church.

In 1844, Queen Victoria contributed to a public fund-raising drive to build a monument to Grace in the churchyard that could be seen by ships in the North Sea as they passed Bamburgh. Made of Portland stone, it depicted a recumbent Grace holding her coble’s oar,

… at rest under a Gothic-style canopied roof.  The quick-weathering stone had to be replaced in 1885, and the original monument was moved into the church. In 1993, it was completely rebuilt in the same style. 

The Darling family grave is steps away from the memorial, enclosed by a cast iron rail. Behind it is the grave of the Reverend Robb, one of the Forfarshire passengers who died on Harcar Rock.

At the same time as the memorial was rebuilt, a stained-glass window commemorating Grace was installed in the north transept of the church. Flanked by the figures of Charity (holding a heart) and Hope (clutching an anchor), Grace grasps her oar, representing the virtue of Fortitude.  Click here to see it.

Grace’s story continued to inspire after her death. When Sir Walter Trevelyan and his wife, Pauline, decided to create a large sitting room in the central hall of Wallington, their Northumberland home, in 1853, they hired Pre-Raphaelite painter William Bell Scott to create eight scenes illustrating events in Northumbrian history. Grace Darling Rescuing The Men of the Forfarshire, completed in 1860, commemorated the Darlings’ brave deed.

The Grace Darling Museum opened in Bamburgh in 1938, and continues to tell her story through a model of the Longstone Lighthouse, personal artifacts that belonged to Grace and her family, such as this antimacassar she knitted,

…and the famous coble.  William continued to use the coble, originally called The Darlings but rechristened Grace Darling after the rescue, until about 1856, when he passed it on to his son, George. When it was too far gone to be used any more, George sold it, but kept the oar that Grace had used. The coble’s new owner traveled the United Kingdom with it, exhibiting it in places as far afield as London, Liverpool and Glasgow; it eventually ended up in the collection of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

Click here to see and learn more about the coble and nine other objects associated with Grace, such as a dress and a locket that belonged to her.

The Grace Darling Bamburgh Village Trail passes Grace’s birthplace on Radcliffe Road; St. Aidan’s Church; and the Victoria Hotel, the site where the first inquest was held four days after the Forfarshire wreck.

For more on Grace Darling, see see Grace Darling: Victorian Heroine, by Hugh Cunningham; Grace, by Jill Paton Walsh; and Grace Darling: Heroine of the Farne Islands, by Eva Hope.

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This Royal-Watching Joules-Wearer Was On Tenterhooks To Visit Otterburn Mill

Chromolithograph of Alnwick Castle from County Seats of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain (1869), by Alexander Francis Lydon, Wikimedia Commons

You might recognize it as Hogwarts from the first two Harry Potter films, or as Brancaster Castle, the home of Downton Abbey’s Lady Edith Crawley and her husband, Bertie Pelham, the Marquess of Hexham.

But to Northumbrians, it’s better known as Alnwick Castle, the 11th-century castle on the banks of the River Aln with a Capability Brown-designed park known as the Pastures. As the seat of the Duke of Northumberland and the home of the Percy family for over 700 years, Alnwick has been the destination for several royal visits, most recently by Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh in 2011.

While on a visit to Alnwick, the queen’s great-grandmother, Alexandra, was presented with a handmade traveling rug from nearby Otterburn Mill. Edward VII’s consort was so taken with her present that Otterburn tweeds soon became a royal favorite for hunting, shooting and fishing togs. When the current queen was born in 1926, Buckingham Palace contacted Otterburn Mill to make a rug for her pram, and the mill earned royal patronage. A Newcastle-based client of the mill asked to sell the pram rugs in his shop, and they sold out in two weeks. Since then, the Otterburn pram rug has become a British classic. It is still made from pure new lambswool, woven in a double-sided plain coordinating color on one side and a checked pattern on the reverse. Measuring 38 by 27 inches, the pram rug comes in four colorways: pink; blue; lemon and cream.

While a mill is believed to have operated on the same site in the town of Otterburn since the 15th century, Otterburn Mill’s most noted history dates to 1821, when William Waddell, a Jedburgh, Scotland weaver, brought his bride to Otterburn and leased a mill there. Waddell gave local farmers a credit for the value of the wool fleeces they provided; washed and dyed the wool; converted the wool into yarn; and sent the yarn to local weavers to create tweeds, blankets and rugs by hand in their homes. The finished products were sent back to the mill, where farmers used their credit to barter with Waddell for them.

Four generations of the Waddell family ran the mill, seeing it develop from a cottage industry into a mechanized factory with automatic carding machines, a spinning jenny, and diesel-powered looms. Otterburn Mill became a leading producer of woven cloth, famous for its quality, color and design. In fact, Otterburn produced tweeds during the 1930s for fashion houses such as Dior and Schiaparelli; the garments were often featured on the cover of Vogue magazine. However, post-World War II investment in the mill suffered and it was forced to stop manufacturing in 1976. In 1995, a member of the Pringle family, the famous Scottish woolen manufacturers, bought Otterburn Mill and redeveloped it as a combination of a visitor center and a retail outlet for British country clothing brands such as Joules. The old weaving shed was converted into Weavers, a coffee shop serving refreshments and home-baked snacks.

The mill’s old machinery still exists on the premises. Visitors can see the coal-fired Cornish boiler that was used during the early 20th century to produce steam and water for washing wool and cloth. A horizontal water turbine, installed in 1890, powered the mill until the 1950s; a water-cooled diesel engine powered the mill from 1926.

At the scouring machine, newly woven cloth was sewn together to form a loop and washed, or “scoured,” by being circulated repeatedly through hot, soapy water and a series or rollers, or “ringers.” After washing, the cloth was spun dry. Then, it was hooked onto outdoor tenter frames to dry in the sun. The bottom rail of hooks on the frame was released to stretch the cloth as it dried. The expression, “to be on tenterhooks” was created from this method of stretching the cloth. Dating to the early 18th century, Otterburn Mill’s tenter frames are believed to be the last remaining ones in the world.

In the last set of 19th-century fulling stocks in the United Kingdom, two heavy oak feet in the fulling box pounded the damp cloth for two or three hours, matting the cloth to give it a bulky, warm hand, or feel. A teazle gig, a machine used to raise the surface of fabric used in blankets and travel rugs, has been in place here since the late 19th century. Over 3,000 teazle heads in the machine pluck the surface of the cloth to make it fluffy.

Inside the retail store, you can spot original weaving looms…

and the line shaft, a power-driven rotating shaft for power transmission that was used from the Industrial Revolution until the early 20th century.

Visitors can also see the restored mill office and samples of cloth once produced by Otterburn Mill.

Otterburn Mill is surrounded by 25 acres of fields, through which the River Rede, a well-known spot for trout and salmon fishing, flows. A popular hiking trail starts and finishes at the mill.

The mill’s signature pram blankets are still sold here. To accompany them, it also offers Floss and Just Like Floss, children’s books by Kim Lewis about a Border collie who moves to a Northumberland farm and learns how to round up sheep.

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Mandy’s Map Is A Great Conversation-Starter

Start a conversation with me about what’s new in Northumberland National Park and I’d have plenty to say.

I’d begin by announcing the return of Ratty, the loveable water vole in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, to Kielder Water and Forest Park, northern Europe’s largest man-made lake and England’s largest forest. The likes of Ratty have been gone from Kielder for 30 years, after the voracious American Mink contributed to its decline. However, the minks were run out of town and almost 700 of these endangered creatures were reintroduced to Kielder this summer.

Kielder is also home to England’s largest population of the endangered red squirrel, as well as to four pairs of ospreys who will soon be able to perch on A Levitated Mass, a large-scale sculpture installation that will appear to look like a boulder floating above the water.

Since 1956, Northumberland National Park has conserved and enhanced the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of this area stretching north to the Cheviot Hills and the Scottish Border, encompassing the central section of Hadrian’s Wall. In fact, it has so many special qualities to enjoy that a brand new visitor attraction recently opened to help people explore Northumberland’s landscape, culture, history and heritage.

The Sill: National Landscape Discovery Centre features exhibitions, learning and event spaces, a cafe serving local foods, a shop specializing in local crafts, and a youth hostel.

Named after the Great Whin Sill, the nearby geological feature of igneous rock that is noted for its steep, rocky cliffs, the building is mostly constructed of whin stone and other local stones. Its green roof, planted with local botanical specimens to replicate the surrounding grasslands, sweeps upwards like the Great Whin Sill, giving visitors a bird’s-eye view of the magnificent landscape.

Mandy Roberts, engagement officer for Northumberland National Park, had a brilliant idea to start a conversation with people about the tranquil moorland where grouse roam and heather blooms abundantly. It came in the form of a fabulous textile map.

During a two-year period, Newcastle-based fabric artist Clare Armstrong and Glare Satow of Bill Quay Fabric Workshop in Gateshead created a large wallhanging measuring almost 60 by 100 inches. They mapped out Northumberland’s rivers, forests, hills and valleys, screen-printing them on linen. Then, about 100 volunteer stitchers were invited to contribute embroidered interpretations of Northumberland’s native flora and fauna, together with local landmarks. Buildings and monuments were executed in blackwork.

Along the map’s lower edge, you can see minute representations of water crowfoot (an indicator of very clean rivers), sundew (a carniverous plant that lives on bogs), and other bogland sights like cottongrass and heath butterflies.

There are also embroidered examples of peregrine falcons, bats, Emperor moths, curlews, and the 50,000 Northumbrian Blackface and Cheviot sheep that call this place home.

It also includes abstract carvings of Bronze Age rock art at Rothbury…

…Hadrian’s Wall,

…and the Duergar, the ugly little dwarfs who wear lambskin coats, moleskin trousers and shoes, and a moss hat adorned with a feather. These dangerous characters from folklore lurk in the shadows of the Simonside Hills and come out at night, preying on lost travelers, enticing them with a light to make them come closer, then luring them into a bog or over the edge of a precipice.

Nighttime is exceptional in Northumberland National Park because it’s an International Dark Sky Park. At 572 miles, it’s Europe’s largest area of protected night sky. It’s also the best place in England for stargazing; it’s a prime spot for seeing meteor showers and up to 2,000 stars at any one time. The park has a world-class observatory and offers many stargazing programs.

There are many ways to get to The Sill, but the most ingenious may be the Hadrian’s Wall Country Bus AD122, which links major sites along the Hadrian’s Wall corridor between Newcastle and Carlisle. The bus, named for the year when Hadrian’s Wall was built, runs hourly between the Hexham Bus Station and Haltwhistle Rail Station via other destinations like Chesters Roman Fort, Housesteads Roman Fort, Vindolanda and the Roman Army Museum. It operates daily from Good Friday until October 1.

Posted in England, Needlework, Northumberland, Travel | Leave a comment

Pink Skies, Blue Streets And Teal Sidewalks: That’s Carlisle In Technicolor!

While I was taking a hairdryer to three waterlogged Barbours, Cumbria-based artist Helen Walsh was showing a group of museumgoers how to embellish fabric with beads and sequins, I discovered.

Lovely 1920s purses provided the inspiration for the September session of “Tullie Textiles,” a program held the second Sunday afternoon of each month at Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery in Carlisle, England. During the program, interested visitors take a closer look at costumes from the museum’s collection, try a new technique demonstrated by a professional textile artist, and work on their own project.

Green with envy was I for missing that. My consolation, however, was seeing Carlisle in glorious technicolor at Tullie House the next day.

Paul Leith: Technicolour Carlisle, a special exhibition at Tullie House, displays the creations of Paul Leith, a Carlisle-based artist who creates scenes of the city in colorful embellished felt collages.

Born in 1946 in South Shields, a coastal town in northeast England, Leith developed a fascination for the eye-catching displays and colorful packaging of products that stocked the shelves of the grocery his father managed. His love of color and drawing led him to study art at both the Sunderland College of Art and the Royal College of Art. During a five-week tour of Europe, he visited the Bauhaus archive in Stuttgart, Germany, leaving with an appreciation for the geometric forms and primary colors that define this modern design style.

Leith settled in London, creating packaging for shirts while working as an illustrator for an advertising agency. Throughout his 30-year career, he contributed to newspapers and publications like Radio Times, a weekly television and radio program listings magazine.  He designed book covers for Penguin…

and advertisements, including some for British Rail.

In the 1980s, Leith transitioned from his preferred media of graphite pencils and Derwent color pencils to masking fluid and acrylic paint. His style evolved too, from realistic drawings to simple geometric shapes and bold colors. Stencils helped the award-winning artist keep up with demand for his work. Changing tastes led him to trade stencils for collages crafted from tissue paper and wallpaper.

A 1998 move to Appleby-in-Westmorland brought Leith and his family to Cumbria, where he started doing more work for himself. Following a relocation to Carlisle, Leith injured his knee; while it was healing, he began making sketches of the city.

For the past seven years, he has transformed those sketches into murals, enlarging the original sketch to create a template from which pieces are cut out of 72 different colors of felt, sewn together to recreate the scene, and often embellished with embroidery…

and buttons.

The results are a vibrant depiction of Carlisle’s landmarks, such as the magnificent Carlisle Cathedral and neighborhoods like Close Street and Broad Street.

Queen Victoria reigns over Bitts Park in springtime…

while characters clothed in varying shades of carmine and a button-leaved tree complement the iconic red stone walls of Carlisle Castle.

Special exhibition-related activities for visitors included creating felt pictures and collages using the Tullie House art collection for inspiration, as well as taking home coloring pages of some of Leith’s drawings of Carlisle landmarks.  

Posted in Art, Cumbria, England, Museums, Needlework, Travel | Leave a comment

My Cherished Dream Was Seeing Brockhole, Even In The Pouring Rain

Heavy and persistent rainfall throughout Cumbria isn’t ideal for sightseeing, but when I’ve traveled 3,674 miles to see a beautiful site with Beatrix Potter connections on the east bank of Lake Windermere, I’ll persevere as long as I can.

That was my plan when we boarded the steamer for a day of cruising on Lake Windermere. After all, it was just cloudy when we started.

White Cross Bay, Lake Windermere

The steamer set sail, and we were surrounded by dozens of tourists so intent on smartphone scrolling that they were oblivious to the unfolding sights. They paid no attention to the island inhabited only by a community of cormorants whose acidic droppings strip tree branches. They missed seeing Cragwood, a magnificent Edwardian country house-turned-hotel. And they sailed right past White Cross Bay, where a World War II-era factory made Sunderland seaplanes and a memorial inscribed “Watch therefore for ye know neither the day nor the hour” was dedicated to two cousins who drowned there in September 1853.

And then the much-anticipated Brockhole came into view.

Brockhole was the summer home of a Manchester silk merchant named William Henry Adolphus Gaddum. His wife, Edith Potter Gaddum, was Beatrix Potter’s cousin. A frequent visitor to Brockhole, “Cousin B” wrote the Gaddum children, Molly and Jim, her famed illustrated letters, telling them tales about a frog named Jeremy Fisher and the red-furred Squirrel Nutkin.

Just as the boat docked at the Brockhole pier long enough for us to disembark, it started raining. Hard.

The deluge eased into a steady rain as we made our way up the sloping hill and through the gardens.  Both were the creation of a self-taught Lakeland landscape designer named Thomas Mawson.

“Life to me from my very early years was one of set purpose,” Mawson wrote in his autobiography, The Life and Work of an English Landscape Architect. “My cherished dream was landscape architecture.”

Mawson began his career by studying arboriculture in London nurseries, looking carefully at notable area landscapes, sketching from nature, asking local artists to help him improve his draftsmanship, and reading classic texts by John Claudius Loudon, Humphry Repton and John Ruskin. While honeymooning in the Lake District in August 1884, Mawson and his wife, Anna, decided to start a nursery and contract landscaping business there. The following January, Mawson’s mother and two brothers, Robert and Isaac, joined them there in Windermere and the Lakeland Nurseries opened for business.

The Mawsons produced annual catalogues of seeds, bulbs, perennials and trees for sale in their nursery. They partnered with another local business to create garden ornaments like trellises, pergolas, gates and garden houses. While Robert and Isaac focused on the nursery, Thomas offered his services in planting and remodeling gardens and parks; creating waterfalls, rockeries and ornamental lakes; and even draining land and making roads.

After a slow start, Ruskin’s niece, Joan Severn, recommended Mawson to a local gentleman who was looking for advice on laying out the garden at his new home. That led to several other commissions by wealthy industrialists and businessmen who built holiday homes in the Lake District.

Five years later, Mawson’s talent for using the landscape to its best advantage, tailoring its features to individual properties, was in demand. Knowing just what his clients wanted, he created Arts and Crafts-style gardens featuring topiaries, herbaceous borders, expanses of grass, formal beds close to the house, and tree-lined avenues, all complemented by handcrafted local stone steps, wooden trellises, wrought-iron gates and walls with intricate brick and tile designs. Brockhole was one of them.

Dan Gibson designed Brockhole for the Gaddums in 1897, employing Lakeland pitched slate roofs, chunky chimneys with rounded tops and locally quarried stone to create an Arts and Crafts-style home. The north end of the property afforded beautiful mountain views, while the home’s living spaces faced Lake Windermere. The Gaddums took up permanent residence at Brockhole in 1900.

Sloping terraces of local stone and slate transition from geometrically planted flowerbeds near the house, then to meadows and woodland, and finally to the lakeshore. 

Mawson saw terraces as a series of changing gardens, each with its own particular charm, connected to the best parts of the house. Mass plantings of perennials were irrigated with a series of underground water tanks that collected rainwater from the house’s gutters. Hedges not only divided the garden into compartments, but also shielded a kitchen garden from view, creating a sheltered, sunny site where fruit, vegetables and espaliered apple and pear trees grew. A lawn was groomed on which to play croquet and tennis.

Quarried stone from nearby was employed to make sundials, garden houses where the Gaddums could admire the view, and dry stone walls with plant-filled crevices, common throughout the Lake District. Mawson provided instructions on how to make those walls in his book, The Art and Craft of Garden Making. Further down the slope, walls were constructed with locally found boulders.

Mawson planted copper beech and lime trees along the entrance drive, as well as oak and ash trees in the parkland. Conifers around the boundaries of the property to shelter the house and grounds from wind and driving rain, just like we experienced.

Much of Mawson’s original garden layout and plantings at Brockhole have been preserved, such as clipped yew and boxwood hedges, rhododendrons, wisteria and magnolias. Roses, scented plants and ornamental trees and shrubs have been added to provide interest throughout the seasons.

Mawson also designed the gardens at Blackwell, a nearby Arts and Crafts paradise that was the holiday home of another Manchester merchant named Edward Holt.

Mawson also was responsible for the terracing and balustrading of Skibo Castle, Andrew Carnegie’s summer home in Scotland. Later, Mawson designed parks in keeping with the City Beautiful Movement, in which beautiful surroundings were created to help people live contented lives. He was most proud of his work for the King of Greece in designing palace gardens and parks in Athens.  Mawson died on November 14, 1933 and is buried at Bowness Cemetery, Windermere.

Today, Brockhole serves as the Lake District Visitor Center, featuring educational displays, a café and a shop that sells locally produced foods, ales and other products, including Herdy merchandise inspired by the area’s Herdwick sheep.

Back on the steamer, we saw rowers trying to practice on Lake Windermere as determinedly as we tried to sightsee.  Rain-covered windows and fog-obscured shores got the better of us, though, so I admitted defeat.  We scrapped our plans and spent the rest of the day drying out back at Lindeth Howe.  The sun came out after everything had closed for the day. 

Windermere Lake Cruise steamers and launches run daily to Brockhole during the main tourist season from Easter through October.

For more on Thomas Mawson, read Thomas Mawson: Life, Gardens and Landscapes, by Janet Waymark. Also check out Mawson’s autobiography, The Life and Work of an English Landscape Architect, as well as his book, The Art and Craft of Garden Making.

Posted in Architecture, England, Gardens, History, Lake District, Travel | 1 Comment