This afternoon I went with Pui to Blackwell House to take some photos. Pui, who is being ‘seconded’ to us by the University of Cumbria to help us with marketing our Bowness Bed and Breakfast, Blenheim Lodge, is adept at putting together moving picture sequences, so we are relying on her to help us make a YouTube video. Today’s objective at Blackwell House was to showcase one of the historic attractions located close to our guest house.
Although I have been to the cafe at Blackwell House, I have never had the time to tour the house. Thus, today is the first time that I have seen the house proper. We entered the house through what was previously the servants’ entrance and came into a bright hall where were the reception area and shop selling works by local artistes. On the way, we passed the cafe, which used to be the kitchen of the great house.
Entering into the living quarters of Blackwell House is an experience in itself. The original main doors into the house are now unused, so the house is entered from the same hall where the reception area and shop are situated. A heavy oak door opens into a longish panelled hallway, which leads from an area of subdued lighting to a large room of airiness and light. It made me think of traversing that proverbial tunnel to the light at the end of it.
From this main corridor, the house has several rooms leading off it, the most substantial one being a living area based on the medieval design of a great hall where the Holt family spent holidays together. Here was a large informal space for playing billiards or for the men to enjoy after dinner drinks whilst the ladies might retire to a heated alcove off the main room to gossip over their needlework. The Holt family loved music, and their piano stood in a corner of the room, waiting to be used for entertaining themselves and their house guests. For a little more privacy or to look out over the whole of this great open plan living space, members of the household could climb the oak stairs arising from the hall to a small minstrel gallery reminiscent of medieval architecture.
The dining room leads off the great hall, and features original restored hessian wallpaper hangings. A spectacular fireplace with keystone surround underneath which is a large and beautifully worked brass plate that dates from 1723 draws the eye as one enters the dining room. Jeanette, who guided us around the house, explained that the Arts and Crafts furniture in the house is borrowed from various institutions, thereby enabling the Trust to keep the rooms looking fresh with periodic changes of furniture.
Leaving the great hall, we returned to the corridor, which is entirely lined in oak panelling. One thing of note to mention is that the architect’s specifications required huge attention to detail. Carvings of rowan berry, which is also identifiable in the Holt family crest, abound in friezes and trusses. Wooden roses and other organic shapes can be found carved in wood or stone on the ceiling, the stairways, on the walls, and, it would seem, almost any surface available to be decorated, always tastefully and in realistic detail. Whilst some carvings are continuous in design, many more are similar but not alike.
The oak panelled corridor ends in a large white drawing room of beauty and light. This room has always been painted white and boasts double aspect windows which overlook the garden and Lake Windermere. A large fireplace takes centre stage in the room, with one unusual feature being a display cabinet built above it.
As we went up the stairs to the bedrooms, we were told that one of them had been set up as a bedroom with its adjoining dressing room, whilst the rest are now used for changing exhibitions and an interpretation room. In the bedroom was a huge fireplace with some restored de Morgan tiles gracing it. The simplicity of the furniture in the bedroom gives away the fact that Blackwell House was used as a private holiday home. However, the quality of the furnishings and the wealth of architectural details freely distributed throughout the house shout out the importance of the original owner and his admiration for beautifully made objects.
Leaving the house and venturing onto the terrace fronting Lake Windermere, one can imagine the Holt family playing croquet on the lawns and enjoying cheerful picnics in high summer. The views from the house of the Lake are stunning, and the terrace creates a sun trap. In the background, birds sang lustily and the quietness of the afternoon sat soothingly on our spirits.
If you enjoy Arts and Crafts architecture, I would encourage you to visit Blackwell House. Stay with us at Blenheim Lodge and you will be no more than approximately 5-10 minutes’ drive from this wonderful building. If you are feeling peckish while you are there, why not enjoy the fresh food their chef prepares in the cafe?
For more information about Blackwell House, please visit www.blackwell.org.uk.
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