How can you tell you’re on a summer day trip to the Lake District? Yes, it teems with rain all day long. Still, we were not deterred as we waited for our coach to pick us up at Bramhope Church bus stop. We hoped the rain would cease but unfortunately it didn’t. Never mind our main aims were not to climb the peaks nor to stride out across the fells but to make indoor visits to The Armitt Library in Ambleside in the morning and to Blackwell near Bowness in the afternoon.
How true! How true!
“The Armitt Library was founded by the will of Mary Louise Armitt and the wishes of her two sisters, “to create a collection of books of scientific, literary and antiquarian value” for the “student and book-lover”, and eventually a small museum. It was opened in 1912, and embodied the old 1828 Ambleside Book Society, of which William Wordsworth had been a member, and the Ambleside Ruskin Library, founded by Hardiwcke Rawnsley in 1882 with the active support of John Ruskin. The Library is now in a purpose-built home just north of Ambleside on the Rydal Road.
In 1934 Beatrix Potter gave many of her watercolours and drawings of fungi, mosses and fossils to the Armitt Library some of which are on display. She had become a member on her marriage to William Heelis in 1913 who was the Library’s solictor since 1912.”
Admiring Potter’s drawings and watercolours
The Armitt Museum houses so much more than just the original core book collection. Alongside the story of Beatrix Potter and the Lake District is a large collection of her exquisite drawings, the library of The Fell and Rock Climbing Club and a gallery devoted to the work of German artist Kurt Schwitters.
Portrait of Edith Thomas by Kurt Schwitters
“Born in Hanover in 1887, he studied art at Dresden, but it was not until the Dada movement of 1916 that he finally liberated himself from conventional art. Schwitters took from Dada the freedom to use what materials he wanted to in his pictorial compositions … In 1937 for a variety of compelling reasons Schwitters left Hanover for Norway, never to return to his home again. The Norwegian experience was mixed … and in 1940 Schwitters and his son fled to Britain where they were both interned on the Isle of Man. Afterwards Schwitters lived in London until the end of the war in 1945, when he moved to Ambleside where he remained until his death in poverty and obscurity in 1948. Schwitters never received the recognition in Britain he had enjoyed in Europe, and his art did not sell. However, in 1947 he was fortunate enough to start his third Merzbau in a barn in Elterwater. Regrettably only a fragment was completed before his death, and this small monument to his genius can now be seen in the Hatton Gallery, Newcastle.” [Armitt Museum website]
Books on an Alpine theme
After lunch in Windermere we continued to Blackwell the Arts and Crafts House overlooking Lake Windermere. This was my second visit to the house, my first being in 2002 which was not long after the house was opened to the public.
“When the architect Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott (1865 – 1945) built a holiday home overlooking Windermere for his client Sir Edward Holt, a brewer from Manchester, he created Blackwell, a masterpiece of twentieth-century design; a perfect example of the Arts & Crafts Movement.
Enjoy a lovingly crafted day out at one of the most enchanting historic houses in the Lake District. When you visit you are invited to relax and immerse yourself in all the beauty and craftsmanship of Blackwell. We encourage you to sit and soak up the atmosphere in Blackwell’s fireplace inglenooks, which have fine examples of tiles by Arts & Crafts designer William de Morgan. The inviting window seats offer stunning views of the surrounding Lake District scenery. You can appreciate the house as it was originally intended, without roped-off areas.
Stained glass window
Another stained glass window
Blackwell retains many of its original decorative features, including a rare hessian wall-hanging in the Dining Room, leaf-shaped door handles, curious window catches, spectacular plasterwork, stained glass and carved wooden panelling by Simpsons of Kendal. The rooms contain furniture and objects by many of the leading Arts & Crafts designers and studios – metalwork by WAS Benson, ceramics by Pilkingtons and Ruskin Pottery and furniture by Morris & Co., Stanley Webb Davies, Ernest Gimson and Baillie Scott himself.”
Another Fireplace (My Favourite)
For more and better pictures of Blackwell see here a fellow Blog Poster’s visit to the House earlier this year.
Farewell to Armitt, Blackwell and Windermere, but not, alas, to rain … it followed us home.
Oh, to have an inglenook or a window seat with a stash of books and the rain beating down on the window. What a wonderful house. And a most informative post. Thank you!
Thank you, RH. I will quietly join you on that seat!
I find Kurt Schwitter’s story very interesting – much talked about when I was a student, so a visit to the Armitt would be very interesting. Then there’s a little mat I found at a fleamarket. It is decorated with a watercolour of Mr Tod and I’ve always wondered if it’s an original – Miss Potter is known to have made these. I could, perhaps, compare techiques.
Yes, it was interesting and also interesting that someone (you) had heard of him! We were all in the dark. I found I stayed longer in that gallery than in any other. A little trip over to Ambleside with your treasure would suit you well, nilly. Just make sure you go on a dry day ;-).
I didn’t manage to include this quotation from Schwitters : “I value sense and nonsense alike. I favour nonsense but that is a personal matter.”
What a lovely day out. Have had Blackwell on my visiting list for several years. Original Arts and Craft houses are always so spacious and well thought out.
Well worth a visit, Fran, and not so far from here!
[…] A blog post by Barbara of Milady’s Boudoir alerted me to the Armitt Library in Ambleside. So it was on my list of places to visit during our recent holiday in the Lake District. It’s an interesting little place. A library on the top floor and museum on the ground floor. […]
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