Cumbria’s lakes and fells have inspired and nurtured more than the county’s fair share of poets, writers, artists, philosophers and scientists, from Wordsworth, Ruskin and John Dalton, to Beatrix Potter, Arthur Ransome and L. S. Lowry. These are household names. Others, reluctant to abandon the tranquility of Cumbria for the bright lights of the city and international recognition, pursued their life’s work quietly within its familiar landscape and let the rest of the world come to them.
The sale of one of Lakeland’s undiscovered Georgian gems, Grade II -listed Ormathwaite Hall in Allerdale, two miles north of Keswick-at a guide price of £3 million through the Kendal office of Carter Jonas (01539 722592)-shines a spotlight on the career of the distinguished 18th-century scientist Dr William Brownrigg, whose family owned the Ormathwaite estate from 1677 to 1800. Born in Cumberland in 1711, Brownrigg studied medicine at the Dutch university of Leiden, returning in 1737 to practice medicine in the Cumbrian port of Whitehaven, before inheriting Ormathwaite on his father’s death in 1760. As a doctor and experimental chemist, Brownrigg made a number of landmark discoveries.
In the early 1770s, his study of the behaviour of mine gases secured him membership of the Royal Society, and a paper on the composition of mineral waters won him the Copely Medal, the Society’s ultimate accolade for scientific achievement. Other significant discoveries included the art of making salt and an insight into the unique qualities of platinum. He also developed the theory of ‘pouring oil on troubled waters’, which he demonstrated to the American scientist and politician Benjamin Franklin during the latter’s visit to Ormathwaite in 1772, by pouring olive oil from a vessel in his walking stick onto the choppy waters of nearby Derwentwater and immediately calming the waves.
Ormthwaite Hall is Grade II listed (Carter Jonas, 01539 722592)
In 1777, Brownrigg retired to spend his final years as a country gentleman at Ormathwaite, concentrating his efforts on the management of the estate and its farmland. Sadly, many of his business investments ended in failure, and when he died in 1800, at the age of 88, he was in debt to the tune of £8,000- a huge sum at the time-and the estate passed to his wife’s nephew, Sir John Benn Walsh. Thereafter, Ormathwaite lapsed into genteel rusticity until, in 1980, following the death of its owner, Mrs Jopson, the house and its surrounding farmland were split up and sold off. The main hall, its coach house and three acres of gardens were bought by John and Sheila Ackroyd from Yorkshire, who set about renovating the Georgian buildings in the best traditions of ‘conservative repair’ and re-creating its enchanting meandering gardens, which include a walled kitchen garden, the cascading Burr Gill stream and woods of oak and beech.
The present owners of Ormathwaite Hall, Mike and June Clayton, who bought the hall in 2000, following Mr Clayton’s appointment as managing director of Jennings Brewery in Cockermouth, have carried on where the Ackroyds left off. Their most ambitious project has been thce conversion of the Grade II-listed Georgian coach house, built as a laboratory by Brownrigg in 1769, which stands a right angles to the main hall, against the dramatic backdrop of Skiddaw, which dominates the skyline in these parts, with glimpses from the upstairs rooms of Derwentwater and the Borrowdale Fells in the distance.
The Coach House, which has a double-height, open-plan reception room, a breakfast kitchen and three en-suite bedrooms, is used mainly for family living and the restored early-Georgian main hall-which boasts three fine reception rooms, a kitchen/ breakfast room, a massive master suite, five further bedrooms and two bathrooms- is used as a venue for special occasions or for holiday lets.
Truly one of Cumbria’s hidden houses, Grade II*-listed Four Gables, near the handsome market town of Brampton, nine miles from Carlisle, is invisible from anywhere other than from within its 14.6 acres of beautifully planted gardens and grounds. For sale for the first time since 1947-at a guide price of £1m through the Morpeth office of Strutt & Parker (01670 516123) and Hayward Tod in Carlisle (01228 810300) -the distinctive red sandstone house was built in 1878 for the factor of the Earl of Carlisle’s Naworth estate, of which it was a part.
Four Gables is one of two houses designed by the Arts- and-Crafts architect Philip Webb for his friend George Howard, the 9th Earl, himself an able artist and admirer of the Pre- Raphaelites. A keen supporter of Webb, Howard also commissioned him to design a new church of St Martin’s in Brampton, with funding largely provided by his father, the 8th Earl. The building, consecrated in November 1878, was the only church designed by Webb, and boasts exquisite sets of stained-glass windows designed by Sir Edward Burne-Jones and executed in the studios of William Morris. Four Gables remained in the hands of the Howard family until 1947, when it was bought by Dr Digby Nelson, the father of the current owner, Dr Roger Nelson, who moved to the house with his wife, Sally, and their children in the early 1960s.
They began by converting the unlisted former stable block at the northern end of the house into a pretty two-bedroom cottage, now known as Little Gables, before eventually swapping houses with Dr Nelson’s mother and moving to ‘the big house’ in the early 1970s. Four Gables was designed and built in the days of servants, but, although substantial in size, it’s still manageable, with entrance and inner halls, three reception rooms, kitchens and cellars, various domestic offices, five main bedrooms, two bathrooms band three large attic rooms.
The landscaped gardens and grounds are a key element of the property’s charm, the centerpiece of which is a large petal-shaped pond with a central fountain. Dr Nelson’s famous Himalayan blue poppies are a source of delight in May and June each year. On the southern side of the house, a block of mature woodland provides a picturesque and ever-changing backdrop to the defined gables and pleasingly symmetrical windows of the house. Within the grounds, a courtyard of traditional outbuildings offers substantial scope for further diversification.
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