Much as it’s redolent of classic British holidays from the 20th Century and before, it would be disloyal to the thrust of this blog if I turned it into a catalogue of tea shops, waterfalls and nice walks that we’d encountered during our week there. Nevertheless, our wanderings took us to a couple of attractions that deserve attention, not least because they got us both ooh-ing and aah-ing over some of the contents, which is usually a good sign.
The first is Blackwell, an arts and crafts house sitting in the hills to the east of Windermere. It pre-dates the Mid-Century theme, the house itself dating from the turn of the Century, but so much of the good design that typifies the art nouveau, deco, and later post-War eras has its roots in early 20th Century craftsmanship that the house and its contents unerringly tickle the same taste buds. As is often the case, the building has its origins in the ability of an architect to capture the attention of an individual wealthy enough to be able to commission a bespoke project. In this case, the architect was Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott and the industrialist Sir Edward Holt, owner of a prosperous Manchester brewery. As a holiday home, it also allowed the architect the chance to ‘play’ with a building intended primarily for pleasure, rather than to perform the role of family home.
The ground floor of the main house comprises three principal rooms: dining room, main hall and drawing room, but each uses the skill of the arts and crafts movement to create multiple ‘rooms within rooms’, not least through the succession of beautiful inglenook fireplaces that fill the house. It has been beautifully restored throughout, and an ongoing programme is seeing rooms refilled with newly-recreated pieces to the original designs, showcasing British contemporary British craftsmanship alongside heritage design. The mundanities of administrative and catering support are confined to the former servants’ areas, which did not enjoy the same level of decoration and which works neatly, but there are also intriguing displays recording the building’s later life as home for a school that was evacuated from the city during the War and that never returned, keeping the house and grounds busy until the 1970s. A very worthwhile day out, whatever the weather.
Back to the heart of the 20th Century and a motor museum that rivals my personal favourite (the Cotswold Motor Museum). Set close to the south of Windermere, the Lakeland Motor Museum takes a similar approach, focussing on the place of motoring at the heart of everyday life and featuring cars and motorcycles both exotic and commonplace. It’s one of those trusting museums that lets the visitor wander amongst the exhibits, rather than placing them behind yards of protective barrier, and surrounds them with the impedimenta of the road user, from traffic signs and petrol pumps, to cases full of in and on-car accessories, badges, tools, even down to car-related smoking ephemera. Looking up and around, the walls and ceiling are festooned with original signage, from the birth of motoring through to near contemporary items. There’s mixture of more social history inspired displays interspersed with the pure motoring themes, including a history of the Backbarrow ultramarine works that once sat on the site, producing Reckitts Blue washing products, which seemed to disappear from cupboards under the sink overnight when automatic washing machines became ubiquitous.
As ever, it’s hard to pick out particular favourites – quite apart from driving a few of the cars and bikes away, I could happily have laden the Minor with original accessories. Perhaps the most memorable novelty, though, was the row of early driving games, involving steering a car on a stick along a rolling road painted on a large wooden drum. I can remember them still being around in amusement arcades of the 1960s – the last survivors of a mechanical age before electronics and sound effects came to dominate driving games.
Adjacent to the main museum is the poignant Bluebird collection, a tribute to Sir Malcolm Campbell and son Donald who set many of their world water speed records on Coniston Water. Featured are a replica of Sir Malcolm’s 1935 land speed record breaking car, another of the K4 boat in which he set the water speed record in 1939 and a BBC recreation of the K7 in which Donald lost his life on Coniston in January 1967, attempting to set his eighth water speed record, having already added almost 100 mph to the 1950s figure. The accompanying displays tell a fascinating story of a father and son addicted to speed and reminded us of how deeply the names of the Campbells and their like, and the images of their iconic vehicles, were ingrained in the public consciousness for four decades. Having visited the shoreline at Coniston the previous day and looked out at the spot where Donald and his Bluebird came to grief, it was sobering to be reminded that the bulk of the wreckage, and his body, remained unrecovered for 34 years.
For vintage transport enthusiasts, the Lakeland Motor Museum has the added attraction of its proximity to the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Steam Railway, which will carry you along the shores of Windermere to the pier where you can take a steamer cruise around the lake. Given that there’s a good chance that whilst on the lake you’ll be overflown by the RAF, there’s not much more you could ask for! Links for all these attractions are built into the text, and you can read more about Reckitts Blue and the Bluebird K7 by clicking on the links embedded here.