Driving from Ambleside to Grasmere and coming round Penny Rock, the first thing you see is a building standing proud at the head of the Easdale Valley. How many people must have thought “Who lives in a house like that?”. Well really it should be “Who lived in a house like that?”.
It’s a house with a story to tell, so here we go. At the time that Allan Bank was built, Wordsworth was living in Dove Cottage. Along comes a Liverpool Attorney named Mr Crump and decides to build a house slap bang in the way of Wordsworth’s uninterrupted view of the Easdale Valley. At this time Dove Cottage did not have the houses of Lake Terrace in front of it, they were built at a later date, and with the living room of Dove Cottage being upstairs it must have been an annoyance right enough!
Wordsworth said “Woe to poor Grasmere for ever and ever!….. When you next enter the sweet paradise of Grasmere you will see staring you in the face…… A temple of abomination.
A few years later, Dove Cottage had become too small for Wordsworth and his growing family and they ended up as tenants of Allan Bank. Summers were idyllic, and Wordsworth had quite a bit to do with the planning and planting of the grounds. Winters were not quite so idyllic, with chimneys that smoked back into the rooms, filling Dorothy with despair as everything was covered in soot. They lived at Allan Bank for several years, with Coleridge and De Quincy frequently staying or visiting and quite often about 15 people there at the weekends.
Another famous tenant of Allan Bank was Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley. One of the founders of National Trust. He moved there with his second wife Eleanor who outlived him and was a very active participant in village life. She died in 1959 and is well remembered by older villagers. The house had been left to the National Trust by Canon Rawnsley with the understanding that Eleanor be allowed to live on in it till her death.
There then followed several tenants, and that’s how it would have stayed, had it not gone on fire in 2011. The fire was caused by an electrical fire in the roof.
One of the largest fires Grasmere has ever seen, fire engines came from all around. The current tenants escaped unscathed but the building was a sorry sight. Wrapped in plastic sheeting for most of last year it was hard to imagine that any good could come from it.
Spring forward to April 2012 and National Trust have now opened the house to the public. Great excitement in the village about the news that we would finally see inside the building.
Not like any other National Trust house I have ever been in, you are met with a sign saying “Don’t knock just come in”. Next surprise is, it is warm and homely despite being left with the bare bones showing.
Each room has a theme, Friendship, Garden, Writing etc.
There is even a Heaton Cooper room, with information about the famous Grasmere Artists. You can draw or paint your own masterpiece here.
The idea is to see what people think should be done with the building. With this in mind areas of wall have been left for comments.
It is very interesting to see what people are thinking and feeling about the house. Coffee and newspapers are provided and with the fire lit, it’s a perfect place to escape.
You can also wander around and find your favourite room. Twinings tea is also available. Why Twinings you ask? Well when Wordsworth lived at Allan Bank he wasn’t keen on the tea available in Grasmere, and used to send to Twinings in London for tea chests of tea to be delivered. Apparently he spent about £1,500 a year with them. He must have liked his tea! And I am pleased to say the tea available in Grasmere these days is much improved!.
The views from Allan Bank are spectacular and everyone seems to enter the rooms and gravitate towards the window. I have been there several times and even when the weather isn’t so good, the views still amaze.
The grounds of Allan Bank are another reason to visit. The National Trust Rangers could be seen working hard for months, cutting back trees and making paths.
The first thing you see when you go outside is a building that looks like a chapel. It was apparently a billiard room.
It must have been a very nice billiard room, with stained glass windows and lovely detail on the door.
Also in the grounds is a Victorian viewing tunnel.
The Rangers have also created a woodland walk. Fairly steep in places but with wonderful views of Helm Crag and Dunmail Raise.
So the next time you are in Grasmere why not wander up the road at the side of the Miller Howe Cafe and discover Allan Bank for yourself. What should be done with it in the future? It’s time to have your say.
The new season always brings a few changes to Grasmere. Shops open and shut, people come and go. This year however we have a welcome addition to the Village.
As Grasmere is a busy tourist area, the recent loss of our Tourist Information Centre was of great concern to traders and locals alike. With nowhere to welcome our visitors and provide local information it didn’t give a very good impression to visitors from all over the world.
National Trust had previously had a shop at Church Stile Grasmere which had closed some years ago and had more recently been occupied by Taffy Thomas Storyteller Laureate. Taffy no longer needed the whole building (his Storytellers Garden is still located here) so the good folk from National Trust decided to not only open a shop again, but to also include a much needed information Centre.
I have written previously about the history of this Grade Two Listed Building, but a quick resume. Earliest recorded occupant was a Richard Harrison who died in 1662. By the 18th Century the building had become Robert Newton’s Inn. This was visited by William Wordsworth and his brother John, along with Coleridge on their Lake District tour of 1797. It was also a welcome meeting place for coffin bearers who had to carry the dead in all weathers from the Parishes of Ambleside and Langdale to the Church in Grasmere. A more recent resident was Robert Hayes (1859-1947) who had a market garden and specialised in varieties of heather. A far cry from the Hayes Garden Centre in Ambleside today!.
The Information Centre includes a comfortable space for people to browse local Information, pick up a bus timetable, and find out information about local events and walks. It is hoped to eventually have the fire going in the winter which would look wonderful. National Trust properties and areas like Aira Force are featured on the walls. Brochures and information about their properties in the area feature too and with places like Sizergh Castle, Beatrix Potter’s Hilltop, Wordsworth’s House at Cockermouth and the wonderful Townend to visit, there should be something for everyone. Staff are able to download local walks, and it’s hoped that at some stage in the future National Trust Rangers will use the space to meet and chat with visitors and tell them a bit about their work in looking after the area.
Connected to the Information Centre is a National Trust Shop, but not just any shop!. Local crafts and producers are featured, including such favourites as Hawkshead Relish, Herdwick Rugs and even little cute Herdwick Sheep.
Walkers haven’t been forgotten either. Books, maps, Handihikes, and local Grasmere walks on waterproof paper (who said it always rains in the Lake District) are available.
One of the most popular purchases in the shop is the new Tubular Fells map, available framed or unframed which features all the Wainwrights in the form of a London tube map. Very clever!.
So why not pop in and say hello next time you are in Grasmere. Keeping ahead of the times they are even on Twitter @NTGrasmereshop so if you can’t manage a visit in person you can still keep up to date with local news.
National Trust Information Centre and Shop, Church Stile, Grasmere. Beside the Gingerbread shop and St Oswald’s Church in the centre of the village.