Blackwell: A Gem of the British A&C Movement Pt. 2

If you’re just tuning in, you may have missed Part One of this incredible travel log by artist and printmaker Julie Leidel. Check it out and then continue reading below for a tour of the inside of this Arts & Crafts gem.

Today, Blackwell is complete with a cafe, gift shop, modern exhibition art galleries and a research library. The Lakeland Arts Trust purchased Blackwell in 1999 and have put 3,500,000 pounds into the project. After the First World War, the Holts used it less and less. Blackwell remained mostly empty apart from a few servants for upkeep for many years. During the Second World War, pupils from Huyton College in Liverpool were evacuated there, and it continued as a school until 1976. Much of the architecture details, walls, and floors were boarded up, safe from wear and tear. From there a Yorkshire businessman leased it as offices through the 1990s. It opened to the public renovated and restored to its original splendor in 2001.

There are no guided tours of Blackwell, which dismayed me at first. Before entering, we lunched on tea, scones, and soup in the quaint cafe, then took our brochure and sticker of entrance to the door and walked down the long oak hallway. Seconds into the house and I knew that a guided tour wouldn’t provide nearly enough time to relax and enjoy. Visitors are allowed to stay as long as they like (during business hours of course) walking the halls, sitting near the fireplaces or in the window nooks. You feel like you are a part of the environment, almost like it was built for you…very little is roped off as one may expect. Just the occasional information plaque with requests to not sit in specific locations. Maybe because it was a Monday, we pretty much had the inside to ourselves as well, and that made a world of difference. I could pretend for hours that I was a Holt and this was my vacation home and that’s exactly what I set my mind to do. After taking over 300 photos and feeling at home, Mom relaxed and I sketched in my journal. We enjoyed our time there with much ease and peace. But, I jump ahead of myself. Let’s go back to some of those 300 photos, and take the tour together. The interior spaces are alive with exuberant plasterwork, intricate details on the metalwork, stained glass, stonework, and woodwork. All the elements are harmonious to the whole and skillfully set into the overall scheme of the house. Each detail enhances the room rather than detracting and every corner of the room has been purposely thought out and lovingly cared for. We spent most of our time here in the Main Hall. I walked the rooms a handful of times, and with each turn I’d discover a new detail that would delight.

The Dining Room is just off of the billiards area. The fireplace is very similar to the one in the Main Hall and has seating on either side. The extremely rare block-printed Hessian wall covering was designed by Baillie Scott and lives on three of the four walls, making the room very cozy. My personal favorite though has to go to Baillie Scott’s awe-inspiring sideboard with the harebell floral metal inlay. I inhaled deeply upon first seeing it. I’m not sure I’ve see anything more desirable and I suddenly wanted to move to Windermere so that I could work at Blackwell from time to time and maybe dust it.

In both the Main Hall and the Dining Room, the ceiling is covered with beautiful oak paneling, and there are at least 18 different hand carved details at the center of each panel. I think my neck started to hurt because I just couldn’t keep my gaze from the ceiling. Such thoughtful detail, yet so subtle that many could walk right by and not even notice the uniqueness of each design. These high-relief carvings reflect the passion Baillie Scott had for every detail.

Moving on through the main floor, the entire west wing is devoted to The White Drawing Room. This room stands in stark contrast to the earthy wood tones and rich feel of the Main Hall and Dining Room. The White Drawing Room is light and feminine, filled with richly detailed white plaster from top to bottom. This room has both Southern and Western exposure, so the sun pours in through the picture windows with glorious views of Lake Windermere below. I’ve never seen a room quite like this one, and I doubt I ever will again. Delicate details play tricks on your eye as you decipher how deep the carvings really are. We were there in the afternoon, and the entire room shone with natural light bouncing off all the white surfaces. The color white can conjure many feelings depending on how it’s used: this room is ethereal and elegant, not sterile or cold. Considered by many to be one of Baillie Scott’s finest interiors, I would wholeheartedly agree.

The upstairs is smaller, with some beautiful bedrooms, living spaces, and a few rooms now dedicated to gallery space and a small classroom. The heart of the house is the main level, and that’s exactly where you’d spend all your time if you were a guest at the estate. I’m happy to say I’ve “vacationed” there and was able to sign the guest book.

M. H. Baillie Scott was not alone or isolated, but drew inspiration from William Morris, John Ruskin (his Brantwood home is also in The Lake District), and C. F. Voysey for their design ideals and their art aesthetic. William De Morgan tiles are in many rooms at Blackwell. Charles Rennie Mackintosh was also working at the same time (entering some of the same design competitions) and you can’t help but draw on certain similarities between the two artists. Baillie Scott lived in the Isle Of Man for 12 years and became friends with Archibald Knox. Art very rarely lives in a bubble, and it’s so empowering to see that each artist, architect, designer, and craftsman is influenced by the creativity of others.

We artists living and creating today are not so different. We enjoy working alongside and in direct competition with talented people. It makes us stronger and helps hone the artistic edge.

After spending an amazing day at Blackwell, I just wish I could take a ride back in time and meet Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott. I think we’d have a lot to talk about, and even though I’m working a full century later in time, I hope that one day people will be able to easily see the inspiration and influences I take from this legend, and his Blackwell.