Bassenthwaite: Mirehouse


Surrounded by the breath taking scenery of Skiddaw, Ullock Pike, Grisedale Pike and Lake Bassenthwaite, Mirehouse occupies a perfect spot on the outskirts of Keswick. Planted in 1786, great Scots pine – the only species of native forest conifer in Britain – line the walk towards the house. The long walk along the drive takes you past the Bee Garden and Poetry Walk with stunning views of Ullock Pike and Dodd Fell. Although records indicate that there was people living at Mirehouse during the 16th century, the present house was built in 1666 by the 8th Earl of Derby. The only time Mirehouse has been sold was with the sale by the Earl to his agent Roger Gregg in 1688. The Gregg family and the Story family owned the house until Thomas Story left it to John Spedding of Armathwaite Hall in 1802.


With more emphasis on convenience than grandeur, the house has been enlarged over time. The wings were added in 1790 for Thomas Story and the rear extensions were constructed in 1830 by the London architect Joseph Cantwell for John Spedding. In 1832 the south side of the house was demolished and new higher rooms were built. Further rooms were added in 1851 and a servants’ wing and chapel were completed in the 1880’s. The cross on the south side of the house (below) marks where the half timbered chapel once stood. Riddled with dry rot, it was demolished in the 1960’s. The two storey late Georgian house features seven bays between two canted bay windows with a porch of four Tuscan columns (above) and the building has painted roughcast walls. The lawns were terraced in the 1850’s and the Victorian colonnade (below) is the most formal aspect of the garden. The colonnade houses a display of the winning poems in the annual Mirehouse Poetry competition.


The interior of the house is essentially a tribute to the Spedding Brothers, James and Tom, and their friends among the Romantics of the early 19th century. Although in many ways Mirehouse is a typical English Manor House, its charm lies in the poetic inspiration of its literary connections and its landscape. The front rooms are of a “cultured gentleman” (Jenkins, 2003) and contained within which is a collection of letters and works of Francis Bacon. Many first editions of Bacon’s work are displayed as well as Spedding’s collection of Bacon’s papers. James and his brothers were educated at Bury St Edmunds and became friends with Edward Fitzgerald (who gained fame with his translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam), Alfred Tennyson and Arthur Hallam. Following the death of Edward, younger brother of James, in 1832, Tennyson wrote a poem entitled ‘To JS’ – the first of his great elegies. The quiet composure of James is depicted in the opening lines of the tribute:

The wind, that beats the mountain, blows

More softly round the open wold,

And gently comes the world to those

That are cast in gentle mould.

James reviewed the 1842 Poems in the Edinburgh Review and being close friends with Tennyson, regularly discussed his draft poems. The numerous paintings, letters and drawings, as well as early photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron, tell the story of the friendship between James and the Tennysons, Fitzgerald, Hallam, Thackeray and other literary figures.


The library contains letters and manuscripts relating the story of Thomas Carlyle and some of his struggles with some of his works. Thomas was a close friend of James and a regular visitor to Mirehouse. Describing his friend as “Dear hospitable Spedding”, Thomas called on James on his way to his Scottish home at Ecclefechan in Dumfriesshire. While working on his Frederick the Great in 1851, Thomas remarked “I am deep in extremely dull German books about the history of Frederick.” Following the publishing of Volume One in 1857, Thomas wrote “If I live to get out of this Prussian Scrape (by far the worst I ever got into) it is among my dreams to come to Mirehouse.” Taken from The Literary Associations of the English Lakes: “There are those who would fain have that library filled again with the voices of old time. Tennysons’s deep-chested tones, FitzGerald’s laugh, Monckton-Milne’s wit, Carlyle’s strong Northern brogue, James Spedding’s dignified speech, and Tom Spedding’s humour.” Mirehouse is set in a wonderfully inspiring spot in Cumbria and exploring the stunning landscape surrounding the house, you truly get a sense of the poetic voices of the past. Canon Rawnsley had a favourite time to visit Mirehouse:

“Mirehouse in April is at its best. The great grove of Scots fir seems bluer in head and ruddier in stem against the evening light… Lambs cry from the home meadow, and the ravens, as they sail over to Skiddaw Forest, almost have a kind of geniality in their voice… The long lighted evenings with their saffron glory over Wythop prolong the spring-like day, and keep the thrushes singing until star-time.”

Mirehouse is Grade II* Listed.


Keswick Museum & Art Gallery


Purpose built in 1897, Keswick Museum & Art Gallery was founded by the local Literary and Scientific Society. After an initial collection of random and local finds, the museum soon started acquiring important literary collections, entomological collections and various artefacts of local significance. The museum houses a good archaeological collection of local pre-historic stones and axes, including examples from the Langdale Axe Factory sites, and the Medieval ceramic collection from key local sites such as Lords Island, seat of the Earls of Derwentwater.


The museum is also home to a good industrial history collection. Keswick School of Industrial Arts taught local people the skills to produce high quality hand crafted objects for over 100 years. The school gained national recognition for its work and sold bronze, copper and silver to support costs. The school was founded by Canon Rawnsley, who was the vicar of Crosthwaite Church and a founder of the National Trust, and his wife Edith.


Inspired by John Ruskin, Canon Rawnsley rejected mass produced objects in favour of true hand crafted pieces of work. The school adopted the motto: “The Loving Eye And Skilful Hand, Shall Work With Joy And Bless The Land.” The school moved to a purpose built site near Greta Bridge in Keswick in 1894 where it continued until its closure in 1984 due to competition from cheaper goods from abroad.


The Keswick Museum Donations Box (above) proudly sits in the centre of the main exhibition space and was made by Richard Kennedy. The model was hand painted by Mary Kennedy at Ram Workshop in Kirklinton, Carlisle. The beautiful architectural model of the museum is exquisitely detailed.

KesMusArt9     KesMusArt10

A wonderful chair sits in the corner of the main exhibition room which was originally on display in Peter Crostwaite’s Museum, who opened the first museum in Keswick, in the 18th century. The well used chair is adorned with the arms of Sir John Ratcliffe, who was the Earl of Derwentwater, and died in 1527.


On display on the ground floor is a First World War memorial window (above). The window once adorned the Royal Oak Hotel which was the main pack horse and coaching Inn of the town for almost 300 years. The window was made by Abbott Brothers of Lancashire and is thought likely to have been erected in 1929. The memorial was dedicated: “In honour of the patrons of this hotel, who made the supreme sacrifice.”


The beautiful window has the dates 1914 and 1918 on the outer panels and has a central inscription which reads: “The shrine of honour. Who goes there? I have no name. I died for my country. Pass unknown warrior.” A plaque on the stairway (below) between the ground and first floor is inscribed with the names of local people who lost their lives in the Great War.


Pontinscale: Nichol End Marine


Within the Lake District National Park is the quaint village of Pontinscale. Deriving from the Old English “portcwene” (harlot), the harlot’s hut village is under two miles from Keswick.


The historic Nichol End Marine is located right on the edge of Derwentwater and is a family run business. There are seven lakeside marinas around Derwentwater all offering spectacular views of the surrounding fells.


Nichol End Marine are licensed by the AALA and offer permanent moorings, holiday moorings, a chandlery, rigging service, engine and boat repair workshop.


The various activities offered at the marine include raft building, sailing, windsurfing, kayaking and canoeing.


The Keswick Launch Company operates cruises on the lake shore of Derwentwater starting from the Keswick boat landings and cruises around the lake stopping at seven lakeshore jetties where you may embark or join the various boats.



The Dandelion Cafe & Formal Garden

Although there are catering facilities at the marine, The Dandelion Cafe (above and within walking distance) stands on an elevated site above Derwentwater and offers the delights of a formal garden and breath-taking views of the scenery.


Nichol End Marine is open 364 days of the year and is a wonderful spot from which to enjoy the Lake District National Park.