The architect

Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott (1865 – 1945) had already made a name for himself when Blackwell was completed in 1901. He achieved this by publishing his sketches and ideas in The Studio, a magazine read by everyone interested in art, architecture and interior design. Blackwell offered him the opportunity to put his ideas on the use of space, light and texture into practice on a grand scale. He experimented in ways which might not have been possible had the property been intended as the client’s main home, rather than a holiday home away from urban life.

The family

Blackwell was built as a Lake District rural holiday retreat for the Manchester brewery owner, Sir Edward Holt (1849 – 1928), his wife Elizabeth and their five children. A wealthy industrialist, Holt was active in local government and had the honour of being made Lord Mayor of Manchester for two consecutive years, 1907-9. Sir Edward, who was made a baronet in 1916, worked for numerous good causes. These included improving buildings, libraries, water and sewage works for the people of Manchester.

The house

Perched overlooking lake Windermere, this Grade I listed building is a masterpiece of artistic design. Architect Baillie Scott designed Blackwell as a holiday home for Manchester brewer Sir Edward Holt, Lady Elizabeth Holt and their five children in 1901.

The historic house itself makes a strong statement. It is asymmetrical in design and the gables of the first floor rooms form a complicated roof profile. Influences from local architecture are evident in the tall round chimneys and the use of local slate and sandstone.

The principal rooms of the house are south facing, making the most of the natural light to enhance the features of each room. Baillie Scott’s clever design encourages you to explore the house, drawing you to its west side with breath-taking views. The light and the views are constantly changing in the dramatic Lake District weather, meaning no two visits are the same.

Blackwell retains many of its original decorative features. During the late nineteenth century there was a resurgence of interest in hand-made crafts, encouraged by such figures as William Morris and John Ruskin. In a reaction to the mass produced and impersonal designs available at the time, artists, designers and makers drew inspiration from the skilled makers of the past. They reinvigorated traditional techniques and process of making, and placed an emphasis on quality and natural beauty.

Throughout the house the architect, Baillie Scott, has incorporated a wide variety of crafts. These include tiles in the fireplaces, carved stone and wood panelling, stained glass, mosaic floors, wrought iron and lead work, hessian wall hangings and the beautiful plaster work of the White Drawing Room. Each of these details are carefully woven into the fabric of the historic building rather than being ‘applied’ simply as decoration.

The rooms also contain furniture and objects by many of the leading Arts & Crafts designers and studios. These include metalwork by WAS Benson, ceramics by Pilkingtons and Ruskin Pottery and furniture by Morris & Co., Stanley Webb Davies, Ernest Gimson and Baillie Scott himself.

The garden

The original gardens were laid out by Arts & Crafts garden designer, Thomas Mawson, in a series of terraces to achieve the very best views from the house, looking over the lake towards the Coniston fells. Today, Blackwell is bordered by beautiful flower beds set against a terrace of York stone paving, providing shelter for garden chairs and tables surrounded by fragrant flowers and herbs. On the lower terrace there is a long sweep of lawn where visitors can stroll and take in the intoxicating beauty of the Lake District, whatever the season.

In the Holt family’s time the south lawn was used for croquet and the lower lawn was two grass tennis courts. Trees were carefully sited in the fields owned by the Holt family (now privately owned) to enhance the natural beauty of the landscape extending down from the terraced garden.

The history of Blackwell

Storrs Hall and its 748-acre estate on the shores of Windermere is sold by auction and the area becomes available for development.
The Holt family purchases land from Storrs Hall estate and commissions Baillie Scott to design Blackwell as a holiday home.
Blackwell is completed and the Holts spend their summers here. They employ a cook, four maids, two gardeners and a chauffeur.
Baillie Scott publishes Houses and Gardens, which features Blackwell.
During the First World War, Joseph, the family’s eldest son, is killed at Gallipoli aged 33.
Sir Edward Holt dies. Lady Holt and her grandchildren continue to holiday at Blackwell. Four years later Lady Holt dies.
Junior girls from Huyton College near Liverpool are evacuated to Blackwell during the Second World War.
Baillie Scott dies at Elm Grove Hospital, Brighton. His gravestone in Kent reads ‘Nature I loved and next to nature, art’.
Huyton College leaves Blackwell and Blackwell School takes its place.
The Holt family sells Blackwell and the house continues to be leased out to Blackwell School.
Blackwell School closes. Two years later Blackwell is sold to a Yorkshire business and leased out as office space.
Blackwell’s future becomes uncertain when its tenants English Nature moves its offices out.
Lakeland Arts purchases and restores Blackwell with the help of generous donors and the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Blackwell, The Arts & Crafts House, opens to the public in July.
2001 - today
Blackwell continues to celebrate the incredible creativity of contemporary makers and talent of high calibre historical Arts & Crafts artists, designers and architects.

Our collection

When Lakeland Arts acquired Blackwell in 1999 it did not contain any original Arts & Crafts furnishings. Today the objects in the house’s period rooms are drawn from our own collection, as well as a selection of exceptional loans from other galleries, institutions and private lenders. When you visit, you’ll discover beautiful furniture and objects from leading designers and makers. These include leading members of the Arts & Crafts Movement, such as MH Baillie Scott, Archibald Knox and William De Morgan, and local makers and designers, such as Annie Garnett and Arthur Simpson of Kendal.