Recent History & Restoration
After their eldest son died in the First World War, the Holts used Blackwell less and less. From this time on, Blackwell remained more or less empty apart from a skeleton staff of servants keeping an eye on the place. Subsequent occupants of the building never actually owned it, and thus were not in a position to make significant alterations. The Holts, who by this time were leasing the house, also had little incentive to use their money on modernising a property that was of little personal interest to them. As a consequence of this series of historical circumstances, most of the original features of Blackwell were thankfully still in place when it came to the notice of the Lakeland Arts Trust.
Blackwell had been given a new lease of life during the Second World War, when pupils from Huyton College in Liverpool were evacuated there. After the war Blackwell continued as a school, finally closing in 1976.
When the school closed, the historic house was bought by a Yorkshire businessman, Maurice Bland, who leased it as offices to the English Conservancy Council, later renamed English Nature. During their occupancy the scope of the decorative detail inside Blackwell was hidden from view behind boarded-up fireplaces and rows of filing cabinets. As a result, the delicate fittings were somewhat protected.
In 1997 English Nature moved out and the future of this Lake District historic house was suddenly uncertain. Fearing that this treasure trove of the Arts & Crafts, which at that time only carried the lowest grade listing, could be irreparably damaged, the Lakeland Arts Trust stepped in. An approach to the owner to buy the house was quickly made even though, at that point, the building was not actually for sale and there were no funds for the purchase!
It was then a race against time to raise the money, first for the purchase, and then for the restoration of Blackwell. Within ten months of starting the fund-raising campaign, a combination of money raised, together with interest free loans from two generous individuals, enabled the Trust to buy Blackwell in February 1999. Over the next year or two we received fantastic support from many private donors, as well as charitable trusts and foundations. Finally, the Trust was given a grant of £2.252 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which allowed us to proceed with Blackwell’s full arts & crafts restoration.
This took just over a year and involved a great number of specialists in many different fields, including Allies and Morrison, the project architects, and English Heritage, who raised Blackwell’s listing status to the highest level of Grade I. His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales supported the project from early on, visiting the historic house just before the restoration started, and, in September 2001, he visited Blackwell again to officially open the Arts & Crafts house to the public.
- Huyton College school pupils ice skating on Blackwell's frozen courtyard