Here we are again for our twice yearly sojourn at the Rothay Manor Hotel, Ambleside, still finding a myriad of things to do and places to visit.
Firstly, there was that extraordinarily determined Lady Anne Clifford to consider. Deprived of her inheritance by the caprice of her swash-buckling father, she experienced the luxury and indulgence of life at court, two marriages and two of the greatest houses in England, Wilton and Knole, before returning to her northern estates. These she restored to their former prosperity, once she had regained her fortune. Abbott Hall in Kendal contains her Great Picture, a triptych, commissioned by her in 1646 to celebrate the return of her lands. A story of a remarkable character whose name suffuses the Lake District.
Another Lakeland “treasure” is the what-we-would-now-call “art critic”, John Ruskin. A collection of his letters, drawings and paintings is housed in the Ruskin Library at Lancaster University. Here, in a modern building designed by Sir Richard MacCormac, are to be found 29 volumes of diaries, recording Ruskin’s travels in Europe, alongside painstakingly detailed drawings of architecture in places he visited. Dating from the days long before e-mail and twitter (which he would have abhorred) are to be found 7400 letters to family and such luminaries as Thomas Carlyle, Robert Browning and his publisher George Allen. Such an archive is rare in a British University. More “Ruskin” was to be found in the museum at Coniston, saved from the dispersal of his home at nearby Brantwood. Rather a motley collection in Coniston Museum, for it contains Donald Campbell’s “Bluebird” ephemera, Arthur Ransome items and Bronze and Stone Age Axes.
Lancaster, now butchered by the sort of gyratory system beloved of the planners, is a handsome backwater which we have visited on previous occasions. This time it was to the Maritime Museum that we went. Housed in a Palladian building by one of the ubiquitous Gillow family, this collection brings to life the reason for Lancaster’s 18th century prosperity sited as it is on the then-navigable River Lune. To it came not just woods for Mr Gillow’s furniture works but also slaves and spices from the Indies, and the produce of the Irish Sea fisheries. All lost as the river silted up.
We like to hear about some of the crafts which still prosper here in Britain, and on this occasion we heard of two of them. Firstly came Rebecca Oaks, who is an expert on the art of coppicing. Rebecca explained the ecological benefits of thinning woodland and how trees such as hazel can be coppiced for generations and the material used for example, as the making of hurdles (very à la mode for smart gardeners) and even coracles. Not content to sit and listen to the theory, we ventured into the very muddy woods near Silverdale, where we had a demonstration of the craft. Our other talk was by Dominic Riley, who is one of Britain’s leading bookbinders. Previously Dominic has demonstrated the art of bookbinding to us, but this time it was a book-binding story which kept us glued to our seats. The story of the Great Omar. This sumptuously bound copy of the verses by the world-famous book-binders, Sangorski and Sutcliffe, was despatched to the United States in the Titanic. Not a good idea, as it perished in the icy waters, only to be recreated and to be destroyed again. Extraordinarily it was recreated a third time and the jewel-set tome is now in the British Library. So a lecture which neatly encapsulates the centenary of the loss of the liner and celebrates the skill of present-day craftsmen.