With views over Coniston Water, the house of Brantwood in Cumbria has been the residence of many notable people including John Ruskin. The house itself is now a museum to John Ruskin and together with the grounds are controlled by a charitable trust.
The word BRANT is derived from an ancient Norse word generally meaning steep, and as such Brantwood House is sited on a hilly wooded area looking out over the lake. Even before the house was built the location was deemed as essential to see by visitors dating back to the eighteenthcentury. Thomas Woodville was accredited with building the first house, of between six and eight rooms, on the site towards the end of the eighteenth century. It was not until the eighteen thirties, after various owners, that the grounds and house were enlarged.
By the mid eighteen hundreds, the father of Charles Hudson, Josiah was resident at Brantwood. He was a staunch Anglican priest and also keen mountaineer.
The next owner of renown was William James Linton who acquired the property in 1853 after moving in to the house the year before, and, who was noted as a poet, artist, wood engraver and active social reformer.
Linton went to live in London in 1858, staying there until 1864 and during that period the tenant was the poet and Egyptoligist Gerald Massey.
Linton moved back to Brantwood to live for a further three years before emigrating to the US whereupon he sold the house in 1871 to John Ruskin, who at that stage had not even seen the property. Prior to moving in to Brantwod in 1872, Ruskin arranged extensive refurbishment of the property including additions of both a turret and lodge, the latter to be utilised by his valet and his family. At the same time many improvements were carried out to the gardens.
During his period of residence at Brantwood, Ruskin held, what became known as teaching seminars three times per week. Art, literature and sociology were the subjects of study and in his absence a former student, Richard Hosken, held the classes.
An avid art collector, Ruskin filled Brantwood, with paintings from amongst others, Gainsborough, Turner and the Pre-Raphaelites and an extensive collection ofminerals, pottery and sea shells. A little later the artist Arthur Severn and his wife Joan Agnew, his cousin and their expanding family joined Ruskin at Brantwood.
A close neighbour, William G. Collingwood, archeologist, painter and translator of Nordic and North Germanic languages, was a frequent visitor to the house .
During the late eighteen seventies a new dining room was built at the southern end of the house followed by a second storey around 1890. This extra floor was built to house the Severn family and additionally a studio was added to the back of the house for Arthur Severn to use. The estate also increased in size at this time.
Ruskin died in 1900 and the house and grounds passed to the Severn family. A condition of Ruskin’s will was that the house be open to the public for thirty days annually to allow vistors to appreciate both the house and his collection. Regretfully, the Severn family did not comply with this request and sold many of the more valuable paintings.
Arthur Severn passed away in 1931 and the remaining contents were disposed of at auction. John Howard Whitehouse, the founder of Bembridge School and the Ruskin Society of Birmingham bought Brantwood and subsequently secured its future for the nation.
It was he that established the Brantwood Trust in the early nineteen fifties to look after the property for posterity.
Various of the rooms which the public are allowed access to are the drawing room ( still with Ruskin’s secretaire en portefeuille in place), study (complete with a Samuel Prout painting) and dining room with its outlook over Coniston mountains through lancet windows. It is also possible to access Ruskin’s bedroom in the turret extension.
In the gardens Ruskin experimented in various forms of innovative cultivation and drainage and as such there are many steep and winding paths. When he passed away ornamental shrubs and trees were added to the estate. Regretfully the area became overgrown until restoration started again in the ninetten eighties. In total the estate covers some 250 acres including lake shore, oak woods, pasture and moorland.
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