Blackwell Arts & Crafts House


Blackwell July 2017

We recently visited Blackwell, a Grade 1 listed building close to the shore of Lake Windermere and overlooking the Coniston Fells.  Designed by the architect Baillie Scott, it was built in 1900 as a holiday home for the wealthy Holt family. Imagine – a holiday home of these proportions! As if that wasn’t enough, the family also owned a 45 foot steam yacht.

Many will be familiar with the colourful  designs of William Morris. Along with social reformer John Ruskin he was a leading light in the influential Arts & Crafts movement which, as a backlash against the increasing effect of machines, advocated using local materials and traditional building methods with the aim of creating buildings that were harmonious with the surrounding landscape.  Baillie Scott  was hugely influenced by these two and it was he who was responsible not only for the design of the house but also the furniture, wall coverings and fabrics.

The Main Hall

Main hall

Unfortunately, whilst Blackwell retains many original features like leaf-shaped door handles, carved wooden panels and spectacular stained glass windows,  none of the original furniture or artefacts remains. The house, however, offers a few classic pieces from the period, some designed by Baillie Scott himself.

A beautifully carved frieze runs around the Main Hall


Four window panels. Unfortunately the day was overcast but imagine the sun streaming through and the colourful reflections on the plain walls opposite.

Window panels

Typical period designs may be seen on chinaware, a rug and a chair back 
Various Blackwell

This canvas stretches the entire length of the dining room wall (and the dining room would house the entire ground floor of my house!)Wall canvas

It was an enjoyable visit in terms of architectural interest but disappointing in that the rooms were very sparsely furnished and gave little idea of how they would have been presented at the time.   If this is a period you like, visit The National Trust’s Coleton Fishacre in Devon for a better representation.

Introducing Oscar


This is Oscar. He is 25 years old and lives at the side of the garden shed, or sometimes on the steps which lead up from the patio.  Oscar was recently  treated to his annual coat of paint as I like to ensure that he stays looking nice and well cared for.  I’m not generally given to filling my garden with concrete animals but Oscar is a very special exception.
We used to live just a few doors away from the local shop and I had just started allowing my then six year old daughter to walk there by herself. Desperate to be as grown up as her elder brothers, this was one small freedom that could be allowed. I would stand  at the garden gate and watch until she returned.
One day she was adamant that Daddy, rather than Mummy, should watch for her because she was going to buy ‘a secret’. Realising that this might well have something to do with my forthcoming birthday, I understood her insistence.
Minutes later she returned from the shop in tears.
“Whatever’s happened,” we both asked.
“I’m only telling daddy,” she sobbed.
Shortly after the two of them returned to the shop together and I was told that all would become clear later.
It transpired that on an earlier visit to the shop daughter had seen the rabbit and, on her return, asked her father if she could have 55p ‘to buy mummy a lovely birthday surprise’. The ensuing tears were her reaction to being told in the shop that she hadn’t got enough money. The rabbit was £5.50. Needless to say Daddy felt under pressure to pay up.
So that’s the story of Oscar. Since he is exceptionally heavy there is no way she could have lifted him let alone carried him back by herself even if he had cost only 55p.

Three is the Magic Number


Fridge needs a new thermostat,  washing machine springs a leak, and you find yourself warily eyeing the other kitchen appliances wondering what next. These are not recent occurrences in my life but I’m sure you’ll identify with the concept of things, good or bad,  happening in threes.

The reason we buy into this belief is ‘the rule of three’ phenomenon.  It is common in both the literary (Three musketeers, Three little pigs, Goldilocks and the three bears) and spiritual worlds (mind, body and spirit or Father, son and Holy Ghost) and in rhetorical devices used by writers as a way of engaging readers (Friends, Romans, Countrymen …).  So strong is the power invested in the number three that it is often used as a persuasion technique in advertising (remember the Mars bar slogan: ‘helps you work, rest and play’), and in speeches; who could forget Tony Blair’s “Education, education, education” pledge?

The number three has figured rather nicely for me recently. In the past few days, I have celebrated three pieces of good news:

1. Proud mum moment: Last year my son decided to return to university to complete the final year of his degree, abandoned sixteen years ago. With a full time job and his two youngest children just fifteen months old and newborn (actually born the same week as his course started) he began his studies. I’ll be honest here, I thought the timing could have been better (understatement)! Working late into the evenings, crying babies through the night and 7.30am starts at work and assignments submitted with only hours to spare took its toll; although he mostly denied it, I could see that he was pretty stressed out. But he did it and a few days ago his determination and hard work was rewarded when he heard that he had gained a very respectable  2:1 . We’re now looking forward to his graduation in September .

2. Sigh of relief moment: I  received the all-clear following a biopsy on two breast lumps.

3. YES! moment: I have a new job. Thanks to the changes in pension age, I now have to wait until I am 66 before drawing my state pension so this meant that after completing my degree last year I needed to return to work. There’s not a great deal of choice for a sixty year old woman who has been out of the workplace for several years and is seeking part time hours over three days. In fact, at the time, I could find nothing so had to compromise my ideal and take what was on offer – a mixture of afternoons and all day Saturday as a supervisor in a shoe shop. One of the largest independent shoe shops in the UK, it has around fifty, mostly part time, staff. Yes, it’s a big one! And it’s busy. I have spent my days going up and down the 42 stairs over and over and it’s played havoc with my knees and ankles. BUT, on 1st August I will be going back into a HR role for three (that number again!) ‘long’ mornings on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Three is the magic number (Blind Melon)

“Three is a magic number
It is, it’s a magic number
Somewhere in that ancient mystic trinity
You’ll get three
As a magic number
The past, the present, the future,
Faith, and hope, and charity,
It’s a magic number”

Oh Biba, how I loved you

Biba-logo 2

It was late in 1974. My then boyfriend was to attend a course in London and wondered if I’d like to go along for the ride.  Since I had only ever been to London on a school trip I jumped at the chance to do a bit of sightseeing. Quite early in the day I found myself on Kensington High Street and came across the iconic Biba department store. That was it, I got no further. The spectacular blend of modern, Art Nouveau and Art Deco with a nod to Pre-Raphaelite and shades of the Moroccan souk for good measure, drew me in.  The Hollywood-style surroundings, the like of which I had only ever seen in films, were awesome, lavish, unique; I could go on …and on. It was love at first sight and there I stayed for the rest of the day.

Biba B

The brainchild of Polish born fashion designer Barbara Hulaniki, Biba had already been in existence for some years when the old Derry & Toms seven storey  department store on Kensington High Street became available and, in September 1973, Biba moved in.

‘No-one could fail to be stunned by the sheer scope of the enterprise’ reported the Evening Standard at the time. ‘You’ll feel as if you’ve stepped inside a dream machine.’

‘Like stepping in of the cold reality of the street into fairyland’ said The New Yorker.

Biba 3

Reputed to attract hundreds of thousands of customers a week, the newly located store offered a bewildering choice of clothing, shoes, makeup, house ware, toys, and even groceries which were displayed on the likes of massive baked bean and sardine tins (the latter complete with enormous key), much of the food packaging sporting  the store’s logo. Biba was intended as more than a shop – it was sold as a lifestyle. The true Biba devotee even used its branded washing powder. As Alistair Best in Design Magazine said at the time. ‘shopping is almost a fringe activity’.


Everything was larger than life from the over-sized hat stands used to display all manner of fripperies to the magnificently proportioned black and gold mirrored make up counters artfully displaying thousands of tiny pots and palettes. A giant record player, enormous Snoopy doghouse, huge toadstools in the cafe which also boasted a castle and moat, all added to the feeling of being part of a film set. The fantasy was even more evident as I ventured onto the fifth floor and peeped into the Rainbow Room. Reconstructed as a 1930s palm-court style restaurant, resplendent with mirrored walls, it had a lasting impact and remains steadfastly a style of decor for which I have great affection. Having discovered the sixth floor tea rooms and roof gardens  (rather less intimidating for an unaccompanied teenager) I remember sitting for a while with refreshment, but I have no idea what I chose. I think it was here that I discovered the delight of people watching, something I still enjoy greatly.

Back on the ground floor I could hardly wait to spend my hard-earned Saturday shop girl wages on those tiny pots of make up and perfumed oils in their distinctive Deco-style glass bottles. They lived on my dressing table long after the contents had been used.

biba perfume pots

I vowed there and then to return with enough money to buy some of the Biba fashions and, most importantly, a pair of the amazing suede boots. I went home and I began to save. I worked extra hours all through the school holidays and watched  my savings grow. Some time late in 1975 I returned to London, so full of excitement, you cannot imagine.  I was seventeen when I first encountered Biba, impressionable, headstrong and determined to develop a style distinct from that of many of my peers. I wanted that ‘Biba lifestyle’. The disappointment was crushing – Biba had closed.  It’s demise is well documented in the book The Biba Experience but in a nutshell, a combination of financial reasons and board disagreements sounded the death-knell and despite attempts to re-launch, it was over.

Biba, in it’s glorious final form, was so short lived and I feel privileged to have experienced it, to have been there at the right time. The brand name was eventually bought by House of Frazer in 2009 and is still trading though Ms.  Hulaniki criticises it for not reflecting the original style of Biba.

Quotes and background information taken from The Biba Experience Alwyn Turner





The icing on the cake

Lindeth Howe

Whilst in the Lakes recently we found ourselves near to Lindeth Howe, a country house once owned by Beatrix Potter.  Here follows a piece I wrote following a previous visit and which won me a place as a finalist in the Birmingham Press Association’s Midlands Media Awards in 2015.

The Icing on the Cake

Sitting in the shade of a majestic magnolia, I enjoy the luxury of unseasonably warm April sunshine. A small brown rabbit pokes his head out from behind a lavender bush and hops forward, followed soon after by two even smaller ones. Perhaps not impressed by finding us invading their territory, they dart back behind the bush only to reconsider and reappear sporadically to entertain us for the remainder of the afternoon.

Lindeth Howe Country House is steeped in grandeur and history. Built in 1879 the Queen Anne style house with its wide white painted frontage and black timbered gables stands in 28 acres of abundant woodland.  It was here that a young visitor, Beatrix Potter, drew the  illustrations that she later used for my favourite of her books, Pigling Bland, and so completely did she fall in love with the  house that, in adulthood, she bought it for her mother.

A glimpse between trees of every hue shows the still snow-capped peaks of Claife Heights towering above the western shore of Lake Windermere. The lake shimmers today, silver and ribbon-like in the sunlight, just as Wordsworth must have seen it when he likened it to a ‘vast river, stretching in the sun’. The pretty informality of the garden, where fragrant roses, lavender and buddlia , proving irresistible to butterflies and bees,  invites exploration but I stretch lazily and decide to save this treat until later.

The air is almost still; the faintest of breeze barely cools the sun on my face and I concentrate on the surrounding stillness in hopeful anticipation that I might hear the Crier of Claife. Legend has it that this medieval monk rescued fallen women and was spurned when he fell in love with one of them. He lost his mind and his heart-rending cries may still be heard from time to time. Today is not one of those times for there is no sound but the harmonious song of a pair of tiny goldfinch and that of a lone blackbird taking a rest by the lily pond. Leaning back, I rest my head and close my eyes, and I can’t help feeling more than a little pleased that there are no other guests with whom we must share this idyll.

Our tea is served: sparkling white china cups and saucers with matching tea and coffee pots and a plate of the daintiest sandwiches; the freshest bread, light as air, with fillings so generous that they threaten to spill out – smoked salmon topped by wafer thin slices of cucumber, beef with creamy horseradish, honeyed ham, spread with wholegrain mustard and, reminiscent of the Sunday afternoon teatime of my childhood, chopped egg with a sprinkling of cress.

“Don’t eat too many,” warns my husband. “Leave room for the cakes”.

The waiter laughs. “There’s always room for cake,” he says as he turns back toward the house.  I suspect he senses my penchant for the sweet things in life! A few moments pass and he returns with a three tiered cake stand and accompanying tiny forks with pretty ceramic handles.

The cakes; oh my goodness – the cakes!  More cakes than any sane person could wish to eat but I’ll give it my best! Where to begin? Tiny fresh strawberries topple from one plate to another as I select a scone, take a spoonful of thick clotted cream from one of the miniature ramekins and another from the one filled to the brim with strawberry jam. Jam first or cream? I can never remember. I opt for jam, certain that either way, the taste will be sublime. I’m not disappointed. An exquisitely pretty éclair drizzled with white chocolate calls out to me. This is no six inch finger of dry supermarket choux topped with a machine squirted smear of artificial chocolate. This éclair is the lightest confection imaginable; an inch and a half of melt-in-the-mouth heaven oozing with silky smooth passion fruit cream.  A small glazed pastry case filled with intensely sharp lemon curd; a miniscule square of rich pecan nougatine and a perfectly executed pear and ginger trifle, liberally laced with something that tastes suspiciously like brandy and served in a delicately etched shot glass; an explosion of flavours –  all decadently divine.

Again, I lean back against the cushions – replete, quiescent. The sun has momentarily disappeared behind a cloud and I am able to watch the birds circling overhead and then I see it – a Red Kite.   It lands inches from our table and stays for a moment before soaring, once again, high in to the sky, and for all the deliciousness of our afternoon tea, this truly is the icing on the cake.

Bits of this and that

I spent most of the morning at the gym with friends. Three of us had opted out of the circuit and were there just for the coffee and chat.  I confess that this is always the temptation though, for the most part, we do participate in the exercise, but today we all had our reasons for not doing so – a possibly broken toe for one friend, bad back and strapped-up wrist for another, and stitches from minor surgery in my own case. I was disturbed to find that we have turned into the kind of older ladies who discuss our ailments;  is there any surer sign of ageing? At least we recognised the fact and actively sought to change the subject!

Following a cold start to the morning it is now warm and sunny and as I sit and type I find myself wishing that my garden benefited from the same kind of avian activity as did our holiday cottage. You would not believe the number and variety of birds in that garden. There were frequently six or eight small birds (robins, finches, tits and tree sparrows – until I looked it up in the bird book, I didn’t know that there was such a bird as distinct from an ordinary sparrow) around the feeders and this beautiful Great spotted woodpecker visited early every morning and several times throughout the day. I have never seen one at such close quarters. Quite possibly that sentence should have ended at ‘never seen one’ because I’m not at all certain that I have.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

I suppose with Backbarrow, our holiday village, being a much more rural area than home it is inevitable that there will be more to see but we live in hope, much as we have done for years with the nest box camera. You can read about it here:  A not-so-desirable residence .  The experience has prompted us to buy yet another bird feeder, this time to be fixed to the wall next to the kitchen window. As this is on the front of the house, we’re not sure of its suitability but time will tell. I’d love a woodpecker visitor.

On Monday evening I went to Slimming World and found that I had gained 2.5lb on holiday. It was fully expected and deserved but I get very fed up of the fact that I have no watch what I eat so carefully, but I suppose that’s the case for many of us. I got straight back onto plan and am hopeful that next Monday’s weigh-in will show an equivalent loss.  Right at this moment I have a ‘cooking urge’. Despite that urge leaning towards lemon drizzle cake, I really don’t want to make a cake – we still have half the rhubarb and ginger one from Sunday and there is an apple one in the freezer. I shall concentrate on something savory. One of my daughters-in-law has recently become vegan. I’ve been used to providing vegetarian meals for some years but now have to rethink. I’m going to have a trawl around the recipe blogs and see what I can find. All suggestions welcome.

I had the spookiest experience a couple of weeks ago and meant to write about it but forgot to. A Facebook friend, someone I have known since junior school and have seen occasionally through the years as our paths have crossed, had posted a photograph of her wedding twenty six years ago.  As I glanced at the picture, I was totally thrown by what I saw. I should say WHO I saw, for there in the corner of the picture, standing in the choir stalls, was my mother who died sixteen years ago. I knew, of course, that she was in the choir but I had not known that she had sung at this wedding and, not for one moment, had I expected to see her smiling out from a Facebook page! I’m not sure why but it really unsettled me all evening .

So, apart from the cooking, what’s planned for the rest of the day? I have a couple of drawers to tidy out and I must email a friend to suggest a few dates for lunch . Then I’ll make some ‘new home’ and ‘sympathy’ cards. I sell handmade cards through the gym (for charity) and I noticed this morning these sections are almost empty. I also have a couple of small bits of sewing to do (not my favourite job but needs must) and finally, I want to read this months Slimming Magazine so shall sit down later with a cup of coffee and NO slice of cake (silently chanting my current mantra of two and half pounds, two and a half pounds…).

I enjoy a day like this – nothing out of the ordinary, just spending time chatting to friends and ‘pottering’ at home.  Husband is pottering in the garden – i.e. fixing the new bird feeder to the wall. No work today which makes it extra nice!

I hope you’re having a good day too.

What we did on our holidays ~ part 2

Rowan Tree Cafe (1)

The village of Grasmere in the Lake District was described by William Wordsworth (who lived in a nearby hamlet and is buried at St.Oswald’s church in Grasmere) as “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found”. I think that this photograph shows that it is still very lovely.  It was taken by my husband a few years ago and is very much better than any I that I took of the same area last week.   The chairs that you can see on the left of the bridge belong to what used to be called The Rowan Tree Cafe. It is now known as the Grasmere Tea Gardens but we visited many times as the Rowan Tree and still refer to it as such. It’s always first on our list to visit when in the area.  The small terrace is such a lovely spot to sit with a scone and a cup of coffee so, of course, we did just that! I am told that the coffee and walnut cake was not as good as mine! The scone, I have to say, was perfect: slightly warm, crumbly but not so that it falls apart, and plenty of fruit. I do prefer the jam (blackcurrant as a first choice) and cream in little dishes though.

Cake  Rowan Tree.jpg

When in Grasmere we never go home without a packet or two of Sarah Nelson’s gingerbread from the tiny cottage in the centre of the village. Although it can be bought online (and they apparently have regular customers all over the world), since it was first made in 1854, this shop is still the only one that sells it directly. It is quite unlike any other gingerbread – sweet, spicy, crisply biscuit-like to bite and yet chewy in the eating. An extra pack was purchased for my friend Jayne who always returns the favour when she visits the area. Chef Jamie Oliver is apparently a great fan too.

Gingerbread shop

Rydal water is one of the smaller lakes and my favourite. It sits between Ambleside at the north end of Windermere and Grasmere lake.  It is incredibly peaceful to sit beside it. It is not directly accessible by car and access is through a gap in a wall (!). If you are prepared walk around a quarter of a mile, I am happy to give detailed directions.  The stunning view when you walk over the rise and come upon the lake almost as a surprise never fails to awe me.

Rydal Water

We parked by the local church which is opposite Rydal Mount. The gardens here, both formal and wooded,  are well worth a visit and the waterfall is very pretty.

Rydal Mount

The waterfall at Rydal Hall

Whilst most of the places we visited are villages, Ambleside is a small town.  Situated at the northern end of Lake Windermere, it is hugely popular with the serious walkers (one of which I am not). It is an appealing, typical Cumbrian town with lots of local stone buildings and some interesting shops. Over the years we have eaten in many of the restaurants (Lucy’s is fab and highly recommended) and cafes.

Ambleside boasts the smallest of the National Trust properties – the 17th Century Bridge House shown below, was once home to a family of eight. It is truly tiny. I reckon they’d have had to sleep standing up, or perhaps in relays!

Bridge House, Ambleside

Do let me know if you have visited the area and which are your favourite places.