The World of Beatrix Potter and Blackwell The Arts and Crafts House prepare for the holiday season
- Credit: Archant
As Bowness gets ready for another busy season, Emma Mayoh goes behind the scenes at one of its favourite attractions
When Roger Glossop opened the doors of The World of Beatrix Potter for the first time 24 years ago, he couldn’t believe what happened. Worried whether anyone would turn up to see the beautiful displays he had created, he was stunned when 700 hundred people flocked through the doors.
‘I thought we would close after the first day. It’s all been a big surprise, a wonderful surprise,’ said Roger:
‘You build something never expecting that it will still be going almost 25 years later. It’s just brilliant.’
The crowds that flock to this popular tourist destination, possibly one of the Lake District’s best known attractions, have not shown any signs of slowing down. Every year thousands visit The World of Beatrix Potter – on a good day anything up to 1,800 people go through the doors of the old Victorian laundry building. They queue up outside for the chance to see the quaint and pretty displays.
Roger, a talented stage designer who has worked around the world in the theatre industry including in at the Sheffield Crucible, in the West End, with the Royal Shakespeare Company and on Broadway, decided to set up The World of Beatrix Potter after his wife and stage manager, Charlotte Scott, 50, suggested it. They had already set up other visitor attractions around the country. But it is the Bowness business that has flourished.
Every year needs a routine refresh and work is done in January but this year something special is happening. It’s the largest refurbishment in the attraction’s history and it will give the displays a totally new look. All of the foliage that dominates the scenes that tell the tales of some of Beatrix Potter’s best loved tales is being replaced. This may seem like a small task but there are thousands of pieces of trees, bushes, leaves and branches to be handpainted and put up by expert craftsmen from creative design company Square Pebble. The foliage has been put together over several months before being worked on in the Bowness building. Some of the scenes have also been reworked.
Roger, who is 67, said: ‘This is definitely the biggest renovation we have done. The techniques and materials we are using are the same as those used by companies like Disney and Pixar. We need the best,
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‘I’m really looking forward to getting the doors open again so people can see the work we have done. I really hope people enjoy it.’
The World of Beatrix Potter has extended, too. They also launched the Old Laundry Theatre, with the support of friend and playwright Alan Ayckbourn. Over the years they have attracted many stars, including some who have gone on to become patrons including Victoria Wood, Griff Rhys-Jones and Alan Rickman. Until recently the theatre has only been open for a few months of the year as the theatre space has had to give way for the popular Peter Rabbit afternoon teas. But Roger recently bought the church hall which will be renovated and will host tea parties and functions. The Old Laundry Theatre will then be open year round. They also have big plans to mark the attractions 25th anniversary next year.
Roger said: ‘I never expected we would still be here all of these years later. It is quite incredible. But all of the people who work here are like a family and this is what makes it work. I’m so pleased with how things have worked out.’
Another popular visitor attraction is currently in the throes of a project to make the most of the beautiful displays it has. Blackwell The Arts and Crafts House has received almost £100,000 of funding to make some changes. The project was created as a way to get more people to go to the architectural gem as visitor numbers started to level off.
Beth Hughes, curator, said: ‘We noticed people loved the house but went away not feeling like they knew much more about the Arts and Crafts movement.
‘We also discovered that our main audience are people who also like to enjoy the gardens and the outdoors.’
Plans are now afoot to introduce some new ideas. Interpretation boards will be installed outside so people have more information about the view they are enjoying as well as information about the steamboat owned by the Holt family, who used Blackwell as their holiday home. It is also hoped outdoor theatre will again be shown in the grounds of the house.
Each room on the ground floor will also be revisited and Beth will be working with prestigious museums like London’s V & A as well as private collectors to change some of the exhibits as well as research pieces. An exhibition designer is also being brought in to make the most of the space upstairs which is currently used to show work by different artists and makers.
Beth said: ‘We want to make Blackwell the place to come to experience the Arts and Crafts movement. We want it to be the best example. We know we can do it.
‘Blackwell is an absolute jewel in the crown and we want this new project to make it the best it can possible be.’
Another group with big plans are the Rotary Club of Windermere. The group, who is the past have arranged the hugely successful Windermere Air Show, now organise the Bowness Bay Blues which takes place on March 27th – 29th. It is one of the first major events of the new tourist season and attracts hundreds of people to the many venues. Acts travel from across the world to appear at the event and this year’s line-up includes David Migden and the Twisted Roots, The Laurence Jones Band and Northsyde. Michael Blackledge, event coordinator for the Bowness group, said: ‘We have had a tremendous amount of support and each year it has become more of a success.
‘It takes place on the weekend before Easter and really kick-starts the season and brings money into our economy at a time when it would otherwise have been fairly quiet. It is a fantastic event.’
It is also a busy time for the hospitality industry. This is certainly the case for Andrew Wildsmith, owner of The Ryebeck Hotel in Lyth Valley Road.
The 37-year-old took on the building after his parents bought it when it was the Fayrer Garden hotel. An extensive refurbishment was completed last year and now the bedrooms are undergoing a complete overhaul.
But it is in the kitchen where the biggest changes can be seen. Eddie Kilty, the hotel’s new head chef, has grand plans to put the hotel on the foodie map and earn it three AA rosettes.
Eddie, 29 and originally from Liverpool, is used to working under pressure. He was a chef for Paul Heathcote as well as at big events at the Liverpool Echo Arena including the MTV Music Awards and BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
He has cooked for Hollywood stars and huge music acts including Beyonce and Katy Perry as well as sporting stars including Steven Gerrard.
He moved to The Ryebeck from The Inn on the Lake where he had earned the restaurant three AA rosettes, a success he wants to repeat at the Bowness hotel.
He said: ‘This is a fantastic hotel to be at because they are really interested in food. I’m really excited to be working with the team here. I want to help put us on the food map.
‘It’s a really exciting time for me. I was ready to move on and have a new challenge. We have a young team and I want us to grow together. There is a real buzz in the kitchen and it is fantastic.’