Brockhole is back to it's best and celebrating in the Lake District

A silk merchant's house with stunning gardens created by Scorton's Thomas Mawson is<br/>back to its best, writes Karen Barden

It was a momentous summer for England’s top national park, and its 60th birthday was celebrated with an �800,000 state-of-the-art ‘gift’ - Windermere’s first ever floating jetty, a 66ft long engineering masterpiece allowing direct boat access to the Lake District Visitor Centre at Brockhole.

With the potential to take cars off congested roads and boost numbers to the iconic century-old centre, it was seen as the perfect present. For Brockhole’s commercial manager, Liverpudlian Mike Clarke, it is another positive step in propelling the stunning former lakeside home of Manchester silk merchants into a new era of success. The Victorian mansion looks and feels different. Lime green shop interiors, raspberry pink furniture and funky music have greeted visitors all season.

There are still the OS maps and the local walking guides, but they now share shelf space with Cath Kidston treasures, hip home furnishings, local produce, even cuddly toys.

As well as steering a new course for the faded edifice of Arts and Crafts’ splendour, Mike is directing the current Lake District bid for World Heritage status. But he’s acted fast to transform Brockhole. A house and grounds of this magnitude are too important to ignore, he says.

Silk baron William Gaddum and wife Edith - a cousin of Beatrix Potter - followed their dreams to build a grand home overlooking the lake.Decades later, genteel house guests have been replaced thousands of boat, bus and car travellers. Rowing boats and canoes, climbing wall, kids’ playground, shop, caf� and exhibitions jostle for attention with grounds of remarkable quality.

The Gaddums fell hopelessly in love with the Lake District. And when they bought the 32-acre Windermere plot, the design guru of the day, Thomas Mawson, was employed to create their own paradise. Mawson, from the Lancashire village of Scorton, had a global reputation and clients included royalty, aristocracy and world leaders.

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Brockhole remains a testimony to this towering talent.After his appointment, Mawson brought in his architectural partner, Dan Gibson, to design the house. As a keen photographer, Willie Gaddum filled eleven albums while it took shape.

‘One of my most pressing tasks has been to bring life back into the gardens,’ explains Mike Clarke. ‘They are a fantastic example of Mawson’s vision. We are hosting an exhibition of his work throughout November.

‘He was revolutionary in bringing architecture and landscape together. Our house and grounds join in a way that’s beautiful, compelling and never-ageing.’

Beatrix Potter was a regular visitor and her housekeeper later revealed how the author had worn a tight silk dress with buttons down the back, which she couldn’t undo. She was forced to spend all night sitting in a chair.

The Gaddums remained at Brockhole for the rest of their lives and after the Second World War, it was a convalescent home for woman members of the Penny in the Pound Fund, supported by firebrand socialist MP Bessie Braddock.

Little is known about this period and if any readers have information, they should contact us at letters@lancashirelife.co.uk.

It became the country’s first national park centre in 1969, thanks to a �65,000 grant. First manager, John Nettleton, moved into the house with his wife and family, overseeing what were ground-breaking operations. He says: ‘Apart from the large car park, there was one main and two supporting exhibitions and a very basic tea and biscuit room. We developed a very popular display featuring Beatrix Potter and there was great enthusiasm and a single-minded dedication to bring people in. In the 19 years I was there, annual visitor numbers grew to 150,000.’