In The Footsteps of WIlliam Morris
Elaine and I have just returned from three intensive days researching the May and June tours. For the first two days we were in Cumberland and the Lake District visiting houses and gardens and enjoying some of the most beautiful scenery in the British Isles, and immersing ourselves in two milenia of British history.
Naworth Castle, which will be our base for our wonderful June tour – House and Gardens in the Borders and Lake District. For the first five days of the tour is largely thirteenth century, but remodeled to a certain extent by the great Arts & Crafts architect, Philip Webb, whose nearby church of St Martin’s, Brampton – the only church he ever designed – contains some of the finest Morris & Company stained glass that Burne-Jones ever designed. Naworth has been the base of the Howard family basically since it was built, and our host will be the current owner, Philip Howard. In the late nineteenth century Naworth, along with many other properties, belonged to George Howard, Earl of Carlisle, an artist in his own right, many of whose paintings adorn the Castle walls: George Howard was one of the richest men in England as well as one of the most generous patrons particularly of artists in the Morris/Burne-Jones circle and the refugees from the Paris Commune and the political upheavals in Italy. We will see examples of their work on the day we go across to Castle Howard, another family seat, familiar today as the setting for Brideshead.
During our days at Naworth, apart from visiting houses and gardens and meeting some of their owners, we will immerse ourselves in the history that is all around us. Naworth is only a few miles from the Scottish border, marked here by Hadrian’s Wall, originally seventy three miles long, built between 122 and 130 AD to keep out the marauding Picts and Scots. Equally close by is the twelfth century Lanercost Abbey, restored by Philip Webb at the instigation of Rosalind Carlisle. Traditionally, throughout the centuries the fortunes of the church and the great houses were inextricably interlinked, the parson often being a younger brother or cousin of the landowner. Rosalind Carlisle, wife of George Howard, is unusual in this context as she became a Unitarian, and had one brother who was a Roman Catholic and another a Mohammedan. Among the churches we will visit is the little gem at Warwick Bridge designed by Pugin and paid for by the Howards, and Cartmell Priory in the Lake District.
The day we move from Naworth Castle to Newby Bridge, our second base, we will go through some of the most beautiful and romantic countryside in England, visiting Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage en route. History, landscape and literature become inextricably intertwined as we drive down Grasmere, although Wordsworth’s daffodils will be over, you will be able to imagine yourselves in the dangerous eighteenth century world of Hugh Walpole’s Herries Chronicles or that of Beatrix Potter’s Benjamin Bunny.
Newby Bridge is at the bottom end of Lake Windermere and, since the seventeenth century has provided the first southern land crossing point from one side of the lake to the other, thus making it of crucial importance both for travellers and for farmers moving their cattle and sheep to market. From here we will visit Blackwell, the beautiful Baillie Scott designed home on Windermere as well as the nearby Broadleys, described by Wendy Hitchmough as ‘one of Voysey’s most strikingly successful houses.’ We will also visit Ruskin’s home at Brantwood overlooking Lake Conniston. For devotees of Arthur Ransome’s ‘Swallows and Amazons’ series, Lake Conniston is the setting for all these novels and the ‘Boy Roger’ was modelled by Ransome on the grandson of Ruskin’s secretary, W.G. Collingwood.
For our last day Elaine and I were in Oxford in the care of Mark Eastment, treading in the footsteps of William Morris, checking out colleges, libraries and chapels and exulting in more great Burne-Jones windows. Those great Victorians got everywhere, and so did we, so why not come and joins us?