Restored by the Vivat Trust and opened by HRH The Prince of Wales in March 1993, Church Brow Cottage is situated amidst the breathtaking scenery enjoyed by Wordsworth, Ruskin and Turner. Built as a summer retreat for Abbot's Brow House, this enchanting early nineteenth century garden pavilion now provides holiday accommodation for two people.
Popularity of 'Ruskin's View'
By the late eighteenth century, the Lake District had become popular with Romantic poets. 'By no means omit looking at the Vale of Lune from the Churchyard' wrote William Wordsworth in his Guide to the Lakes of 1810. In 1818 J. M. W. Turner took his advice and during his visit to the area, painted a watercolour from this vantage-point entitled Kirby Lonsdale Churchyard. The view acquired its name when it was described by Ruskin as 'One of the loveliest scenes in England...'(Fors Clavigera, 1875).
Construction of the Cottage
In 1820, due to the increasing numbers of visitors, Dr Francis Pearson (the owner of Abbot's Brow House) had the public footpath diverted, as at the time the path to the River Lune ran through his land. In 1829, to discourage trespassers he built a perimeter wall and to provide access to the river, he created a flight of steps. These came to be known as the Radical Steps; a reference to Dr Pearson's liberal views. Church Brow Cottage is thought to have been erected soon after this date, circa 1830. In plan the cottage is a bow-fronted cube, although the gently curved wall may have been an afterthought. It had only three rooms originally, one on each floor. Rubble-built using a combination of local sandstone and limestone, the Cottage was obviously intended to blend in with the landscape and to create the impression of a timeless rural idyll.
The Romantic Gothic Style
Popularised by the utopian novels of Jean Jacques Rousseau, romantic notions of the simple, rustic life had been fashionable since the mid eighteenth century. Church Brow was designed with these ideals in mind. Essentially a miniature country cottage, the irregular plan and pretty, arched windows give the cottage its picturesque 'Gothic' character.
History of the Cottage
Although the cottage built by Dr Pearson continued to be used as a summer house, it had become both damp and dilapidated. In 1905, the owner, Alexander Pearson (author of The Annals of Kirkby Lonsdale and The Doings of a Country Solicitor) built a wooden extension along the lower terrace to provide a bedroom, bathroom and sifting room that would be habitable.
The late Mr Stanley Major helped to decorate the annexe. The woodwork was brush-grained dark oak, finished with Docker's Eggshell Flat Finish, and the walls were hung with fabric (cretonne patterned with small roses). A boat house was built at the bottom of the garden because Colonel Pearson, Alexander's cousin, was a keen fisherman. With the help of his gardener Mr Briggs, Alexander Pearson planted an alpine rockery that ran the length of the upper terrace from Abbot's Brow House to the cottage, in emulation of the garden at Underley Hall. Limestone was brought from Hutton roof Crags.
The Abbot's Brow Trust
In 1956, the Cottage was purchased by Mr J.S.B. Greenwood who, with the help of his sister Eleanor, transformed the garden from an orchard using numbers of shrubs, plants, bulbs and trees, many of which came from Homby Castle. On her death Miss Eleanor Greenwood wished to conserve the house for the parishioners of Kirkby Lonsdale. In December 1991, the Trustees of the Abbot's Brow Trust leased the building, on a full repairing lease, to the Vivat Trust for a period of 75 years.
Restoration of the Garden
During the six years that the cottage was empty the garden became overgrown. Dr Rodney Gallacher, a GP living in Kirkby Lonsdale, redesigned the planting scheme, retaining existing plants where possible. It was reclaimed using organic methods by Mrs Wendy Andersen. From the relative formality of the upper terrace the garden gives way to a more natural landscape. New vantage-points were created and from the peace and tranquillity of the steep terraces it is once again possible to enjoy the view that has enchanted people for the past 200 years.
Restoration of the Cottage
Supervised by Brian Lowe of Nichol Armstrong Lowe, the restoration took five months to complete. This was partly due to the delicate condition of the building which has no foundations, but mainly because of the inaccessibility of the cottage. The contractors, Haygarth Bros of Kendal, transported building materials across the churchyard in wheelbarrows and small plant vehicles and winched them over the retaining wall onto the site. The rotten wooden annexe was removed and burnt.
As the walls of the cottage were showing signs of movement, a network of steel beams and cantilevers were inserted to tie them together and to support the balcony. The stone used to rebuild the entrance steps in the garden came from the Sanctuary of Lancaster Priory. Traditional mortars and plasters made from slaked lime were used. The lime plaster was reinforced with horse hair and applied to cleft chestnut lathes for strength. Like the limewashes and distempers used to paint the walls these porous materials allow the building to breathe.
In 1995 the restoration of the building and its garden received one of eighteen National Civic Trust Awards, a North East Civic Trust Award and the Kirkby Lonsdale and District Civic Society Award in 1994. Since it was opened to the public in the Spring of 1993, thecCottage has been successfully let as high quality holiday accommodation for two people.
The Vivat Trust would like to thank the following for their generous support;
The Alan Evans Memorial Trust; The Architectural Heritage Fund; The Barnobury Trust; B. C. Sanitan; C. T. Bowring (Charities Fund) Ltd; Blackett-Ord & Nash; The Bristol Guild; Crabtree& Evelyn; Creda Lsd; Colefax and Fowler; Cosatto Ltd; Cumbria Tourist Board; Davies and Bowring; The Abbot's Brow Trust; English Heritage; The Esmee Fairbairn charitable Trust; The Frank and Katherine Pearson Charitable Trust; Friends of The Lake District; The Harold Bridges Foundation; lsis Ceramics; The Kirkby Lonsdale and District Civic Society; KPMG Peat Marwick; Lister Garden Furniture; Mothcrcare; Mason's ironstone; The Mercers'Company The Nook Gallery; Past Times; The John Pontin Charitable Trust The Pilgrim Trust; Pumptrack Ltd; Relyon Group plc; Ocean Group plc; (P.H. Holt Trust); Provincial lnsurance plc; Skipton Building society; Slumberdown Enterprises Ltd; South Lakeland District Council; The Worshipful Company of GIaziers and Painters on Glass; The Worshipful Company of Gardeners; Zoffany Ltd. and many private individuals.