Overlooking a cherished part of Britain’s literary heritage
Howthwaite stands at the edge of Grasmere immediately behind and above Dove Cottage. According to his sister Dorothy, Wordsworth used to walk and sit here composing his poems. Therefore when Howthwaite was offered for sale, the Trustees of Dove Cottage were keen that it fell into friendly hands and asked if we would join them in buying it. This was in 1986 when Landmark was still backed by our founder John Smith’s trust fund and could contemplate such things. We were more than happy to help because of its location and significance.
A quiet valley where the centuries fall away
Howthwaite was built in 1926 by Miss Jessie Macdougall, from a family of millers. It seemed to us a good unaltered example of the solid houses put up by those cultivated, well-to-do people who were attracted to the Lake District at the time; the kind of people who had prompted the foundation of the National Trust. From Howthwaite’s light airy rooms you can appreciate the everchanging light and weather as they sweep across fells. The fine outlook and surroundings are delightful; whether you fancy walking, painting, writing, reading or simply gazing upon the landscape as Wordsworth did. Whatever the weather, you'll be spolit for interesting and uplifting things to do nearby.
‘Spectacular views, spectacular house. What more could one (or seven people) ask?’
From the logbook
Directly behind Wordsworth's home, Dove Cottage
Built in 1926 Howthwaite is a good unaltered example of the solid houses put up by those cultivated, well-to-do people who were attracted to the Lake District. The house stands directly behind Wordsworth's home, Dove Cottage, where Wordsworth would sit and compose his poems. In the 1870s the Howthwaite site, then known as 'the Copse', was bought by Manchester Corporation and was touched by one of the great early conservation rows that led, indirectly, to the founding of the National Trust.
Manchester needed a new water supply and in 1878 the Corporation announced their plan to dam up Thirlmere, raising it by several feet and inundating or enclosing a large area of common land. The project, known as the Thirlmere Development, caused an uproar. The Thirlmere Defence Association was formed, but when the Bill for Thirlmere went before the Parliamentary Select Committee the Defence Association proved ineffective and the Committee found in favour of Manchester Corporation.
The reservoir was built and the 'Rock of Names' where William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge and Sarah and Mary Hutchinson had carved their names when they met for a picnic was dynamited.
'The Rock of Names has lost its guardian right, Where poets tryst they meet no more' wrote Hardwicke Rawnsley, the leading conservationist in the Lake District. To make matters worse the banks of the reservoir were planted with rows of Norwegian spruce. Octavia Hill had been involved in the battle of Thirlmere and its failure was one of the events that led her, Hardwicke Rawnsley and Robert Hunter to found the National Trust in 1895.
The only direct effect all this had upon the Howthwaite site was that it was not built upon for 30 years.
In 1906 the Howthwaite site was sold to the Bishop of Barrow-in-Furness who, with his wife, Mrs Ware, owned Howe Foot, the house on the south side of the road. When Mrs Ware died in 1911, Howe Foot and the Howthwaite site, still known as 'the Copse' were inherited by Mrs Ware's sister, Mrs William Spooner, wife of the Warden of New College, famous for his Spoonerisms. They spent holidays there.
In 1925 Miss Jessie McDougall of the well-known flour milling family, bought the site from Mrs Spooner and the house known today as Howthwaite was built soon afterwards.
Howthwaite has several features typical of the Lake District. The walls have a 'dry' finish, with no pointing visible. The roof is of the local green slates. The lintels over the windows are masked by these slates, too. Originally this was to protect the lintel, which would have been oak, from the weather.
The chimneys are round, a not uncommon feature in the South of Cumbria. The ground floor rooms had a textured plaster finish, as they have now and were painted white, as was the outside woodwork.
The name of the architect, if there was one, is not known. It could well be that it is a house built from a pattern book, with modifications by the builders and Miss McDougall.
The dining-room was the middle room of the three main ground floor rooms - the kitchen was the room next to it on the far side, the drawing room was where it is now. The cook's bedroom was the smallest one, now a bathroom. She was the only live-in servant. Mrs Dawes, the house parlour-maid lived in the village and came in daily.
In the kitchen there was a big cast iron Herald range. It burnt several buckets of coal every day and all the coal had to be carried down the steep path. Mrs Dawes told us that the coalmen were given handsome tips every Christmas to compensate them for their heavy work. During the Second World War the Herald was replaced by an Esse cooker. The cook baked all the bread used in the house.
Miss McDougall was much liked in the neighbourhood. We have no photograph of her but she was tall with wavy white hair. She often had tea parties and would have friends staying for weeks at a time. She loved the garden and spent a lot of time gardening.
In 1948 Miss McDougall died and then in 1949 the house was sold to Mr and Mrs Dixon, the retired headmaster of Feathstonehaugh School, at Haltwhistle in Northumberland. They removed the Esse cooker and put in a smaller stove. In 1963 they sold it to Mr Kenneth Sykes. Mr. Sykes built the garages above the house, turned the kitchen into a dining room and extended what was Miss McDougall's pantry to the north to make a kitchen. He had the exterior woodwork painted blue.
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