May 2017 lecture by Kelly Spronston- Heath (National Trust)

 

Kelly Spronston-Heath spoke about the history of Fell Foot and the National Trust’s future plans for the estate. Kelly described the history through the various families that owned or rented the estate.

In the 15th century the land was owned by the Canons of Cartmel Priory. Following the reformation the land passed to the Duchy of Lancaster in 1567. By the seventeenth century Fell Foot was a productive and prosperous farm; in 1713 the land was valued at £615. In 1784 the Robinson family, yeoman farmers, sold the land and house to Jeremiah Dixon, a merchant from Leeds, as his family’s second home. At the time there was probably a modest farmhouse on the site. With his wife, Mary, Jeremiah expanded the house that was then described as a substantial villa with pleasure ground and lawns sweeping down to the lake. Mary contributed to the local community, establishing a Sunday School for 12 local children and a number of heath related schemes. The next owner was Francis Duckinfield Astley a businessman from Manchester who purchased the estate in 1813. Up until this time the road to Ulverston passed through the estate, crossing two fords but in 1813 it was moved to the current line when a bridge was built. On Mr Duckinfield Astley’ death the land, house and contents were put up for sale and many of the contents ended up in houses around Windermere. The estate didn’t sell and was eventually rented out but in 1851 Francis Duckinfield-Astley Jr moved back with his family

 

The next owner, Col John George Palmer Ridehalgh bought the estate in 1859. He and his wife extended the house further and added a gas house with gas lighting throughout the house, an entertaining area and additional boathouses. Col Ridehalgh had two steam yachts, the largest 60’ long could carry 122 passengers, and various yachts and rowing boats. The grounds were landscaped and an arboretum created. The family was immersed in the local community. He was a JP, a founder member of the Windermere Yacht Club and a Col in the Border Regiment. He also maintained a large pack of hounds that he transported to sites around the lake in one of his steam yachts. (Ms Spronston-Heath circulated some fascinating photographs of the interior of the house and the steam yachts from this period). The trust has some artifacts from the Ridehalgh period of occupancy and a quilt which was made for Mrs Ridhalgh is in the Textile and Quilt museum in York and has been taken on a world exhibition tour.

In 1907 Oswald Hedley purchased the house and estate. Mrs Hedley didn’t like the house and so Oswald demolished it planning to replace it with a Jacobean style building. The foundations for the new house were dug but Mrs Headley died suddenly and Oswald abandoned the project and the estate and moved to the north of Windermere. In 1948 Oswald’s third wife, who survived him, gave the land to the National Trust. The Trust leased it, for 21 years, to a Mr Rhodes as a camping and caravanning ground. In 1969 the Trust took the estate back under it’s management as what might be best called a country park; there were also a number of chalets which could be rented.

The National Trust is now planning a major restoration and development of the estate. The gas house and boathouses, which are of architectural interest, are to be restored. A watersports centre will be developed around the boathouses. The arboretum will be restored with further planting, new gardens and footpaths added. Catering facilities will be developed on higher ground to avoid the risk of flooding, Overall access will be improved and better links to public transport developed. Interpretational material will allow visitors to engage with the history of the estate. Ms Spronston-Heath finished by encouraging people to become volunteers at the site, particularly in bringing together stories about the history of the estate.

Mike Hornung

 

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