The Lingholm Estate, on the western shore of Derwentwater, has been part of Keswick life since the late 1800’s.
Centred on a grand Victorian mansion, the Estate has a rich history and has long intrigued visitors who get brief, tantalising glimpses of the chimneys of Lingholm house from the lake and the Catbells path.
Set amongst the dramatic fells, with the lake acting as a mirror to the splendour of its surroundings, Lingholm is a magical place with a beauty and tranquillity that has over the years inspired many visitors.
Following a 20-year period of being closed to the public, part of the Estate has now been reopened with a new café set next to a restored walled garden, and a footpath running through the grounds connecting with the Keswick Launch.
Lingholm was built by Alfred Waterhouse (1830-1905), one of the Victorian period’s most prominent and prolific architects.
Waterhouse went on to build many notable public buildings and private houses, including the Natural History Museum in Kensington, and Manchester Town Hall, his style was described as “modern” Gothic.
Lingholm was built at a cost of £15,700 in the Gothic Revival style between 1870 and 1873 as a country retreat for Lt Col. James Fenton Greenall (1834-1899) and was named after the Lingholm islands on the lake, which are still part of the Estate today.
(The word Lingholm derives from old Nordic and literally translates to heather ground)
The crest of Lt Col Greenall can still be seen on a decorative stone placed on the outside of Lingholm, and on the elaborate dining room ceiling.
Lingholm taken by Rupert Potter circa 1885
There was an octagonal walled kitchen garden to the north of the house, sometime after the First World War the garden was demolished and replaced with a much larger kitchen garden.
Beatrix Potter made sketches of the old kitchen garden and referred to it as her original inspiration for Mr McGregor’s garden in The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
The octagonal shape of the old walled garden can still be seen on an aerial photograph of the Estate taken in 1946.
As the fourth generation in the family business Col. Kemp would have been a wealthy man, at the time he acquired Lingholm he was Liberal Unionist MP for Heywood and he had played first class cricket for Lancashire being an accomplished batsman.
During the early years of his ownership the house was extensively remodelled, most notably by the construction of the Stone Room, a huge hall built in 1907, the room was specifically built to hang two large tapestries and has as its centrepiece a magnificent Italian stone fireplace that dates back to the early 1400’s.
It was known as the Stone Room on account of the dressed Borrowdale green slate that was used to line the internal walls above the carved oak panelling.
The first Lord Rochdale was a knowledgeable antiques collector and added many features to the inside of Lingholm that are much older than the house itself.
Among the most notable is a particularly fine carved oak fireplace and panelling from James the First’s house in Southampton that dates to 1605 and is located in the main dining room, gilded and embossed leather wall covering in the main entrance hall that dates back to 1710, and stained glass windows that used to be in York Minster in the Stone Room.
In the early 1900’s, the neatly tended but plain Victorian gardens were terraced on the lake side, ornamental gardens were created leading away from the house towards the south and a significant water garden, designed by renowned garden designer Bertram Symons Jeune, was created to the north of the Estate.
Although there had been Rhododendrons at Lingholm since the house was built, these were mainly the more common R.Ponticum, many special hybrids were brought to Lingholm by the First Lord Rochdale from Muncaster Castle in the 1920’s.
Lord Rochdale also added huge tracts of land and farms to the Estate in the early 1900’s with the Estate taking in a long stretch of the western shore of the Lake, Swinside hill, and land in the Newlands Valley, parts of Underskiddaw and Derwent Bog at the end of Bassenthwaite.
The Estate also stretched across to the eastern side of the lake including Barrow House and Ashness reaching up to Watendlath. The Estate was a large employer in the area with the usual household staff, many forestry workers and gardeners, and up to 6 gamekeepers who ran the regular shoots.
During the First World War, with Lord Rochdale away commanding his regiment ,Lingholm was given over by the family to the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD’s) for use as a Military convalescent home for officers, with remarkably no deaths recorded.
A certificate of thanks was presented by the army to acknowledge the role of the house in the war effort.
Before and after the first world war Lingholm was a country retreat and hosted many weekend guests who came for the hunting, Lord Rochdale had significant homes in both London and Rochdale and did not move to Lingholm as his main home until later in life.
The period up to the Second World War was the heyday of the shoot with thousands of pheasants reared each year. In the mid 1920’s a young scot called David Imrie came to Lingholm as a gamekeeper from his home in Aberdeenshire.
David was a self-taught writer of both poetry and a longstanding column in The Shooting Times, one of his poems, ‘The Swinside Jerry’, is displayed around the walls of the nearby Swinside Inn.
The outbreak of the war saw the end of the shoot and the weekend gatherings and Lingholm would, for a time, become a quieter place. Much of the gardens were made over to fruit and vegetable production and many trees were felled as part of the war effort.
During the Second World War Lingholm was used for a short time as a boarding school for children evacuated from the North East. There is little recorded information about this, but we received a letter in 2015 from a lady called Dawn Evans that gives a glimpse of those days, the following is an extract from the letter:
Upon the death of his father, John Durival Kemp (1906-1993) took on the title of Lord Rochdale and also became chairman of the family company.
As had been the case with his father, the second Lord Rochdale had known Lingholm as a weekend and holiday home, travelling north every weekend either in his Bentley or in his light aircraft.
He wrote in later life that he had always been enchanted by Lingholm as a youngster and in the late 1940’s he and his wife Elinor had moved to Lingholm as their permanent home.
In the immediate aftermath of the war the gardens and woods had understandably been neglected and with the end of the way of life in the “big” house before the war and the end of the shooting parties, the estate needed to find a new purpose.
Before the war the house would have had as many as 12 staff, this was reduced in the early years of the second Lord Rochdale to a secretary, a cook/housekeeper, a chauffeur/handyman and 2 or 3 part-time staff. The estate still covered over 1,000 acres and many tenanted farms, although this would greatly reduce in the years that followed as both land and farms were sold off.
Around this time, as the demand for staff accommodation declined, some of the attic accommodation and cottages that used to house staff were made over to holiday letting properties. Nevertheless, the Estate still covered around 400 acres of woodland and a thriving forestry department was established that supplied logs, timber and Christmas trees, and this was one of the mainstays of the Estate for the next 40 years.
In 1963, Lord and Lady Rochdale’s daughter Bryony died after a horse-riding accident on the Estate and a memorial garden in her memory formed part of the public gardens and this is still in existence today.
Under the direction of Head Gardener Sidney Harrison, who arrived at Lingholm in 1950, and then subsequently Mike Swift in the 1980’s, Lingholm gardens became famous for its woodland walk and the nationally important collection of Rhododendron and Azalea.
The gardens were by then attracting over 20,000 visitors a year.
In the same manner as his father, Lord Rochdale was a busy man with many interests. In addition to running the family company, he was active in the House of Lords, was chairman of the British Cotton Board, had a spell as chairman of Harland and Wolfe shipbuilders in Belfast, was on several government quangos connected with Industry and shipping, and was a governor of the BBC.
He was known for his extreme patience and the ability to step back and give an expert summary of a situation, his devotion to public service was recognised in the New Year’s Honours list of 1960 when Prime Minister Harold Macmillan appointed him a Viscount.
As mentioned, he was also a pilot and kept his own bi plane in a purpose built hanger on Estate land, regularly flying from Manchester and London to Lingholm, and even as far afield as Switzerland.
In the early 1950’s, a major change to the house was made when most of the South wing, together with the Porte Cochere entrance, was demolished as a cost saving exercise.
The Porte Cochere had been built sometime in the early 1900’s, replacing the original Waterhouse entrance (the styling of the original entrance was very much a Waterhouse trademark).
Lady Rochdale was very involved with local matters and took an active interest in the running of the gardens and the tea room, however her lasting legacy is the Calvert Trust for the disabled, now of course well-established and of national renown, she was a founder member of the trust.
(The connection with the Calvert Trust continues today as once a year the Stone Room is given over to a fundraising event).
Lingholm also achieved recognition in the horticultural world in the 1980’s with the naming of the Lingholm Poppy (Meconopsis Lingholm), a livid blue poppy recognised by then head gardener Mike Swift as a new strain that he discovered was fertile whereas all other known blue poppies had previously been sterile.
A first day cover issued in 1981 celebrating Lingholm Gardens
The original strain of the Lingholm Poppy was brought back to Lingholm in 2014 by Mike Swift, who had kept them growing at his new home on the Isle of Mull after he left Lingholm and kindly re-introduced them for us.
Mike’s son Ken Swift, who was born on the Estate, is now head gardener at Lingholm and gets a regular visit from his father to offer advice and help in our efforts to re-establish the gardens.
Above: Mike & Ken Swift sat on the same tractor his father used with the latest Swift arrival, young Finlay.
Viscount Rochdale died peacefully at Lingholm in 1993 and was succeeded by his son St.John Durival Kemp, the Third Lord Rochdale, who already lived on the Estate at Rosetrees with his wife Elizabeth, Lady Rochdale.
St. John had worked on the farming and land management side of the Estate for some years and would have been very familiar with its workings when he inherited the Estate and moved to the big house.
Although the gardens and tea rooms remained open for another year or so, with rising wages and a limited income from the visitors, they were closed along with the forestry department and a scaling down of the maintenance department in the mid 1990’s.
With that the Estate returned to a private home, which it remained (with the exception of the holiday lets, which continued) for the next 20 plus years, until the main house and the immediate Estate area surrounding the house was sold in 2013.
Lingholm, and the immediate 40 acres surrounding the main house, was purchased in September 2013 by the Seymour family.
With the main house and other properties in need of restoring, together with the overgrown grounds, an intensive programme of building works and landscaping has been carried out over the last 3 and a half years.
Our vision, as well as creating a wonderful family home, was to carefully expand the holiday let business, offer a limited number of weddings each year and re-open the café, all without spoiling the tranquil feel of this magical corner of the Lake District.
There is now a stunning new cafe building; The Lingholm Kitchen, which looks down onto a newly constructed walled garden (on the site of the old one), a gift shop, art gallery and a growing artisan bread bakery.
Before and After – The old Tea Rooms and the new cafe today
(Before) The site of the old kitchen gardens as work begins (After) The new walled garden
The original entrance doors to the house now in use on the walled garden
Inside the walled garden growing vegetables for the kitchen
We would like to thank the following people for their help in putting together this information:
• Marjorie Dymock, Private Secretary to Viscount Rochdale and latterly Viscountess
Rochdale from 1963 to 1997, author of “Lingholm – Its Story and Memories “ published in
2015 and available from the Lingholm café shop and here at the museum.
• Mike Swift, Head gardener 1980 to 1994.
•Angela Harrison, daughter of Sidney Harrison, Head Gardener up to 1980.
• Irene Dover daughter of Joe Grave, maintenance Foreman.
• Ben Henderson from the Swinside Inn for loaning ‘The Swinside Jerry’ poem.
• Lord and Lady Rochdale for passing on such a wealth of history.