Sykehouse Cottage

A beautiful C17th Holiday Cottage in the Lake District


George Romney : The Gower Family Portrait

Gower Family George RomneyAbbots Hall in Kendal is a hard working and welcoming museum.  By that I mean it really makes the most of what it has got and attracts good touring exhibitions to grace its top floor.  It has one permanent star artist, George Romney (1734-1802), who was born in Dalton-in-Furness and trained under a portrait painter, Christopher Steele, in Kendal before moving to London. His masterpiece: The Gower Family: The Children of Granville, 2nd Earl Gower, (c 1776-7) is in Abbots Hall.  This huge (203 x235cm) group portrait shows the older half sister, Anne, shaking her tambourine (on the right). The younger children dancing in a circle are his son and daughters from a third marriage.  Yes, that’s a son staring directly at us from behind the middle dancing girl – not “breeched” yet as he is still in a dress. From left to right: Georgina, Susan, Granville and Charlotte Sophia. Romney had recently visited Italy and this work shows his up-to-the-minute interest in classical themes and poses with the dancing “Arcadian” children and antique column behind. Close up, the faces are wonderfully vivid portraits, full of character and life, however Granville’s body and arm don’t match the tilt of his head and the body is curiously unfinished compared to the rest of the family.  I was guessing the children only sat for head portraits and maybe some full body sketches and that the details were added in at leisure.  Was it finished off by an inept apprentice?  Or was the patron impatient? Perhaps this background was considered unimportant? Or was it just a small fidgety boy?

I contacted the very helpful Romney Society and their Research Fellow, Alex Kidson, said that probably Granville was a late addition to the composition; his parents may have originally thought that at three years old he was too young to sit.

In his early 30s, Granville was painted again by another renowned artist, Thomas Lawrence, during his time as British Ambassador to Russia.  This time he stood still.  Thomas Lawrence Granville Gower

If you would like to visit Abbots Hall and need more information, here’s their website.


Print Fest 2013

printfest2013How can you not be exhilarated by fresh, affordable art?

Ulverston’s Printfest is the UK’s artist led printmaking festival, dedicated showing and selling contemporary prints.  You can look around and buy works from more than 40 national and international artists, including Printmaker of the Year, Katherine Jones (left).  Artists will be giving demonstrations and there are printmaking workshops for all the family.  Work will also be exhibited around Ulverston town in the Printfest Trail during April.  The main exhibition will be at the Coronation Hall Sat 4 – Sun 5 May, 10 – 5 Tickets: £4 (Children & Students: free).  Further details from Ulverston’s Coronation Hall  or the PrintFest website.


Swill Basket Making in Broughton

swill1A swill is one of the most pleasing objects one could wish to possess.  It is a thing, complete and contained in itself, needing no explanation or props,  assured and possessed of a simple confidence – being both useful and beautiful.  As Ruskin said: ‘Nothing can be beautiful which is not true’ and a swill basket whispers “true” in a very lovely and understated way.

It is made from thin strips of woven oak and, as such, is light and strong.  The closeness of the weave means that it is suitable for holding even very fine material. On the farm, these versatile baskets could be used for harvesting potatoes yet also for sowing seed. They were also used to carry coal or bobbins and, today, our family uses them as laundry baskets and, when there’s a baby, as a cradle.

The South Lakes was once a great centre for swill basket making. Bulmer’s Directory of Furness and Cartmel of 1910 showed a total of 13 swill-making shops in the area and, in Broughton, the focus of this industry was a cluster of buildings behind Cinder Hill, down by the park.

Today, there is just one man in the country who makes his living out of swill baskets. His name is Owen Jones and he lives at High Nibthwaite close to Coniston Water.  He was taught in 1988 by a retired ‘Swiller’ from Broughton called John Barker.  Owen runs workshops from his house and travels around the country attending fairs where you can see him making swills.  He has no trouble selling everything he makes.  If you would like further information about Owen and his work, click HERE for his own website.

There’s a swill in Sykehouse Cottage.  It is usually left on the stairs windowsill for guests to admire and use – if you’ve got any washing to hang out.  Carry your basket with one hand, the rim resting nicely on your hip bone.


Wallowbarrow Round Walk

Stepping Stones across the DuddonAt Easter, we tramped through the snow around Wallowbarrow.  This is one of our very favourite walks: a beautiful, quiet river and woodland walk along the Duddon in National Trust land.   It can be as long or as short as you want and has the added bonus of starting/ending at the wonderful Newfield Inn.

In the Summer, we often picnic on a river beach and sometimes even take a dip at Watersmeet where the Tarn Beck meets the river Duddon.  But today we were just grateful that someone had been around before us to tamp down the snow – which in places was higher than our wellies!Memorial Bridge

CawWe wandered about for an hour and finished with lunch at the Newfield.  Run by Paul, this c17th inn at Seathwaite has great, hearty food for walkers, a log fire and a fine selection of local beer.  This lunchtime we ate their famous steak pie and Cumberland sausage and sampled Barngates’ Catnap and Cumberland’s Corby Ale.  Click here for their website.


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Donald Campbell : A Very Small Personal Encounter

Donald Campbell

Bill was in the Sun Hotel, Coniston, with his Granny in late December 1966 when he met Donald Campbell who was practising for his final, and unfortunately fatal, water speed record attempt on Coniston Water.

As a very small boy, Bill vividly remembers Campbell surrounded by friends in the hotel’s corridor, bending down to ask him : “Do you like cars?”  Bill said, “No.”  “Do you like boats?” “No.”  “Do you like chocolate?”  “Yes!”  This raised a big laugh from Campbell and his friends, and the man gave him a Mars bar – a huge prize for a small boy with such an unyielding attitude!

Coniston is only 9 miles and 15 minutes drive away from Sykehouse Cottage.  The Ruskin Museum in Yewdale Road has a new wing with many interesting photographs and displays of memorabilia about the Campbell family, the Bluebird and the Record Attempt.

If you want to read my post about the Ruskin Museum, click here.  Alternatively the link to the Museum’s quirky website for opening times and more information is here.