‘A temple of abomination’. That was William Wordsworth’s view of the large house that was being built directly across the lake from Dove Cottage in Grasmere, where he was living at the time. Ironically, he ended up living there with his wife, children and his sister, Mary, between 1808 and 1811.
Allan Bank is a grand Georgian villa, originally built for John Gregory Crump, a Liverpool attorney and merchant, between 1805 and 1806, with fantastic views over the lake and fells from the house and its grounds. But its chimneys were inadequate, leading to its rooms filling with smoke, and it suffered from damp. So the Wordsworth’s didn’t stay there for long.
It passed through the hands of various owners, eventually being bought in1915 by Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, one of the founders of the National Trust, and he left it to them when he died in 1920. They let it out to local tenants, but in March 2011 a serious fire damaged a large part of the house.
The Trust carried out major repairs and restoration work, and opened the house to the public in Spring of 2012. That was quite a quick turnaround but the reason was that they haven’t attempted to turn it into your usual type of NT property – they haven’t attempted to turn it into a museum piece, recreating Wordsworth’s home. Instead you walk into a shell of a house, undecorated and relatively bare.
They want visitors to help them to decide what to do with it. In the meantime each of the rooms has been given a theme for different activities. There’s a room for reading, for writing (Wordsworth’s former study),
for painting and a children’s play room. You can sit in an easy chair and admire the view
or do some birdwatching (binoculars and bird spotting books available). You can go and brew yourself a cup of tea or coffee in the kitchen for free (although donations welcome!) – or buy yourself a cake, snack or other type of beverage – and consume them anywhere in the house. The small building next to the house, which looks like a chapel, used to be a billiards room and now visitors can play various games, including badminton.
I think this is a fantastic idea. The house is a facility for visitors, old and young, rather than a stuffy museum piece where you have to watch what you touch and mind your p’s and q’s. We didn’t even have to take our boots off!
The house is set in extensive grounds and there’s a pleasant walk with good views over the fells. The trail through the ground goes through a “viewing tunnel”.
And volunteers have started to restore the kitchen gardens.
As the Trust decorate and restore the house I hope they keep it as a resource for visitors. They could, possibly create a small exhibition about Wordsworth, his life and work, but I hope they continue to focus on encouraging and facilitating creative activities as well as keeping it as a place for visitors to enjoy nature and the natural environment. After all, that was what Wordsworth used to do!