Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Bridge House (Why build a house over a river?)


Photograph of Bridge House by Rob Bendall.

If you happen to be passing through Ambleside this summer, you might like to check out this fascinating property built over the Stock Ghyll watercourse.  It is located located on Rydal Road (A591) to the north of the town, just as you are leaving for Grasmere and Keswick.

It was built in the 17th century by the Braithwaite family who were  influential in the Ambleside area at that time. The obvious question you may be wondering is why build a house over a river? It seems a rather difficult feat of engineering for the time and must have presented the architect and builders with numerous issues! The  National Trust, who now own the property, tell us that it was originally used by the family to access their lands on the other side of Stock Ghyll and also to store apples from their orchard.  This doesn't really explain why it was necessary for them to build a house of a river though!  

Things start to make a little more sense in light of certain allegations often made in relation to this property. That is, by building the house on a bridge over a watercourse, the owners could avoid paying land tax.  As such, Bridge House could be a 17th century form of tax avoidance, an issue which seems to have been as relevant then as it is today!  

The property also has a rich history having since been used as a counting house for the mills of Rattle Ghyll, a coblers, and a chair makers. The property was bought and restored in the 1920's by local people, one of whom was William Heelis better known as the husband of Beatrix Potter.  The property then passsed into the ownership of the National Trust who currently use it as an information centre.  

Bridge House has also featured in many paintings by artists such as Turner and Lewis Pinhorn Wood. The paining below was done by the latter in 1918 when the property was used as a cobblers.


View of the Cobbler's shop on the bridge by Lewis Pinhorn Wood.

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