What is the little house in Ambleside for?

Published:
7:13 p.m. July 25, 2022



Ambleside’s iconic Bridge House is to reopen as two heritage groups launch new collaboration

It has to be one of the most photographed small buildings in the world. And even before the invention of the camera, it aroused the interest of artists, inspiring JMW Turner among others.

But since before the pandemic, Little Bridge House in Ambleside has remained closed and closed to visitors. Now that is about to change, with the iconic building set to become both a gift shop and a gateway to one of the Lake District’s most extraordinary cultural collections.

The resurrection of the three-metre square building, one high and one low, due this summer, marks the start of a new collaboration between the National Trust and the Armitt Museum.

The structure and upkeep of the building will remain the responsibility of the National Trust which owns it, but its day-to-day operation will be carried out by Armitt Museum staff and volunteers.

“We are issuing a call to action for local people to come forward to support us,” said Armitt curator and director Faye Morrissey.


Bridge house in Ambleside
– Credit: Milton Haworth

It will be open to the public and sell the usual tourist souvenirs like postcards, fridge magnets and tote bags, but it will also serve as an introduction to the Armitt Collection located just around the corner on Rydal Road.

Standing proudly above Stock Beck in the heart of Ambleside, the small house on the bridge has been used as an apple shop, cobbler and once home to a family of eight.

It was built at the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries by the Braithwaite family who owned Ambleside Hall, replacing an earlier wooden bridge.


England's smallest house Bridge House in Ambleside.  Laura Ruxton of The National Trust Owners

Laura Ruxton of The National Trust owners in the ground floor living room of Bridge House, where a family of eight once lived
– Credit: Milton Haworth

When Ambleside was dominated by weaving mills it served as a counting house. By 1819 it had become a teahouse and by the 1830s the Rigg family, “Chairy” Rigg, so named because they repaired chairs, and his wife raised six children there. The family died out in the 1850s.

In 1858, Harriet Martineau wrote in her popular guide to the English Lake District: “The strange little gray dwelling…is the old house which is considered the most curious relic of Ambleside of old…The view of the hill and the rocky channel of the Stock… is the one that every artist sketches in passing”.

At the turn of the 20th century, it was used by one or two shoemakers. Then in 1927 it was acquired for £225 by a group of local residents, led by members of the Wordsworth, Collingwood and Rawnsley families. A further £470 was raised the following year to repair the building and add a strip of land to the west side of the beck.

They then handed it over to the National Trust, who first opened it to the public in 1956. It closed in 2019 because the National Trust had no one to endow it.

One of the most famous artists to use the structure was German refugee Kurt Schwitters, who arrived in the Lake District at the end of World War II. Impoverished, he sat down on the steps to sell his paintings to passers-by. His defining painting of the original house is now part of The Armitt collection.


England's smallest house Bridge House in Ambleside.  Laura Ruxton of The National Trust Owners

Laura Ruxton of owners The National Trust and Faye Morrissey curator and director of the Armitt Museum in Ambleside
– Credit: Milton Haworth

Tim Cowen, Chairman of The Armitt Board, said: “The Armitt is delighted to help open Bridge House in Ambleside to the public and to partner with the National Trust to develop cultural development.

“Part of The Armitt’s vision is to share the stories and stories of the people and places of the Lake District with as wide an audience as possible. There is no more recognizable building in the lakes than our neighboring iconic “little house on the bridge”, which perfectly matches our aspiration.

The partners intend to work together to celebrate and conserve local culture following the work of their mutual benefactors, including Beatrix Potter. As part of her inheritance, she left her mushroom designs to The Armitt and 30,000 acres of land and 15 farms to the National Trust.

In another cultural collaboration between the organisations, historic agricultural photographs of the Langdales, from the archives of The Armitt, have been exhibited at the National Trust’s Sticklebarn, with plans to extend the display further over the course of the year. been on a three-year agricultural program.

Another planned collaboration is the Roman fort at Ambleside, Galava, which was partly excavated by John Ruskin’s secretary, WG Collingwood.

Laura Ruxton, Chief Executive of National Trust Central & East Lakes, said: “Working in partnership with The Armitt, we hope to share more of the Lake District’s fascinating history with everyone, and preserve and conserve buildings like Bridge House. for the future. .

“Bridge House has always held a special place in people’s hearts and we would like the local community to get involved and join us in making this partnership a success so that we can better tell the stories of the places that matter to us. .”

The National Trust and The Armitt are calling on members of the local community, as well as visitors interested in celebrating and preserving the cultural history of the Lake District, to get involved in the Bridge House reopening project, through volunteering , research and fundraising. If interested, email [email protected] or call 015394 31212.

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