Details - Nanny Brow



Details - Nanny Brow
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The lounge at Nanny
Brow has been
furnished with a
mixture of Arts
and Crafts furniture
and pieces from
other periods
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Sue and Peter Robinson have breathed new life
into a unique Arts and Crafts house near
Ambleside. Michaela Robinson-Tate finds out how
they’ve put their own spin on the décor
Photography by Phil Rigby
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The façade is typically Arts
and Crafts in style
anny Brow, an imposing Lake
District house with a wealth of
original Arts and Crafts features, was
shut up for several years, with many
of its architectural treasures papered over or
obscured by layers of paint and varnish.
Its owners Sue and Peter Robinson have
changed all that. After buying the house three
years ago they undertook a complete
refurbishment last year.
Over a few months, they stripped the house
back to a shell, removed partition walls and
discovered three fireplaces which had been
papered over. Paint was painstakingly removed
from delicate plaster friezes to reveal their full
beauty and wood panelling was cleaned so that
its lustre could shine through.
Sue and Peter are now running Nanny
Brow, at Clappersgate near Ambleside, as
luxury B&B accommodation. The
refurbishment reduced the number of rooms
from 10 to eight but Sue says that, despite the
potential impact on their income, it was the
right decision.
“Sometimes you’ve got to go with your
feelings; it’s just lovely having it back as
it was.”
The Arts and Crafts movement, which
flourished in the late 19th and early 20th
century, was a reaction against increasing
mechanisation and incorporated simplicity of
design, beauty and craftsmanship.
There are a number of Arts and Crafts
106 C U M B R I A L I F E
May 2012
properties in the Lake District, including
Blackwell near Bowness-on-Windermere,
which has been restored and opened to the
However, Nanny Brow has remained
relatively unknown and has not been made a
listed building.
Sue says: “It’s a hidden gem; it’s the house
that time’s forgotten.”
The house was built in 1904 by the
distinguished architect Francis Whitwell, as a
family home, after he had decided to set up his
own practice in Ambleside.
Built on a crag on the steep fellside of
Loughrigg, the Arts and Crafts features begin
on the house’s exterior, where the initials FW,
for Francis Whitwell and DW, for his wife
Daphne, are found on two gable ends.
The house’s elevated position gives it a
breathtaking view of the River Brathay
snaking through the countryside, the hills
behind Tarn Hows, Wrynose Pass and the
Whitwell sold the building in the Forties,
after first giving about 100 acres of land to the
National Trust, and it was then run as a hotel
until about 2002. Today Nanny Brow has
about seven acres of its own land.
The front door, with leaded glass panels,
still appears as Whitwell first designed it. The
airy entrance hall has the original wooden
flooring, incorporating an unusual border
around the walls.
Sue Robinson, who chose all the fittings and fixtures
for Nanny Brow; below: work to restore a rare animalthemed frieze in the lounge has been so successful
that even the tips of the snails’ antennae can be seen
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Original lead windows frame the views from
the house; below: a missing fireplace in the
dining room has been replaced with a
period example by Shapland and Petter
The guests’ lounge has been the site of a number of
discoveries for Sue and Peter and their contractors.
There is a triple plaster frieze running around the top
of the room. Two of the friezes are of typical Arts and
Crafts motifs of flowers and fruit. The third frieze,
however, is much rarer and features animals including
rabbits, snails, frogs and birds, all in intricate detail.
Even the tiny tips of the snails’ antennae can be
clearly seen.
ue has spoken to Arts and Crafts specialists
who have speculated that the animals were
incorporated because of the presence of Francis
and Daphne’s children in the house.
Similar plasterwork at the bottom of the stairs, which
depicts a baby bird through different stages until it’s fully
grown, might also have been designed to appeal to the
The plasterwork in the lounge has been the focus of
meticulous restoration work. Sue and Peter’s foreman
spent an entire weekend patiently chipping away with a
pallet knife to remove Artex which had been applied
around the delicate designs.
A poultice-type preparation was then applied to the
plaster and left for several days. When it was peeled off,
it removed layers of paint, revealing the detail of the
flowers, fruit and animals beneath.
They did a test first to ensure that it wouldn’t damage
the plaster.
Sue says: “That was what we had to do; when you’ve
got the room stripped back to its bare bones it’s the only
time you can do that.”
The plasterwork continues from the frieze down the ➨
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chimney breast, and the original stone fireplace
has two Elterwater slate borders. The original
picture rails, which are in sections rather than
one continuous length, are still in place.
The oak panelling and the window frames
were so dark from years of accumulated dirt
and varnish that Sue and Peter thought they
were mahogany. After specialist cleaning the
rich oak wood was revealed.
Sue and Peter have incorporated as many
environmentally friendly features as possible
at Nanny Brow, including black-out thermal
blinds for the single-glazed windows which
work to keep the heat in.
A number of windows in the house feature
stained glass details. A stained glass panel of a
child’s face is in one of the lounge windows
and there are rumours that it was a child who
was killed nearby.
The original wooden floor in the entrance hall has an unusual border;
below: geometric patterned wallpaper in the Skelwith room ties in with the Arts and Crafts style
owever, Sue believes the truth is less
dramatic and that it was probably
sourced from the Continent, along
with stained glass panels elsewhere
in the house which have been identified as
“I think he [Whitwell] probably picked up
glass on his travels and incorporated it into the
house, which is the sort of thing people do
when you’re building your own house.”
Sue has furnished the lounge with a number
of Arts and Crafts pieces but has incorporated
other styles of furniture, along with gold wall
covering and floral curtains.
After speaking to experts at Blackwell and a
specialist furniture supplier, Sue realised that
this approach is in keeping with how the house
would have been furnished originally.
“Even when it was built, this house
wouldn’t have been filled with purely Arts and
Crafts furniture because any home is a ➨
May 2012 CUMBRIA LIFE 109
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Clockwise from above: the Whitwell Suite; detail from an Oriental-style tile in the Brathay Suite;
the Skelwith room with Delft tiles on the fireplace uncovered during renovation; French antique pieces
in one of the bedrooms; the initials of Daphne, the architect Francis Whitwell’s wife, on the façade
collection of furniture you’ve gathered over the
years or you’ve inherited, or you’ve been on
holiday and seen something and bought it.
“It’s an eclectic combination and that’s
what we’ve tried to do here.”
The dining room features further original
plasterwork. Sue and Peter have bought Arts
and Crafts dressers and chairs which sit
alongside contemporary tables. A missing
fireplace has been replaced with a period
example by the makers Shapland and Petter.
pstairs Sue has forgone classic Arts
and Crafts bedroom furnishings,
which she says she finds quite stark,
in favour of French antique furniture
including armoires and large empire beds.
Each room has an en-suite bathroom and a
flatscreen digital TV and radio.
Whitwell built an extension to the house in
1915 where he had his own bedroom. That
room has now been turned into the Whitwell
Suite, with a wealth of period features,
including a plaster frieze of a grapevine,
original fitted wardrobes complete with their
brass door knobs, a fireplace with decorative
tiles and an oriel bay window.
Sue wanted to remember Whitwell in the
décor, without making it too dark and
masculine, and so has used a fresh green
colour scheme.
During the refurbishment, the room now
‘I like the simplicity,
I like the straight lines;
the workmanship’
known as Skelwith contained one of the
building’s biggest surprises. As they were
working, Sue and Peter uncovered a concealed
fireplace with all of its original Delft blue and
white tiles undamaged and still in place.
“My husband and I started to strip off the
wallpaper and saw a flash of blue and stripped
away,” she says. “We thought we might find
one or two tiles.”
They had the missing fireplace surround
made to match one from another bedroom.
To finish off the room, Sue used contemporary
geometric wallpaper, which she feels fits in well
with Arts and Crafts styling.
There was another concealed fireplace, this
time with Oriental-style tiles, in the Brathay
Sue and Peter own another holiday
accommodation business in the Cotswolds
which includes an Arts and Crafts B&B.
However, their passion for the architectural
style dates back even earlier to when they were
having a property built on the south coast.
Although it was a modern building, it had Arts
and Crafts characteristics.
Sue says it was then “love at first sight”
when they found Nanny Brow.
They have been able to research more about
the building because a neighbour in the
Cotswolds turned out to be Francis Whitwell’s
granddaughter. She has lent Sue and Peter some
old family albums and framed copies of
photographs of the Whitwells at Nanny Brow
are on display in the house.
Their manager, Mark Jones, first worked
at Nanny Brow 10 years ago when it was a
successful hotel and restaurant and has been
fascinated to see period details emerge during
the refurbishment.
Sue, who says they want guests to feel
they are staying in “a nice family home”, is
adamant that they are custodians of Nanny
“We have done it so that future
generations can enjoy this place.”
She and Peter have plans to refurbish a
large modern extension at the rear of Nanny
Brow for holiday accommodation. It will
have a different feel and style to the main
house, says Sue.
In the meantime, although she is completely
immersed in Arts and Crafts design, she still
enjoys it as much as ever.
“I like the simplicity, I like the straight lines;
the workmanship.
“It’s just simple and it goes with anything.” Life
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