NOSTALGIA: A station where visitors could stop and take in stunning views

The Westmorland Gazette: A print showing the Claife Station taken from the 1821 book A Picturesque Tour of the English Lakes by TH Fielding and J Walton A print showing the Claife Station taken from the 1821 book A Picturesque Tour of the English Lakes by TH Fielding and J Walton

The appearance of Claife Station on maps and signposts along the western Windermere shorelines pathways baffles many visitors unfamiliar to these wooded slopes.

In many ways, Claife Station could be seen as representing the start of tourism in the Lake District thanks to Thomas West’s ‘Guide to the Lakes’, first published in 1778.

To soften the impact of encountering such awesome landscapes, tourists were advised by West and other guidebook writers to view the scenes with the aid of a landscape mirror or Claude Glass.

The ideal glass would be four to five inches in diameter, with a convex mirror with a black foil for bright days and a silver foil for dark or cloudy days.

Viewers turned their back on the landscape before them and the mirror offered them a reduced image of the precipitous scenes that might otherwise cause them to swoon. For those who demanded the latest technology, small coloured filters could be fitted over the mirror to enhance the romance.

In 1797 Thomas West’s viewing station was conceived as being an admirable place for a summer house and, soon after completion, was bought by John Christian Curwen of Belle Isle.

Presumably at Curwen’s bidding the original summer house was modified and enclosed within a rectangular castallated building, which was pushed out at the front to incorporate a large square bay window.

The curtain wall at the rear of the station was extended to contain additional outbuildings.

At the same time a small cottage was erected below, close to the ferry road, which was used as a caretaker’s cottage.

William Wordsworth, giving directions to Henry Crabb Robinson in 1816, wrote ‘put yourself under the guidance of an old woman, who will come out to meet you if you ring or call for her at a fantastic sort of gateway an appurtenance to a pleasure house called the Station’.

In the very early part of the 19th century the Station appears to have been a chief attraction of any holiday in Windermere.

Robert Southey visited in 1802 and the station attracted other famous visitors during the 1830s and 1840s, when it appears to have been regularly used for dinner dances held by the Curwen family.

Jonathon Otley described the effect of the coloured glasses most famously in 1837, noting the way the landscape would be affected by the coloured glass, as in different seasons.

By the end the 19th century the Station had largely fallen from the popular imagination.

It was acquired by the National Trust in 1962 and was Grade two listed in 1970. By the end of this year the property will once again be open for visitors.

The National Trust would love to see any photographs of the Station which were taken before 1985. Contact tom.slater@nationaltrust.org.uk or on 015394 35599.

Comments (1)

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10:04pm Sat 12 Apr 14

Milkbutnosugarplease says...

The difference between the picture and now is the growth of trees, which block the views this station used to provide. Since coppicing, charcoal burning and firewood cutting have largely finished, trees have grown unhindered except when they border a road. That's good for wildlife but not so good for open views of the lakes and lower fells. A viewing terrace has been restored at High Close Youth Hostel near Ambleside but the view is filled by tall conifers planted by Victorians who also built the terrace.
The difference between the picture and now is the growth of trees, which block the views this station used to provide. Since coppicing, charcoal burning and firewood cutting have largely finished, trees have grown unhindered except when they border a road. That's good for wildlife but not so good for open views of the lakes and lower fells. A viewing terrace has been restored at High Close Youth Hostel near Ambleside but the view is filled by tall conifers planted by Victorians who also built the terrace. Milkbutnosugarplease
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