James Dawson had an eye for a view. In 1840, he stood on the spot from which the photo below was taken. and decided to buy it.

(Above: the view…. ‘Okay, I’ll take it’)

His advisors explained that he couldn’t buy all of that, but could have the land down to Lake Windermere, on which he could more or less do what he wanted… planning control were not expected along for the next fifty years-ish, so were unlikely to interfere with his ambitious and imaginative ideas.

He had plans to use it as a retreat from his stressful but lucrative career as a Liverpool surgeon. On top of that, and of great assistance to his plans, his wife, Margaret, was rich … very rich.

He had an eye for the Gothic, as well, and fancied himself as a modern ‘lord of the manor’ – but within a baronial castle. He had a clear picture of how he would feel, ruling over this landscape with his beautiful and very rich wife by his side.

(A coat of arms to match his ambitions … deal done!)

She seemed content for him to indulge his interests on the shores of Windermere. She had much to do within her own social life.

Sadly, his wife didn’t like the place, and refused to live there. She was very rich and had lots of choices.

I think I have recounted everything the man on the boat from Waterhead to Bowness told me. He said it was all true. I suspect some of it is… but have doubts about other parts. He did have a grin when he spoke – like someone who’s just transported into your reality.

(Above: The National Trust bought a very beautiful shore from its uncertain future.. and saved it’s wildness for us)

James Dawson died in 1875, thirteen years after his wife Margaret. Gothic villas like ‘Wray Castle’ were becoming unpopular and were considered ‘vulgar and ostentatious’.

Wray Castle passed to a distant relative, Edward Preston Rawnsley. In 1898, he sold the entire Wray estate which, as an out-of-favour derelict, passed from owner to owner in the face of the money needed to restore it.

(Above: things said on boats…)

But all this was to the eventual benefit of the public. In 1929, the young National Trust bought Wray, not for the ‘folly’ of a house, but for the beautiful stretch of lakeshore that it included.

(Above: Wray also has a jetty for connections to Waterhead (for Ambleside) and Brockholes. Both via the Green Cruise boats from Waterhead)

As parkland, it remained open, continuously. But the ‘baronial castle’ was leased to several unusual tenants including the Freshwater Biological Association (1931-50) and the Merchant Navy (1958-98). Plans to convert the castle into a luxury hotel were halted after the financial crash of 2008.

As a story, you’d be pressed to make it up…

(Above: Ambleside. Visible from the shore)

But, in reality…

(Above: the Fairfield Round – the source of the glacier that carved the northern half of Lake Windermere)

It’s really beautiful.

And the vision that James Dawson had was not only achieved, but sustained and extended by the National Trust.

If you’re in the Lakes, go and see it. Share the remarkable… and the triumph of the unlikely.

From Wikipedia:

Wray Castle is a Victorian neo-gothic building at Claife in the English county of Cumbria. The house and grounds have belonged to the National Trust since 1929, and house has opened to the public on a regular basis since 2013.[1][2] The grounds, which include part of the shoreline of Windermere, are open all year round and are renowned for their selection of specimen trees – Wellingtonia, redwood, Ginkgo biloba, weeping lime and varieties of beech.

©Stephen Tanham 2023

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

4 Comments on “A most unlikely castle…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: