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history of windermere & bowness...

There are 14 islands in the lake, the largest of which is Belle Isle (formerly known as Longholme). In 1250 it was the seat of the Lord of the Manor and a Royalist stronghold during the Civil War. In 1774 an unusual circular house was erected on the island, which was sold (along with the island) to the wealthy Curwen family who renamed the island after their daughter, Isabella.

The lake has long been used as a highway for the transport of stone, minerals, charcoal and woollen cloth. A ferry service has operated across the narrowest point of the lake (Bowness to Ferry House on the western shore) since the 15th century. The earliest craft were large rowing boats that carried people and animals, with passengers expected to help with the rowing. In 1870 the first ferry to run on underwater cables was introduced; a 20 minute service now provided by the modern Mallard ferry.


Windermere, originally a small hamlet called Birthwaite, came to prominence with the completion of the railway link from Kendal. The railway terminated at Windermere to avoid the steep descent to the lakeside at Bowness and proved to be highly lucrative, bringing in 120,000 visitors in its first year, mainly from the industrial towns of Lancashire and Yorkshire. Horse-drawn carriages were laid on to ferry passengers to and from the station to the lakeside, whilst hotel-based charabancs took guests on local sightseeing excursions.

Up to the 19th century, Bowness-on-Windermere was a fishing village. With the extension of the railway to Windermere and regular influxes of Victorian visitors, the commercial opportunities were soon realised. A rash of hotels, villas and boarding houses rapidly sprang up to accommodate the tourists, all vying for a view of the lake. In 1869 the Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway was built and linked to ferry services from Lakeside, cementing Bowness's position as a fashionable daytripping resort.

By the 19th century, wealthy businessmen from the urban areas began to regard the Lakes as a haven of scenic tranquility, acquiring grand country retreats. Belsfield (now a hotel) was bought by the iron magnate, Henry William Schneider, in 1869 as a commuter home (he built a jetty at the bottom of the garden so he could sail to Lakeside in his steamboat, Esperance). Storrs Hall was acquired by John Bolton in 1806 on proceeds from the slave trade. Brockhole, built in the late 1880s by Henry Gaddum, a wealthy silk merchant from Manchester, became a convalescent home before opening as the National Park Visitor Centre in 1969. And lastly, Blackwell, an architectural gem from the Arts and Crafts era, was commissioned by Sir Edward Holt, a wealthy brewer from Manchester.

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