What makes historic houses in the Lake District special ?

What makes my job special, is the unravelling of a property’s past.  Considering what all those years ago (150, 200 or even 250 years) was carefully planned and designed ( with many years of development ) to make a cottage,farm or larger house fit into its landscape and be able to live with its location and the climate for all those years.

Much has changed in the use of our older cottage properties originally self contained living accommodation closely linked into , and designed to accommodate the animals which are the life blood of the then means of survival individual small scale farms and/or suppliers to those farmers ie. Smithy’s etc.

The cottages directly linked into and connected with the barns and animal byres the human’s being warmed by the traditional open fire and the animals body heat the living accommodation being wrapped around the animal’s accommodation.

You will notice in the older cottages farmsteads they are rarely built with the living space overlooking the view , much prized in the modern day use, but originally the wide open view of Lakes and Mountains was something to be avoided because of the harsh weather the exposure brought with it, so cottages face inward to other barns/agricultural buildings or the rising surrounding ground  which protect them to an extent from our harsh climate.

Houses were also often built into the slope of the land to protect them from the worst of the weather so these rooms below outside ground level were used for the animals and/or dairy and pantry to keep milk/food cold ( the walls are naturally damp and therefore colder than dry walls, to keep temperatures in the rooms down ( acting by  warm condensing on cold wall surfaces)   and helpful to better preservation of perishable food stuffs, the very nature of these rooms makes them difficult without great care to change into modern dry , warm living space.  

So as a Lakes native for 60 plus years the one thing I can attest to is that the one constant over all my  life and the longer life of the older cottages which has not faltered is the weather, It rains a bit!

So dampness has been the one of the biggest problems to be managed over the years in and around our old cottages and villages.

It is a well known fact that water flows down hill and gathers pace as it flows. As the weather can’t be tamed the locals have over hundreds of years learnt to manage the flow of water down hill by cutting into the natural line of becks and creating steps ( or sunken basins ) in becks below the bank/ ground level through which they flow to slow water flow down and better gather it at the bottom of the slope to take it away from any cottages around its base.

These becks / culverts etc were always managed by local farmers cottage owners and regularly cleared of leaves, tree branches gravel etc brought down from above on the fell by spring floods/ snow melt etc.

Unfortunately if not maintained the becks either block and dam up with tree branches/ leaves etc and/or these step basins which should be around 2’0” deep fill up with gravel brought down in the flow from above creating a perfect ski slope type runway for water which when full and faster flowing (than it should be) over flows its bank and floods the area around it.

I have a case at present where a beck off the fell has this problem and in heavy rain is flooding a small cottage below its level some 20-30 yards away (which had not previously flooded for 20+ years) , the beck is not maintained because it is on the land of a remote owner who lets their house out for holiday letting so a simple lack of attention is causing regular flooding problems to the neighbouring properties.

The issue will be resolved but this highlights how well the original idea works but only if due care and attention is given to the maintenance of the original design for the beck and water flow management.

This same principal applies to cottages themselves, as I have alluded to above many redundant dairies, cow sheds linked into the traditional Lake District former farmsteads have been converted into valuable living space to do this well careful thought is needed to achieve the desired result from builders and consultants conversant with the local methods of construction and sympathetic to the original design features of the house.  

Tim Butler
Tim Butler

Chartered Surveyor, Auctioneer and Valuer, Tim Butler