architecture, Cumbria, garden, garden history, Summerhouse

The Arbour, Dove Nest, Cumbria

This unassuming little garden arbour has provided shelter for some of the greats of the 19th century – although the name of only one will be widely recognised today. It was built as a retreat in the grounds of a little villa called Dove Nest, which overlooked the great lake of Windermere.

In 1810 Ellen Weeton was employed at Dove Nest as governess to the Pedder family. She described her new surroundings to a friend, writing that a pretty walk led from the house to the flower garden where there was an arbour. Miss Weeton was intrigued by an inscription in pencil recording that ‘Adam Walker was delighted here, June 24th 1807’. Presumably it was the view which had caused such a stir: before the planting on the shores matured the panorama was said to take in almost the whole length of the lake.

Adam Walker (c.1731-1821), author and inventor, is largely forgotten today, and possibly wasn’t known to all even in his lifetime: under the pencilled words Miss Weeton saw a footnote to explain that he was the ‘celebrated experimental philosopher’.

Adam Walker and his family by George Romney oil on canvas, 1796-1801 53 1/4 in. x 65 1/4 in. (1352 mm x 1657 mm) Bequeathed by the sitter’s granddaughter, Miss Ellen Elizabeth Gibson, 1897 Primary Collection NPG 1106. Creative Commons.

Two decades later another visitor to Dove Nest caused a bit of a stir, for she was then feted as one of the best known writers of the day: Felicia Dorothea Hemans (1793-1835).

Lithograph of Felicia Dorothea Hemans by Riddle and Couchman, c.1820. Courtesy of National Library of Wales. Public Domain PDM.1.0.DEED.

Mrs Hemans, as she was known, produced a large body of work, but she is best remembered today for The Stately Homes of England and for Casabianca: the latter tells the true story of a young man who refused to leave a sinking ship during the Battle of the Nile. If Casabianca doesn’t sound familiar, you will definitely recognise the opening line: ‘The boy stood on the burning deck’. The poem is perhaps best-known today for its countless parodies, most of which are far too rude to repeat here.

Dove Nest as Mrs Heman’s would have known it. As illustrated in Sylvan’s Pictorial Handbook to the English Lakes, 1847.

In 1830 Mrs Hemans visited the Lake District to stay with fellow poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850) at his home, Rydal Mount. After a fortnight there she decided to extend her stay by a few weeks and rented Dove Nest, a ‘lonely, but beautifully situated cottage’ which she had previously admired from the lake. Joined by two of her sons she enjoyed walking, exploring and boating on the lake.

The view of Windermere from the alcove on an overcast day.

Mrs Hemans described Dove Nest as having an ‘air of neglect’ which she rather liked. Nature was beginning to ‘reclaim’ the garden from art, and an ‘old-fashioned alcove’ was overgrown with ‘sweet-briar and moss rose-tree’. From the arbour there were views of ‘lovely Windermere’. Wordsworth frequently visited Dove Nest, and one evening he recited verse in the arbour. Mrs Hemans wrote that it was ‘quite a place in which to hear Mr. Wordsworth read poetry’.

Plaster bust of Felicia Dorothea Hemans by Angus Fletcher, 1829. NPG 1046. ©National Portrait Gallery, London. CC BY-NC-ND-3.0

Mrs Hemans had become a famous poet not just in Britain but in America too, and during her stay at Dove Nest word soon travelled that the literary lion(ess) was in town. She did her best to hide from the fans from both nations who turned up on her doorstep brandishing their autograph books, and hoping the celebrity would write a few lines (she called it ‘album persecution’). Fellow writer Charles Lamb (1775-1834) declared himself ‘no friend to Albums’, and despaired of the young ladies who turned up on his doorstep asking that he contribute to their books. He wrote a poem describing albums which begins:

‘Tis a Book kept by modern young ladies for show,
Of which their plain grandmothers nothing did know.
‘Tis a medley of scraps, fine verse, & fine prose,
And some things not very like either, God knows.

Postcard courtesy of a private collection.

Such was her fame that many years after her short stay at Dove Nest, postcards were still being issued captioned ‘Mrs Hemans’ Home’.

Dove Nest, now known as The Samling, as seen from a lake cruise. Apologies for the poor quality: the photo was taken from some distance. The Uncouth Companion turned down an invitation to row the Flâneuse to a nearer vantage point. The alcove is highlighted.

Dove Nest has been substantially enlarged since Mrs Hemans stayed there, and is now a smart hotel called The Samling. The garden arbour is listed at grade II.

For more on The Samling

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