Constructed early in the 19th century, this rocky grotto was built in the grounds of Ingleborough Hall, home to the Farrer family. Later it was a favoured spot of Elizabeth Farrer (1853-1937), and has thus became known by the wonderfully comforting name of Aunt Bessie’s Grotto. Here tea was served by the staff, whilst the family enjoyed the wonderful view to Thwaite Scars.
The unusual grotto, constructed out of large weather and water-formed stones, is named as the ‘Station’ on the first edition Ordnance Survey map surveyed in 1846-7. The word ‘station’ was popularised by Thomas West in his A Guide to the Lakes, first published in 1778. West recommended a number of viewpoints, or stations, from which the best vistas could be appreciated. However on the tithe map of 1847 it is called the Grotto, and by the end of the century it was marked as such on the revised OS map.
From Clapham village a path runs past a lake (or tarn in Yorkshire parlance), and through the Clapdale glen to the spectacular natural wonders of Trow Gill and Ingleborough Cave. This picturesque route was laid out by the Farrer family from around 1828, and in 1833 it was reported that a new walk was almost complete with a picturesque landscape ‘diversified with hills, rocks, wood, water & a narrow vale’. Although the grotto also dates from this period, there are very few references to it, possibly because most visitors were more interested in describing the sublime natural scenery. A rare mention is made in 1873 when the Yorkshire Union of Mechanics’ Institutes had a summer excursion to Clapham. Arriving at the ivy-clad grotto, which was ‘deliciously cool’, they gave thanks for ‘that taste that has dictated the placing of the grotto in this spot, commanding one of the grandest panoramas’.
Aunt Bessie presumably only resorted to the Grotto in the summer months. Visiting in March it was dank and dripping, and not even a footman with a cup of tea would have made The Folly Flâneuse linger inside.
Bizarrely, the Farrer family of Ingleborough, a Mechanics Institute, a grotto, and the year 1873 all also appear in a completely different story that emerged as The Folly Flâneuse was researching this post.
At the beginning of the 1870s the Mechanics’ Institute of Bradford moved to a marvellous new building (sadly demolished), but the cost of construction left a deficit of £5,000. To raise funds the Art Treasures and Industrial Exhibition was opened in 1873, and over 4 months almost 160,000 people visited the Institute. Alongside the displays of cutting edge technology there were paintings, watercolours and the decorative arts. The Duke of Devonshire lent a portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds and the wealthy wool merchants of the area produced an impressive array of works by J.M.W. Turner and other prominent artists. 1/- would buy a cold luncheon, and those with deeper pockets could have a ‘quart of Moet’s champagne for 8 shillings: it probably sold well as the patrons included a duke, a marquess, an earl, a bishop and most of the very affluent gentry and merchants of town.
As an added attraction Mr John Parker of Bowling came up with an ingenious use for a ‘dark useless room’ underneath the lecture hall – a grotto of artificial stone. Entry was via a rocky cavern which emerged into a chamber supported by giant pillars covered in native bark. There was a waterfall which fell into a lake with resident (model) crocodile, and ‘every other object connected with such wonderful places as grottoes’. The lack of ‘natural verdure’ was solved by none other than Mr Farrer of Ingleborough House, who supplied ‘a large quantity of mosses and ferns’ to clothe the rocks. Sadly no photographs of the grotto are known.
As an aside, this ‘Squire Farrer’ of Ingleborough was the great-uncle of one of Britain’s most important plant-hunters and gardeners – Reginald Farrer (1880-1920). Reginald’s parents were James and Elizabeth (the Bessie of grotto fame) who became custodians of Ingleborough in 1889, and Reginald would have known the grotto well. Respected both by the gardening professional and the layman, his My Rock Garden, first published in 1907, was a classic which was in print for decades.
Aunt Bessie’s Grotto can be visited on the Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail, which at the time of writing remains open to visitors. But do check the website before travelling https://ingleboroughcave.co.uk/nature-trail/