Duddon Grove was once in Cumberland, separated from the Furness peninsula and Lancashire by the river Duddon. A few miles from Broughton-in-Furness, it is tucked away in a quiet corner of the county that is largely free from the tourist hordes. Since the county boundary changes of 1974 it has been in Cumbria. The present house, originally called Duddon Grove, was built by Richard Towers in around 1805, soon after he came into possession of the estate. In the garden stands a very ornate temple with a pediment supported by pillars with Corinthian capitals, and a level of ornamentation not seen on the austere mansion.
Towers died without issue in 1831 and the estate passed to Frances Esther Millers, the sole issue of his sister and her husband, the Rev. William Millers. Miss Millers did not marry and devoted herself to good works, for which she was much admired in the district. Her mother had died in 1828 and three years later her father joined her at Duddon Grove. He died in 1843, and Miss Millers probably erected the temple in his memory as it is surmounted by a prominent date stone marked 1843 topped with a dramatic statue of a stag. Work was underway in 1845 when it was described as ‘now building’. In that year ornate carved stones for the portico were stolen and the masons, Messrs Brocklebank of Ulverston, offered a reward for information. Two local boys came forward to confess and were pardoned by the benevolent Miss Millers after suitable chastisement.
In the sedate age of steam it was an object to be viewed by passengers on the Whitehaven and Furness railway who were advised to note the ‘elegant mansion […] at Duddon Grove, with its Grecian Temple and neat Gardens’. An 1869 guide to the Lakes described it as ‘a small temple of white freestone, the entablature supported by plain columns with Corinthian capitals’, and noted that the interior was decorated with stained glass. Another guide, published in 1864, singled out Duddon Grove, one of the only ‘modern’ gentleman’s seats in the quiet valley, as ‘displaying its luxury in the midst of simplicity like an exotic plant blowing among our English wild-flowers.’
A painting in the collection of Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal confirms that there was an earlier temple. This temple seems to have been later remodelled into a larger estate building. The work is catalogued as being by an artist called John Robinson and dated c.1790. Richard Towers inherited the estate of his uncle, John Robinson, an Ulverston lawyer, in 1803 so the annotation of ‘John Robinson’ may refer to him and the painting was probably executed in the early 19th century after the house was remodelled. [NB this paragraph was updated 01 April 2019.]
The Duddon Grove estate was put up for sale in 1902 and a detailed set of particulars was produced. The ‘Magnificently Carved Stone Temple’ was used as a ‘Handsome Summer-House’ and contained ‘four costly painted glass windows representing the four seasons’. The pediment was topped with a ‘carved stag and urn ornaments’. A catalogue for the sale of the contents in the same year suggests the summerhouse had become something of a junk room as it contained oak chairs, a rocking horse, a sewing machine and other ‘sundries’. The sales particulars also highlighted the ‘armorial bearings’ and motto of Non Sine Pulvere which decorate the temple. The coat of arms above the door is something of a mystery, as neither of Miss Millers’ parents were entitled to bear arms. The motto, which can be translated as ‘no reward without effort’, is not known to be associated with either family.
The house was unoccupied after the Second World War with the inevitable consequence of steady decay. In 1967 it was offered the protection of a grade II listing but little effort was made to end the deterioration of the hall and estate buildings. A convoluted period of ownership ended in 2000 when a local builder converted the house into apartments before turning his attention to the tiny single-room folly.
The builder, Richard Bowness, asked Stockport based architects Worthington, Ashworth, Jackson & Walker to produce a plan to carefully restore the temple’s stonework and stained glass, and to enlarge the folly with the addition of a contemporary extension. Despite objections from the Ancient Monuments Society, local residents, and councillors the scheme was approved by 8 votes to 6 at the end 2003. County Councillor Alan Clark was quoted in the local press as saying that the planners had been blackmailed into approving a dreadful building to save a magnificent building. Bowness called a the project a ‘labour of love’ and he and his architects were rewarded with an award for the ‘best one off house conversion’ in 2008. When subsequently put on the market the estate agents were, for once, justified to call it a ‘unique and rare opportunity’.
The building is a private home and there is strictly no public access.