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Brantwood is a large 18th century country house, standing in a prominent position overlooking Coniston Water, and enjoying unparalleled views of the lake and Coniston fells beyond. It was the home of John Ruskin, and affords a unique opportunity to look into the daily life of one of England’s most important social and cultural figures.
Visitors to the house are introduced to Ruskin’s world by a brief introductory video, and are then free to explore the seven rooms occupied by him, all of which are filled with his furniture, art and objects. They are also given a small printed guide to the rooms, and volunteer stewards are on hand to answer questions. For younger visitors there is a range of quizzes and activity sheets.
Although the house is presented very much as it was in 1900, when Ruskin died, Brantwood is far from being just a museum to celebrate the past. It is also a centre of contemporary arts with regular exhibitions, a series of concerts, educational courses and special events.
Once described as the “Father of Modern Britain” Ruskin was the most influential social commentator of the Victorian age. An art critic, teacher, poet, writer and educational philanthropist, his ideas inspired the Arts and Crafts Movement and the founding of the National Trust.
His radical views on the worst aspects of the industrial revolution were the basis for the rise of the Labour Movement. He openly encouraged and promoted art education and museums for the working classes. He personally taught many people how to draw, publishing two books on the subject, and was himself a superb draughtsman. When he died in 1900, at the age of 81, he left behind him collected writings that stretch to nearly 40 volumes, thousands of drawings and water-colours and a legacy of influence that is felt to this day.
Potted History of the house
Brantwood was built on the site of one of Thomas West's original "viewing stations", towards the end of the 18th century. It was originally intended as a country retreat, and in the first 90 years of it's existence had a succession of owners. Of these, the two most celebrated were Josiah Hudson, father of Charles Hudson, a renowned early mountaineer, and the engraver, poet, illustrator and social reformer William James Linton.
In 1871, with the house in state of disrepair, Linton sold it to John Ruskin, who had never previously seen it. Whether Ruskin knew of it's condition is unclear, but he quickly set about first restoring, and then enlarging, the house to the size it is today.
Upon his death, Ruskin bequeathed the house and estate to the Severn family, under the condition that it should be open for 30 days a year for visitors to see his collection of art. However the Severn family failed to honour the request and the house remained private.
Appalled by the disregard for Ruskin's wishes, the Canadian artist Emily Warren campaigned to have Brantwood preserved as it was in Ruskin's time. Although she did not have the resources to fund such a project, John Howard Whitehouse, a founder member of the Birmingham Ruskin Society, did. He bought the house, and in 1951 established the Brantwood Trust in order to ensure it's future.