The History of Lawson Park

Here's what we have discovered about the history of the buildings here and their inhabitants. If you can help fill in any gaps, or have any stories to share about your own experiences of Lawson Park, please contact us.



Open House

The refurbishment of the buildings is finished and we begin a new programme

In July 2009 the refurbishment of the buildings - delayed by several months - is largely complete, including the installation of a ground source heat pump to heat water and the buildings; the provision of 4 artists' live/work spaces, a shared living space including bespoke library by Guestroom, and an attached warden's cottage.

Grizedale Arts holds two public openings to celebrate the £800,000 redevelopment. The first - attended by locals including former resident Ted Taylforth (pictured) - is launched by broadcaster Eric Robson, the second by Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota.

Artists-in-residence to visit during this time included Wapke Feenstra, Pablo Bronstein and Fernando Dores. Resident interns Sophie Perry and Matt Do spent several months contributing to bringing the buildings and gardens to fruition.

The gardens open under the NGS scheme again on July 26th 2009.


The Return to Usefulness

The refurbishment of the buildings begins.

In 2007, a long lease which includes the surrounding land, was signed between Grizedale Arts and the Forestry Commission in order that the refurbishment of the buildings could begin in earnest. Grizedale Arts fund-raised intensively to finance the 1.2 million pound project, which aims to be completed in autumn 2008. The barns will be transformed into 4 artists’ live / work units with shared living space, whilst the farmhouse will house onsite wardens, initially Adam Sutherland and Karen Guthrie.

The surrounding land is now in the process of being ‘reclaimed’ to usefulness. One large field was deer-fenced and terraced with the aid of farmers from the Japanese mountain village of Toge in 2007, and housed two Tamworth pigs over summer 2007. The Kitchen Garden continues to be developed, with poultry to be added in 2008.

The gardens open to the public for the first time under the National Gardens Scheme on August 24th 2008, with group visits by appointment July until September.


Grow Your Own

Grizedale Arts signs a 42 year lease for house and land, moves its office to Lawson Park and begins major land reclamation.

2007 saw an upswing in land and agricultural work on the site.
In April 2007, villagers from the rural Japanese village of Toge visited the farm to help in several agricultural projects, as well as to run a cookery workshop and one-day Japanese cafe in Coniston village. They were joined by artists who had been part of the Seven Samurai residency, including Tim Olden(pictured below).

The cafe and workshop used carefully-prepared wild bracken and vegetables grown at Lawson Park.

Three 'scallop' shaped fields in the shape of traditional rice paddies were excavated with the Japanese villagers in the deer-fenced field. Drainage and bridge-building projects also undertaken.

Vegetable growing began in earnest in the Kitchen Garden, with a large polytunnel, composting area, apiary and a shed added. The Wildflower Meadow was cut in late summer by a volunteer work party, and the hay composted to enrich the new 'paddy fields'.


Work on building the large Kitchen Garden begins.


The Ornamental Garden is commenced.


The House of Fun

Adam Sutherland (GA director) leases the farmhouse, joined in 2002 by his partner Karen Guthrie.

Grizedale Arts have leased Lawson Park from the Forestry Commission since 2000, when director Adam Sutherland took over the tenancy. At that time the farmhouse, though spartan, proved habitable after some basic renovations. Nevertheless, its lack of central heating, erratic water supply, and idiosyncratic charity-shop furnishings (which included the head of a massive stag shot at nearby Claife) always surprised and usually delighted visitors.

Adam Sutherland, his partner Karen Guthrie and the staff and board of Grizedale Arts hosted and facilitated many memorable projects and art events in the house and buildings throughout this time: These included Emily Wardill’s ‘Feast against nature’ (a marathon performative dinner of black dishes); Nathanial Mellors’ ‘Prince Lightning’ series; an al fresco dinner by Rob Kesseler (pictured); the shooting of Clio Barnard’s Channel 4 film ‘Flood’; ex-pop star Jesse Rae’s Brick FM radio station; a Gelitin party, the Toge (Japan) village visit as part of the project ‘Seven Samurai’; Olaf Breuning’s chainsaw-carved ‘It’s a Garden!” show for the Chisenhale Gallery and many early Juneau/projects works. Wonderful dinners were a particular highlight of any Grizedale visit, with guests as varied as film-maker Ken Russell, literary historians Pamela & Robert Woof, artist Mark Wallinger, writer / broadcaster Jon Ronson, poet Paul Farley, curator Toby Webster and many many more.

Power cuts, midge attacks, water shortages and inaccessibility through snowfall were all relatively common occurences at this time, though – surprisingly- broadband Internet was introduced on site as early as 2005.

During this period the planting of a garden surrounding the farmhouse began, reclaimed from rough fellside pasture with nothing more than a scattering of gorse, birch and hazel. Adam Sutherland and Karen Guthrie worked hard to establish the now-flourishing garden, propagating many plants from seed themselves.

In 2005 the Kitchen Garden was begun with a view to increasing sustainability on site by growing food for its inhabitants, and in 2007 Grizedale Arts kept the first pigs at Lawson Park for over 50 years.

1970 - 2000

“How dark nights can be”: Recreation, education & tourism

Liverpool Community College lease house and use it for student educational visits

The most recent history of both of Grizedale’s leased sites, Lawson Park and Park-a-moor , involves groups engaged in early forms of leisure, tourism and training in outdoor skills. In the 1960’s Lawson Park was used by merchant navy cadets from Riversdale College, Liverpool and from 1970 until 2000 Liverpool Community College utilised the site as a field study centre for sailing, canoeing and climbing. This change in use of the site mirrored the increasing reliance of the local economy on leisure visitors instead of farming.

The surrounding land was not maintained, and returned largely to bracken and reed-infested rough pasture, though local man David Walmsley (who now assists in keeping the Lawson Park bees) kept a small herd of Dexter cows (pictured) on the meadow in the 1980’s.
He recounts how during visits to this remote and often empty place,
"My son would call it (Lawson Park) the ginger-bread house!”

Student visitors were accommodated in very basic circumstances, though the presence of running water and indoor toilets would have seemed luxurious to the earlier farmers: evidence of the students’ ambivalent occupation could be seen throughout the house and barns in graffitti, not all of which was complimentary.
On a more thoughtful note, a student visitor at that time recently emailed us to say that during his time at Lawson Park,
“I learned just how dark nights can be.”

Author Richard Adams (of 'Watership Down' fame) published his novel 'The Plague Dogs' in 1977, in which Lawson Park is featured as a sinister research station.


In the corner of paradise

"The Nature Trail Man" & the Merchant Navy Cadets tenant

"I am Angela Monkman who in the 60's lived in Lawson Park, then newly refurbished (1960's mode) for us (just after the Taylforths vacated it) as Angela Shepley, with my husband Alan Shepley. Alan was "the Nature Trail Man" and who as a result of his pioneering work at Brantwood in the 60's was invited to write a series of educational books by the late Robert Maxwell, then owner of Pergamon Press. This was at the time when Brantwood was also the HQ of the Lancashire Campaign for the Protection Rural England, run by Stanley Jeeves."
This was 1964. I joined Rusland and Satterthwaite Women's Institute whose president was I think Mrs Dickinson whose family still farm in Rusland. Airey's Butchers used to come round with their meat van regularly. Probably still do. It was a rural life and a very special memory now that the world is so Londocentric. I got a job teaching and we moved into Lawson Park in April I think of 1964. We were not in Coniston long as the Brantwood Trust had a change of thinking over their strategies and Alan went off to find another job in 1965, leaving a lot of good friends in this corner of paradise."

Angela also tells us that she planted some 'Paddy McCredy' roses in the garden at Lawson Park, which are sadly now gone but surely an excuse to replant some in her honour!


Tied housing for the Forestry Commission

At the end of the Taylforth’s tenure, it seems the house was used by the new owners, the Forestry Commission, to house staff for a spell.
J Nicholson contacted us via our blog:

I was born at Lawson Park in 1950 in the downstairs bedroom. My dad worked for the forestry commission. My sisters said the house was haunted...I always thought it was spooky though I was only ever in the downstairs and never saw the upstairs. We moved from there when I was eight months old...


Forestry Commission buys land and house.

1940's - 50's

The End of Farming at Lawson Park

The Taylforth family tenant and farm here.

The last tenant farmer at Lawson Park was Eric Taylforth .
The Taylforths were a large local family many of whom still live in the local area, and Eric and his family farmed here until the early 1950’s.

His brothers – Ted Taylforth and Jack Taylforth, both worked on the farm: Ted can remember ploughing the steeply sloped fields from the meadow at Lawson Park down to the edge of Coniston Water (now the Machell’s Coppice carpark). Fields such as these were all still ploughed by hand at this time, and then were planted mainly with potatoes. Wheat and hay were planted in the two upper fields and Ted remembers the old field system, of which the remnants can still be seen in tumble-down walls and hedgerow trees. It was around this time that the Forestry Commission first began commercial tree planting in this area of Grizedale Forest, significantly altering the landscape towards what we see today.

The Taylforth family maintained a relatively self-sufficient lifestyle, with a vegetable plot next to the house and a small number of pigs, alongside the traditional mixed arable and sheep farming which had existed on this site now for over seven centuries.


The Second World War

1940 – 1945 William and Alice Dinsdale – Arrived as newlyweds in 1940 - tenant farmers, mainly dairy cows and Swaledale sheep (introduced by them to replace the Herdwick flock)

They made their own Wendsleydale cow’s milk cheese, farming the land successfully before moving onto a bigger farm near Hawes. The milking parlour they built was partially intact before the renovations.

The Dinsdales also hosted 4 teachers (2 couples) from Bembridge School (temporarily housed at Brantwood) and 3 evacuee boys from Salford one of whom was called Walter.

William was in the Coniston Home Guard during this period



A small amount of anecdotal evidence suggests that the area was used extensively for wartime food production, and that many field systems that have long been laid to pasture were used for a wide range of crops. It is said that the local farmers resented the ‘under the plough’ Ministry directives, and considered many of the fields unworkable and dangerous for ploughing.

1920 - 1937

A Farflung Holiday Home

Hallam family tenant it for use as a holiday home.

Surprisingly, Lawson Park enjoyed a lengthy period out of farming use when it was rented as a second home for a family of Liverpool dentists, the Hallams. A relative, whose parents had honeymooned here, supplied this fascinating picture – notable by how little the site has changed since it was taken in 1920 – of what must have been a very remote getaway in those days.


Edward John Woodman purchases site.


Purchased by Brantwood (John Ruskin’s nephew).


Stalkers (ended 1883), Wilkinson (1883 - ?)

1670 - early 1900's

Tenant farming at Lawson Park

Various farming tenancies including Isaac Wilson (1846-49)

Lawson Park’s second custodian - by way of the King’s Commissioners at the Dissolution of the Monasteries – was the Sandys family, a still-significant landowner in the Furness area.
However, in 1670 Thomas Sandys gifted the farm to the Parish of Satterthwaite and their lengthy ownership continued until the late 19th century.

Throughout this time the farm was operated under a series of farm tenancies, including to one Isaac Wilson in 1846, for the annual rent of £134. Details of the estate’s fields, the landlord’s many rule and requirements, and fascinating references to the methods of land maintenance can be seen in the formal lease document:

Namely the dwelling house, the farm, the stable, peat house, and all the buildings. Several closes, enclosures and parcels of land by the names of Low field, Middle field, High Field, Near Grazing, Far Grazing, Round field, Crab tree field, New field, Paddock, Corn Close, Snell Field, Bean Paddock, Meadow head Paddock, Gill Croft and The Park, containing in total around 120 acres.
The tenant could not plough or break up more ley land other than New Field during 1849/50 and those fields under plough, by law, had to be laid down according to the former agreement made in 1846. The landlord and the tenant each had 20 bushels of lime which was to be spread on the part of the farm most requiring it.

Given the scarcity of any remaining trees and boundaries at the site now, these are especially evocative words. It is likely that the outbuildings and barns at Lawson Park were added piecemeal from the 17th century onwards, as finances and manpower allowed.

Agriculture remained the most important single industry in Cumbria throughout the mid 19th century, with well over 20% of the employed population earning its living in agriculture compared with the national average of 9%. Extensive arable farming gradually gave way to a concentration on dairying, beef or wool. These specialisations required less physical toil engendered by jobs like sowing, ploughing, turnip-lifting, harvesting and carting and the hill farmer enjoyed some advantages at this time – for he could use family labour, his rents were often modest and his outgoings for feeding stock were low.

However, the hill farmers who survived often did so by accepting very low standards of living and farming practice. From 1870 there was a decline in upland subsistence faming, seen in many abandoned high level farms, a decrease in the number of cattle kept on many parts of the hill, their replacement by yet more sheep, and a decline in available labour due to the amalgamation of estates and holdings. Amongst the many irreversible and significant side-effects of this change, still perceptible today, is the great increase in the spread of bracken, a invasive fern species which thrives in neglected upland terrain.

...scarcely larger than an average Park Lane dining room Ruskin’s influence at Lawson Park (1871 – 1900)

The eminent Victorian polymath John Ruskin (1819 – 1900) bought Brantwood, a then-modest cottage below Lawson Park, in 1871. Lawson Park, which he eventually also purchased in 1897 for £5000, features often in Ruskin diaries, with descriptions of schemes that he instituted here. Ruskin’s general approach to local life included the introduction of new ideas and enterprise, not always successfully, and he was often suprisingly ‘hands-on’ for someone considered predominantly as an academic. The diaries detail cranberry-planting outings, terracing and fruit-planting on the often inhospitable terrain between Brantwood and Lawson Park. Ruskin’s impact was a far-reaching marriage of contemporary thinking with traditional local resources, bringing new ‘industries’ to the area (including wood-carving and lace-making) and publishing his ideas about rural development very widely.

In April 1883 Lawson Park became the home of the Wilkinsons.

January 1st 1884 – Ruskin describes a day on the moors with WG Collingwood and his wife, meeting the shepherd Mr Wilkinson of Lawson Park. His diaries explain the relationship he had with these local tenant farmers. He appears to have given them money during the Christmas season to offset the various unlucky losses which the Wilkinsons had suffered:

Letters of Ruskin Vol 34: Ruskiniana

My good neighbours, the Watkinsons, of Lawson Park, have been put to great distress since they came here on the 7th of April last year, with goodwill to work, all of them, husband and wife, elder son and little daughter, but little more than their own hands and goodwill to trust to, and they have had a run of ill-luck since, besides the sorrow of losing their younger boy, a child of six, by the blow of a scythe. On the 17th day of July they lost a cow, for which they had given £20; then a calf, which they had reared; then the first of the great storms blew their range roof off, and scattered irrevocably or destroyed all their hay, forty three carts, all but a cart full. I partly reimbursed them them for their loss myself, enabling them to buy another cow, and the horse they now have, but this horse is now taken ill, just when they needed him(the shoulder and limb affected by abscess) and I believe myself quite justified by the worth and the good courage of the family in asking now for some further help for them so as to enable them to get another horse, and hire a farm labourer for the work which the son is scarce strong enough for. John Ruskin

Many related documents and artefacts can be seen at Coniston’s Ruskin Museum.

Utopia on the mountain: Ruskin’s land use

Ruskin conceived the still-extant trust, the Guild of St George, in 1871, as a means of transforming the declining state of Britain into his Utopian fantasy.

We will try to take some small piece of English ground, beautiful, peaceful and fruitful. We will have no steam engines upon it, and no railroads; we will have no untended or unthought-of creatures on it; none wretched but the sick; none idle, but the dead.

Many of the founding principles and ideas for the Guild were drawn from Ruskin’s initial experiences and experiments within the Coniston valley.

In the neighbourhood of my own village of Coniston here are many tracts of mountain ground at present waste, yet accessible by good roads, and on which I believe the farmers and landlords would gladly see some labour spent to advantage.
This autumn, therefore, I have begun on my own ground, the kind of work which it had been my own chief purpose for the last twenty years so to initiate. I have attacked only the plots of rank marsh grass which uselessly occupy the pieces of irregular level at the banks of the minor rivulets; and the ledges of rock that have no drainage outlet. The useless marsh grass, and the soil beneath it, I have literally turned upside down by steady spade labour, stripping the rock surfaces absolutely bare(though under accumulations of soil often five or six foot deep) passing the whole of this loose soil well under the spade; cutting outlets for the standing water beneath, as the completely seen confrmation of the rock directed me, and then terracing the ledges, where necessary, to receive the returned ground.
I am thus carrying step by step down the hill a series of little garden grounds, of which, judging by the extreme fruitfulness of the piece of the same slope already made the main garden of Brantwood, a season or two will show the value to my former neighbours, and very sufficiently explain the future function of St George’s Guild, in British mountain ground of ordinary character.’

From Letters of Ruskin Vol II (1879)
To Miss Susan Beever, 5th May 1879

The whole household was out after breakfast to-day to the top of the moor to plant cranberries; and we squeezed and splashed and spluttered in the boggiest places the sunshine had left, till we found places squashy and squeezy enough to please the most particular and coolest of cranberry minds; and there, each of us choosing a little special bed of bog, the tufts were deeply put in , with every manner of tacit benediction, such as might befit a bog and a berry, and many an expressed thanksgiving to Susie and the kind sender of the luxuriant plants. I have never had gift from you, dear Susie, more truly interesting and gladdening to me, and many a day I shall climb the moor to see the fate of the plants
The Woodland and Coppice

The semi natural woodlands that run through Grizedale forest are mainly sessile oak, with birch, alder, hazel, bird, cherry, rowan, elm and rare small-leaved limes. These woods have been used by man since before the twelve century when Norse-speaking people ran their pigs in the woods and called the valley Grizedale (Old Norse griss=pigs).

During the twelfth century the woodland became the property of the monks of Furness who established local woodland industries, and enclosed coppices worked on a 14 year rotation. At the dissolution many of the Grizedale coppices passed to the Sandy’s family. These coppice supplied enough charcoal for three bloomsmithies, and on into the 17th century they continued to contribute to the demand for charcoal from local furnaces, which went on smelting with charcoal until 1921. This local demand for charcoal continuing until quite recent times made the coppices more profitable than any agricultural use of the rocky land, and so they were preserved with their woodland soil and its fauna intact, as an economic asset.

The present state of the deciduous woods in Grizedale results mainly from the end of the local demand for charcoal, when the woods were allowed to grow up. The woods have also been modified to some extent by the planting of new species such as, sycamore, larch and beech, when extensive planting of larch took place in the early nineteenth century. In the 1930’s Grizedale was acquired by The Forestry Commission and despite extensive felling during the second world war, the woods still contain some of the finest mature oaks that are still left in the Furness Fells.

In the late eighteenth century the first commercial planting of European larch began in the Lake District. There is a long and well documented battle over the afforestation of this area, involving many organisations, predominantly The Forestry Commission and the National Trust, who could be viewed as adversaries in this matter.
But more recent reports of both bodies on their Lake District properties show how much they have in common, in care and concern for both Lakeland landscape and their tenant farmers. The two ancient sheep-farms (herdwycks) of Furness Abbey which face to the West on their high ridge above Coniston Water , Lawson Park and Park-a-moor have come to be an example of the two different ways, both good, in which these ancient settlements can be integrated into the Lake District of today: Lawson Park and a significant parcel of surrounding land were purchased by the Forestry Commission in 1947 from Edgar John Woodman of Low Bank Ground, (Coniston), and Park-a-moor was given to the National Trust in 1968.


Thomas Sandys gifted to parish of Satterthwaite until late 19th century.


Post the dissolution of the monasteries, site transferred from King's Commissioners to local Sandys family.


Monastic Origins

Furness Abbey (a Cistercian order) establishes a small dwelling on site and leased it to charcoal burners for use in iron-smelting.


Furness Abbey (a Cistercian order) established a small dwelling on site, and leased it to charcoal burners for use in iron-smelting.

The Abbey of St Mary of Furness, which can be visited near Barrow-in-Furness, was founded in 1123 and occupied first by the Order of Savigny and then the Cistercians, under whom the Abbey became the second richest monastery in England. The Abbey quickly became the predominant landowner in Low Furness and the Furness Fells.

Both Lawson Park and sister farm Parkamoor were ‘emparked’ (an early term for establishing a boundary for the purposes of agriculture or industry) by Furness Abbey in 1338, forming part of a small chain of uplands farms. It is likely that the first building on the site remains somewhere amongst the present-day buildings, all of which show evidence of being added to and developed throughout their 700 year lifespan.

Furness Abbey was at that time a centre of business enterprise, controlling a large and well organised estate spread over a wide geographical area.Within the enclosures of these rough fell pastures, the monks of Furness began converting what remained of the natural vegetation on their land to sheep husbandry and enclosed coppice woodlands. Their conversion of large tracts of wooded land around Coniston Water into sheep pasture also progressed hand in hand with the production of charcoal for the thriving iron-ore industry. This change of use would have greatly altered both the local vegetation and wild animal communities, which at that time would have included the wild boar whose old Norse name, grisse, is the basis for the name Grizedale.

Their prosperity was greatly influential within the broader rural economy, gradually usurping  a mode of life in which individuals maintained flocks and herds sufficient only for their own needs, and contributing to a new system which arose in which large-scale economic exploitation of the uplands was possible.

Lawson Park,Parkamoor and the connected  lands were sold off at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1537, under the radical reforms of Henry VIII. The  farms relied on the uniquely hardy Herdwick sheep (still ubiquitous in today’s Lake District), which meant farm buildings had to be sold with their livestock as the breed’s territorial instinct meant they always attempted to return to their heafs (territories):

The name Herdwyck was originally applied, in monastic times, not to the breed of sheep but to the type of sheep farm, such as Lawson Park, in which the farm and sheep were let together to a tenant.

Interestingly, local anecdotes suggest that the overly-massive black beams used for construction in the main part of Lawson Park farmhouse may date from England’s defeat of the Spanish Armada in the 16th century, when ships were broken up and their materials landed around England’s coastline. In fact, the beam cuts and marks may more likely be attributed to the re-use and reconfiguration of building materials than would have been typical on an impoverished hillfarm.