The main two-storey building at Lawson Park sits on a north to south axis, with a small east/west wing at the southern end. A Warden's Cottage occupies the north end, with the adjoining four-bedroomed hostel and communal spaces for visitors set within the southern wing. The building is leased from the Forestry Commission.
Although to all appearances a slate and stone-built farmstead in the vernacular Lake District style, farming at Lawson Park has in fact been sporadic since at least the late 19th century, when the property was part of Ruskin's adjacent Brantwood Estate. In the early 20th century it served as a holiday home and as housing for Forestry Commission staff before falling into disrepair as an outward bound youth hostel leased by Liverpool City Council. When director Adam Sutherland found it in 1999, Lawson Park was a forlorn series of freezing cold, bunkbed-filled rooms. Undeterred, he occupied the tumbledown cottage with partner Karen until refurbishment began, shoring up the roof and walls, welcoming artists for memorable events on the surrounding land and starting the garden. The plan to make a permanent home for Grizedale Arts here was hatched.
The archives of the Cistercian order of Furness Abbey hold Lawson Park's earliest records from the 14th century, when it was a charcoal burning hut exploiting the surrounding rich mining resources. It is likely that the northern end of the building - with its walls of nearly a metre thick - dates from this time. Subsequent tenant sheep farmers built the later adjoining barns in a typically ad hoc way, including a large double-height space with wide access doors (now the hostel kitchen) and a smaller east / west wing for livestock where two lower bedrooms now are. Like most early farmsteads, Lawson Park 'hunkers down' against its hillside, away from the prevailing winds (and the good views) with few original windows on the west-facing elevation.
The poverty and lack of resources of the farm occupants over the centuries was revealed during our 2006-09 refurbishment, when the poor quality stone and construction techniques used lead to sizeable areas of the building falling down and requiring re-construction. Planning restrictions meant most of this refurbishment was internal, with significant architectural challenges in bringing natural light into the large central barn, where the library and living room are. Like most building projects of this scale, budgets and timescales had to be extended and there were many compromises and sleepless nights along the way. But the end result is remarkable:
A contemporary farmhouse for creative people to live and work in.
The ambitious project won a prestigious Royal Institute of British Architects award in 2011.
Visitors access the hostel by a modest dark red-painted door, leading to a hallway and Lower Kitchen, used as a wet-weather workshop, for laundry, and storage. The large double aspect main kitchen / diner opens out onto the Farmhouse Garden via its glazed doors, with views of the Old Man of Coniston mountain from the opposite side. A rear door offers access to the Wildflower Meadow & Larder. Stairs lead up to the living room with its new picture window, whilst the Lawson Park Library occupies the second floor mezzanine, with its manifesto painted onto a wall.
Each of the four ensuite live/work bedrooms is spacious and characterfully furnished with significant items from the Lawson Park Collection, with views over the Old Man of Coniston and our gardens. There is one disabled-access bedroom with ensuite facilities.
In 2018/19 we have been able to make a significant enhancement to the east-facing elevation of the hostel, with a two storey extension offering a ground floor kitchen larder and first floor extended living room space.
The Warden's Cottage retains most of its original internal layout and its weathered west-facing front porch. However, the ground floor is now largely open plan, with a central fireplace covered with original painted tiles by Peter Hodgson.
In 2005, we replaced a ubiquitous 'National Trust' grey-green used on our gates and doors with an ochre yellow and dark ('Cherokee') red (a homage to Frank Lloyd Wright & his Taliesin creative colony) to delineate separate access routes for staff and visitors: Yellow ones are for staff only whereas red ones are for everyone.