There has been a house on the site that now belongs to Armathwaite Hall and Spa since the 11th century. However, the only reliable records can be traced back to 1548.
Allan, the Second Lord of Allendale, gave the Manor of Bassenthwaite (which included the land where the hall now stands) to his brother Gospatrick.
Gospatrick took on the name de Bassenthwaite during this time and eventually the Manor came to be owned by the last surviving heir of his bloodline, Sir Adam de Bassenthwaite.
Did you know that Bassenthwaite Lake, until fairly recently, was known as Broadwater? The word Thwaite is thought to have come from the Viking PVEIT, which literally means ‘cutting’, and was adopted into English. In the local Cumbrian dialect, Thwaite means a piece of ground, especially one cleared from the forest.
When Sir Adam de Bassenthwaite died during the reign of Edward II, the hall passed to Sir Wilfred Lawson.
Lawson was a descendant of the female line of the de Bassenthwaite family and is thought to have owned the hall from the beginning of the 15th century until circa 1540. It was then that ownership passed to the Highmore family.
Information concerning how the hall became the seat of the Highmore family, who owned it from c1540 until 1748, is scant.
The last Highmore to own Armathwaite Hall was Benson Highmore (1701–1767), an attorney in Carlisle. It was in his house in English Street, Carlisle (known as Highmore House), that both Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Duke of Cumberland stayed during the 1745 uprising.
Interestingly, Highmore House is now the site of the Marks and Spencer store in Carlisle!
James Spedding, the Squire to Lord Egremont of Cockermouth Castle, acquired the hall in 1748. It’s thought this acquisition might have had something to do with Benson Highmore’s involvement with Bonnie Prince Charlie!
The hall was then owned by three generations of Speddings, all of whom were High Sheriffs, until it was sold in 1796 to Sir Frederick Fletcher-Vane.
The Speddings also bought Mire House, which their descendants still own and live in to this day!
The Fletcher-Vane family made some changes to the hall in 1817, building on the courtyard, adding a chapel and partially extending the building towards the lake.
Sir Henry Ralph Fletcher-Vane and the Earl of Egremont had a very long-running private quarrel that resulted in ‘the battle of Bassenthwaite Lake’. Unfortunately, the date of this ‘battle’ is not known, but it is supposed to have taken place sometime between 1830 and 1840!
The following is a quotation from the Times and Star and is the story as it is known:
“…it started with a dispute between the Vane (Fletcher-Vane) family of Armathwaite Hall and the earl of Egremont, who owned all the lake except for three fisheries at Ewes (Ouse) Bridge, Stone Wall and Ellers Side, which belonged to the Vanes.
“The result was a complete rout for the earl’s men, whose valour was swiftly quenched by a ducking in the lake. To build a pier under such violent opposition was not in any of their contracts, so they fled and left the day to the Vanes and the pier unbuilt.”
– The Battles of Bassenthwaite Lake, The Hills and Around by Whiteoak, Times
Four generations of the Fletcher-Vane family, all of whom were either High Sheriffs or Lord Lieutenants, owned the hall until c1850. It was then sold to Mr Boustead.
The Boustead family had large investments overseas, mainly in tea plantations in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).
Mr Boustead moved the road (B5291) that used to run down the front drive through the car park and down the lane to Ouse Bridge to its present position. The stipulation was that Mr. Boustead should not be able to see any traffic on the road from the hall.
In 1880, Thomas Hartley, a local mine owner from Bridekirk near Cockermouth, bought the hall for £95,000.
Mr Hartley extended and remodelled the hall into a country gentlemen’s residence, the building you see today. He added the rooms that are now the Main Hall, Lake Room, Cocktail Bar and part of the Lake View Restaurant.
Mr. Hartley was also a local member of parliament, and he is noted as one of the sponsors of The Fisheries Protection Bill of c1892.
When Mr. Hartley died in 1926, the estate was sold to a speculator who broke it up and placed it for sale at auction.
When the hall went up for auction, it included:
The whole estate extended to 1,450 acres.
Most of the land was sold, except for the hall and the surrounding 133 acres.
In 1930, after several attempts to sell it, the hall was put up at auction for demolition. The auctioneers’ lot numbers are still visible on some of the cellars doors today.
Fortunately, the hall was saved in the nick of time by Mr. J.B. Wivvel, the then-owner of the Keswick Hotel.
Mr. Wivvel bought the Hall for £5,000. He spent approximately six months converting and renovating it before opening it as a hotel.
A tariff from the first years of the Wivvel’s ownership states the following prices:
In December of 1930, Hugh Walpole wrote of Armathwaite Hall:
“Speaking of romance, is there anything more romantic than Armathwaite Hall, with its lovely habit of drawing Bassenthwaite in a sheet of silver or orange to its very doors?
“With the trees that guard it and the history that inhabits it, and the lake that stretches before it, it is a house of perfect and irresistible atmosphere.”
The original version of this passage is displayed at the entrance to the Main Hall.
During World War II, Hunmanby Gap girls’ school was evacuated to the hall. According to the testimony of some of the girls, very little scholarly activity took place!
The girls used to climb out of the Lake Room window during class and go down to the lake.
During this time, there was a prisoner of war camp close by, at Moota, and some of the prisoners worked at the hall. One of the prisoners, Jurray Dzuyka, known as ‘Old George’, stayed on after the war and became the ‘old retainer’.
Dzuyka used to own a motorcycle and was well-known in the area. His journeys back from the pub on his motorcycle are still talked about even to this day! Dzuyka retired in 1989 and died in 1991.
The current owners, the Graves family, bought the Hall from Mrs. Wivvel in 1976.
They began a massive development programme of installing central heating throughout the hall, a proper telephone system, private bathrooms for every bedroom, televisions and radios.
This development continued with the opening of the leisure centre on the site of the old Coach House in August 1984 and the completion of the John Peel Conference Centre on the site of the old Milking Parlour in June 1988.
In May 1989, the Graves family purchased Coalbeck Farm, situated on the neighbouring estate. This brought the total size of the estate to approximately 465 acres.
Coalbeck Farm was given a new lease of life and was re-born as a rare-breed farm called Trotters World of Animals. The farm park is one of Cumbria’s top attractions and has developed over time into the Lake District Wildlife Park, which is now home to hundreds of endangered animals, birds of prey and reptiles from all over the world!
A 2009 development saw the grand unveiling of a new stylish and contemporary Courtyard Brasserie restaurant, two state-of-the-art function suites for up to 150 people and our award-winning spa.