The Fell Foot Estate and the history of Fell Foot
Fell Foot is a small estate at the southern end of Windermere. It lies between the A592 road from Newby Bridge to Bowness on the western shore of the lake.
There is now no house on the site but what visitors can see are the ornamental grounds and 18th Century boat houses. The house was demolished in 1907, with little or no evidence that there was once a dwelling there. The settlement of Fell Foot is many centuries old but the place name appears for the first time at the end of the 17th century.
Fell Foot originally lay at the point at which the road from Kendal to Ulverston came down from Staveley Brow and crossed the lake and the river by two fords. Before Newby Bridge was built in the late 16th century, the fords were the only means of access between the western side of the lake and the estates of Furness Abbey. It was a natural resting place and a good site for a house or hostel. It has been suggested that a farm was developed at Fell Foot where Augustinian canons of Cartmel, as owners of the land, could have taken tolls for the fords.
By the early 17th century there was certainly a house and farm at Fell Foot and was home to a family called the Robinson's. It is said that they bought the estate in 1619 from the Duchy of Lancaster, which administered Cartmel's property after the dissolution of the priory in 1537.
The Robinson's lived at Fell Foot until the late 18th century, however, not a great deal is known of them. They had a house of the usual local type, but larger and more elaborate than many others in the area. The probate inventory of Richard Robinson, who died ‘suddenly' in his garden in 1713 shows his personal estate to have been nearly £615. This puts him as a really prosperous yeoman farmer.
After Richard Robinson died the rest of the family attained, if not fame, but notoriety, of a kind which like other local myths cannot be substantiated. It is said to have come to an end in the persons of two bachelor brothers, who were known as Terrible Dick (who was notably foul mouthed) and Black Jack (because of his large black beard). The last member of the family to live at Fell Foot was another Richard Robinson who died there in 1778 and who was one of the infamous brothers. His widow moved to Kendal after the death and her son sold the property and land to a Leeds merchant, Jeremiah Dixon.
Jeremiah Dixon was born in 1754 and was mayor of Leeds in 1784-5. He began a new style of life after buying Fell Foot. He was the second son of another Jeremiah Dixon and it was no doubt that through his father, who had Royal Society connections, that he met and married Mary Smeaton, the daughter of John Smeaton, who built the third Eddystone lighthouse.
Jeremiah either rebuilt the house or more probably greatly enlarged it. He created a Georgian mansion/villa of some charm with large shallow bow windows facing the lake. He also developed and planted the grounds. William Green, the artist, said in his guidebook that Fell Foot was ‘greatly indebted for its elegance to the fine taste of Mr. and Mrs. Dixon' in those days however, the main road ran between the front of the house and the lake shore, but some time after 1809 the road was realigned onto its present route.
It is not sure whether the Dixon's used Fell Foot as a summer home or whether they lived there all year round however, Mrs Dixon played a full part in local life before she and her husband moved away to London in 1812.
On his removal to London, Jeremiah Dixon sold Fell Foot to Francis Dukinfield Astley of Dukinfield lodge near Manchester who was definitely in possession by 1813. He died in 1825 leaving a son of the same name but only a few months old.
The house was put up for sale but never sold so was therefore leased until her son came of age.
The names of two tenants are known. Samuel Bedford Edwards was listed at Fell Foot in Parson's and White's directory of 1829. In 1840, when Queen Adelaide visited the Lake District she was escorted by a ‘Mr. Starky of Fell Foot', one of the Starkies of Huntroyde, near Bolton. Neither owners nor tenants were in residence in 1841 when the Census showed the house occupied only by servants.
The young Francis Astley came of age in 1846, married, and returned to Fell Foot. He appears there in 1851 with his wife, two daughters and no fewer than fifteen live in servants. He left Fell Foot in 1859. He also owned a shooting lodge near Fort William, and eventually bought the whole estate of the Clanranalds at Arisaig. He moved there where he and his eldest daughter played a part in the clearing of the highlands.
The new owner of Fell Foot was a Colonel George John Miller Ridehalgh, a native of Prestwich and lord of the manor of Urmston. He was a colourful member of Windermere society and also continued the philanthropic traditions of the Dixon's. He gave part of his land upon which Staveley vicarage was built and bore the major part of the cost of building the school there in 1875.
He did not make any structural additions to the house but certainly changed the interior. The house was lit by coal gas, from a supply generated for that purpose in what is now the Trusts managers' house. The round pond in the garden is the site of the gasometer.
George seems to have bought Fell Foot in order to indulge in a passion for sailing. He was elected to the first Windermere sailing club in 1860 and was one of the founders of the Royal Windermere Yacht Club. Although there was a boat house at Fell Foot during the Ashley's time George built what is in effect a miniature harbour with stone piers and grand boathouses, which still stand today.
He owned two large steam yachts. The first being the Fairy Queen which was built on the Clyde in 1859. She was brought up the coast to Holker and then over land and by road to Fell Foot. It took nine days to accomplish as the boat itself was over 61ft long and weighed 16 tons. In 1879 he replaced it with another yacht called Britannia. A much larger vessel at 49 tons, 96feet long with two masts and could accommodate 122 passengers. This ship was brought in sections and assembled at lakeside. It cost £12000. The ship was sold after his death for the sum of just £350.
Colonel Ridehalgh died in 1892 and was succeeded by his cousin, another George Ridehalgh. He lived there until his death. His brother and heir, William Smith Ridehalgh sold Fell Foot in 1907 to Oswald William Edward Henley.
Oswald and his wife demolished the house straight away planning on building a new one. Only the foundations were laid when Mrs Hendley died and construction was brought to a halt. Oswald married his late wife's sister in 1910 but went to live in Calgarth. Fell Foot after this time was largely abandoned. The gardens became overgrown and derelict and the rhododendrons took over.
Mr Hendley died in 1945 and three years later his widow donated Fell Foot to the National Trust.
Fell Foot Park
Today, The National Trust has many events that go on all year round, the most popular being the annual Easter Egg trail and egg rolling competition.
For more information on Fell Foot Park please ring 015395 31273 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Our thanks to Simon Bauckham, Fell Foot Park for providing this history of Fell Foot.