Historic Storrs Hall, with its grand Georgian roots, is situated in the heart of one of the most scenic and peaceful regions of the British Isles. It stands with grace and dignity on the shore of Windermere, a magnificent stretch of glittering water, with bays and islands, which has stirred some of the greatest masters of lyrical English language.
The Lakeland poets, William Wordsworth and Robert Southey, were among welcome guests in the Hall's heyday of private ownership, and found inspiration among the prevailing tranquillity. Wordsworth recited his famous 'Daffodils' in the Hall's drawing room. Renowned wit and Tory politician George Canning was among the rich and famous callers.
The brilliant children's author and artist, Beatrix Potter (1866-1943), creator of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Squirrel Nutkin and other charming characters, attended many splendid parties there, joining other distinguished guests from politics, industry and the military.
Yet another Lake District social highlight, The County Ball, was held at Storrs Hall for more than 50 years. If the old walls could speak, what social tittle-tattle could have been whispered down the years.
This handsome mansion, with its breath-taking views of water and fell, was built in the 1790s by Sir John Legard, a Yorkshire landowner. A later owner, the rich Liverpool merchant John Bolton, extended the house and created a park. Today, the legacy of both mens' ambition is there for all to see, and with 17 acres of landscaped and wooded grounds, the Hall has a commanding outlook on to the Lake.
Sir John Legard travelled widely on the continent. He was a great sailor and it is known that in 1791 he lived in a country house in Switzerland close to Lake Geneva, on which he ‘had the best vessel on the lake’. With access to Europe ever more difficult in the years following the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon, Sir John signed over his Yorkshire estate to a brother, bought land on the shores of Windermere, and built Storrs Hall.
The property was completed in 1797, the original house being just the lower central part which today houses the reception area of the hotel and the dining room. Sir John indulged his passion for sailing while living at Storrs, building a boathouse and taking part in sailing matches in his boat, the Victory.
He also built the Temple of the Heroes, which projects out into Windermere and is dedicated to the four British naval immortals, Admirals Duncan, Nelson, Howe and St Vincent, whose names are inscribed on tablets set in its walls. The boathouse and Temple survive, although the monument to brave maritime exploits became something of a ruin before it was restored by the National Trust.
Sir John Legard, who became increasingly crippled by gout, and eventually had to be carried on board his boats, sold Storrs Hall in 1804. Advertised as ‘A Capital Mansion and Estate, well worthy of the attention of any gentleman who wishes to possess one of the most desirable small properties in the kingdom’, it was bought by David Pike Watts, uncle of the famous painter, John Constable. Constable toured the Lake District in 1806, on the recommendation of his uncle, staying in a cottage at Storrs since Watts had sold Storrs Hall that year.
The new owner of Storrs Hall was John Bolton. Born in Ulverston in 1756, he moved to Liverpool where he became one of the town’s leading merchants, and one of the wealthiest men of his class.
He made the first of several fortunes in the slave trade, taking British manufactures to the west coast of Africa, embarking local africans for transport to the sugar colonies in the British Caribbean, and returning with barrels of sugar and of molasses. He gained military rank as Colonel Bolton, following the failed French invasion of Wales in 1797, by raising and paying for an 800-strong regiment, the First Battalion of Liverpool Volunteers.
John Bolton poured some of his large fortune into rebuilding and extending Storrs Hall to designs made by Joseph Michael Gandy, adding wings to the original house and linking them with a loggia on the entrance front and a veranda towards the lake. He remodelled the interior, creating elegant reception rooms, adding the central, top-lit rotunda, and furnishing it to the highest standard.
Sailing was one of John Bolton’s enthusiasms, just as it had been that of Sir John Legard’s, and he took part in regattas on Windermere from an early date. His swift sailing boat, the Victory, almost invariably won the races it entered, so much so that other gentlemen refused to sail against him. In 1810 John Curwen, who lived at Belle Isle on Windermere, ‘was so hurt at being so completely beaten, that he has given up the contest entirely, and all his boats are on sale’!
It was John Bolton who lifted the reputation of Storrs Hall to new heights, drawing to its lofty reception rooms and spacious grounds the most prominent intellectuals and characters of the period. They were attracted by the social occasions which included morning cavalcades through the woods of the 1,000 acre estate, moonlight boating on the lake and sparkling, ambitious regattas.
One account recalls that: ''Perhaps the most exciting of these was in 1825 when, with flags billowing on the Hall and the Temple, 50 barges sailed up Windermere celebrating a visit by George Canning and Sir Walter Scott.'' They paused at the Temple to admit John Bolton and his guests to a place of honour in the parade, and the lake poets led the cheers for Scott and Canning as the cavalcade rounded the bays and islands.
John Wilson, professor of moral philosophy at Edinburgh, who lived for a time at Elleray, above Windermere, established himself as ‘Admiral of the Lakes’. He had been responsible for organising the 1825 regatta, and using the pseudonym of Christopher North, he wrote later: ‘the memory of that bright day returns when Windermere glittered with all her sails in honour of the great northern minstrel’.
Bolton's time at Storrs has been described as the Hall's golden age and, after he died in 1837, his widow stayed on until her own death in 1848. Such was the Hall's influence and repute, that when Queen Adelaide, widow of King William IV, visited the Lake District in 1840, she sailed on Mrs Bolton's cedar barge, the very same vessel which had carried Scott and Canning previously.
Following Mrs Bolton’s death, Storrs Hall was bequeathed to her late husband’s nephew, the Reverend Thomas Staniforth. All the furniture, library of books, a rich collection of porcelain, and pictures of great merit passed as heirlooms with the house. Staniforth himself was an avid collector of silver, china and furniture, and he displayed his treasures, which represented the great manufacturers of the age, in China Cottage, a white house which still stands next to the garage.
Thomas Staniforth died in 1887, and after a complicated descent and a court case in Chancery, the Storrs Estate was sold at auction, in lots, in 1889. Storrs Hall was bought by Benjamin Townson of Barrow-in-Furness in 1890, who ordered major alterations and additions, and transformed the establishment into a new guise as a first class hotel where the guest list was no longer by invitation only.
Some of the previous splendour returned in the 1920s and 1930s when Storrs became widely known as a Grand Hotel frequented by privileged visitors to the magnificent setting.
As first class passengers left the steam trains at the L.M.S. terminus at Windermere, horse-drawn hotel coaches picked up their passengers, and it was the fortunate and discriminating who stepped into the Storrs vehicle. One reason that Windermere became a famous spot was the sense of excitement and adventure, which had been introduced locally by a succession of attempts on water speed records.
Travel both at home and abroad was increasing in popularity, and Storrs welcomed many American tourists carried there in charabancs by American Express.
The hotel attracted many distinguished people between the two world wars, but perhaps the most memorable was the Gaikuar of Baroda, an Indian potentate whose entourage carried with them his own bed, a fabulous creation in mother-of-pearl.
Another change of ownership came in 1943 when Storrs was bought by North British Trust Hotels, who introduced some spectacular features, which still remain today. The main bar came from Blackpool's Winter Gardens.
But how did the name Storrs gain such a prominent place in the Lake District of today? Well, research shows that the history of the Storrs family dates back to before the Norman Conquest, and the earliest known document of 1590 refers to the administration of ''goodes belonging unto Agnes Storres late of Storrs Widow dec.''
Among family notables was Sir Ronald Storrs, a friend of T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), who was military governor of Jerusalem 1917-1920, Civil Governor of Jerusalem and Judea 1920-1926, Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Cyprus 1926-1930 and of Northern Rhodesia 1932-1934.
Storrs Hall changed ownership in 1997, then during 1998 the new owner, Les Hindle, a Lancashire businessman, used his talents to carry out a sympathetic restoration.
Each bedroom has a private bathroom, television, radio, individually controlled central heating, direct dial telephone, tea and coffee making facilities, hairdryer.
With its elegant furnishings and fittings and breath-taking views, Storrs Hall, one of the best addresses in the Lake District, is an outstanding addition to England's range of top class hotels. It possesses a special something which can only come from a sense of history and a top drawer pedigree, embellished by an undoubted style and first rate cuisine.