Georgian house is a step back in time

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Fountain House has made an ideal family home for Mike and Margaret Cunningham for nearly 30 years.

The Georgian Grade II-listed three-storey house was the perfect place for their three children to bring their friends home from university. Nowadays, Mike and Margaret’s eight grandchildren love to visit them at the house in the centre of Kirkby Lonsdale.

But it was pure chance that led them to buy the property. It was 1989, Mike had left the RAF and was working for British Aerospace at Warton, near Preston, so they were looking for a family home in the area.

Property around Kirkby Lonsdale was scarce and having made a disappointing trip to an estate agent in the town, Mike and Margaret went for a coffee.

Mike recalls: “The girl serving us said, ‘Are you looking for a house in Kirkby? My dad’s always talking about moving’.”

She pointed out Fountain House and they walked to the end of Market Street to have a look. Deciding they liked it, they went to see the owner.

“We met at five o’clock and shook hands at 5.30pm,” recalls Mike.

Mike and Margaret, who also ran a family business in geopolitical risk analysis from offices in the town, are now mostly retired and have decided it’s time to sell Fountain House. The property has eight bedrooms and they find themselves rattling around. Even with 10 house guests over Christmas, they found they hardly ventured up to the second floor.

However, Mike says they’re reluctant sellers: “We love the place; it’s going to be a huge wrench.”

Margaret says the location is perfect, as they’re in the middle of town but the house is quiet and the walled garden behind is secluded and peaceful. Dales Butchers is just a couple of doors away on Market Street, which she jokes has proved handy over the years: “It’s an extension of our kitchen.”

Believed to date from the late 1600s or early 1700s, Fountain House was originally a coaching inn with a thatched roof. By the mid-1700s, business was booming and Fountain Inn had become the principal inn in the town.

The building was substantially altered and the Georgian front section was added in about 1830 by the Rev William Carus Wilson. The Rev Wilson was a prominent figure in the area and in 1823 had founded the Clergy Daughter’s School at nearby Cowan Bridge, where the novelist Charlotte Brontë was a pupil.

The school and the Rev Wilson were later said to have provided Charlotte with inspiration for the appalling Lowood school and its tyrannical headmaster in her 1847 masterpiece Jane Eyre.

Fountain House still has many original features and the rooms have typical Georgian high ceilings, sash windows with shutters, decorative plasterwork and cornices, picture rails and original tiled floors. The curved staircase is dominated by a large, decorative arched window.

The previous owners had used each of the property’s three stories to accommodate a different generation of the family in separate apartments and so when Mike and Margaret moved in, each floor had its own kitchen and bathroom.

They reorganised the accommodation, removing the kitchens and bathrooms they didn’t need, and moved the family kitchen to the rear of the house, overlooking the walled garden.

The kitchen is in the oldest part of the property, which dates from its time as a coaching inn, and the ceiling is still covered with hooks which would once have been used for hanging game.

The fireplace, which has a log-burning stove, has a large sandstone lintel. The fireplace partially collapsed during building work and it was discovered that the wall was riddled with chimneys which were connected to eight bread ovens, also dating from the property’s use as an inn. The builders inserted a brace to make the fireplace safe and managed to save the original lintel.

The kitchen is painted in a green Farrow and Ball shade. Mike and Margaret have used muted colours throughout the house to reflect the Georgian preference for soft shades.

When Mike and Margaret moved in they set about removing boards which had been used to box in several fireplaces. A number of original fireplaces had survived, including the sitting room fireplace which has elaborate carving, Georgian tiles and Dent marble.

However, the metalwork had been missing until Mike made a discovery: “I had almost given up the idea of reopening the fireplaces, then I found a sack in the cellar full of old, rusty iron. When we started to work it out, we realised it was the bits of fireplaces, so I then had a jigsaw to put them together.”

One of Fountain House’s distinguishing features is an elaborate Georgian metal arch above the front gate. Margaret and Mike commissioned the Kirkby Lonsdale sculptor Andrew Kay to make complementary railings, replacing a stone wall which they felt was out of character.

Not only has Fountain House been a good base for their children and grandchildren but Margaret’s mother, who had dementia, spent her final years there with the family. There was plenty of space for her to have her own bedroom, adjoining sitting room and bathroom.

Mike says: “It has been and it is a great family house and it should be occupied by a family.”

Margaret agrees and adds: “It’s served us very, very well and we’ve been very happy here. It’s time for somebody else.”

** Fountain House is on the market with Davis and Bowring for £930,000.

Brontë, Beck Head and babies… a history of Fountain House

The most prominent owner of Fountain House was the Rev William Carus Wilson (1791-1859), a well known clergyman who became associated with Charlotte Brontë and her novel, Jane Eyre.

A member of an ancient local family, he was responsible for knocking down part of what was Fountain Inn and rebuilding it, in about 1830, in the Georgian style which has survived today. It became a private home and was known as Beck Head House.

The Rev Wilson was the founder of the Clergy Daughter’s School at Cowan Bridge - which he later moved to Casterton - where Charlotte Brontë was a pupil, along with her sisters Maria, Elizabeth and Emily.

While at the school, Maria and Elizabeth became ill with tuberculosis and were sent home, where they later died. Charlotte blamed conditions at the school for her sisters’ deaths and later used her time there and the Rev Wilson for inspiration when she created the despised Lowood school and its tyrannical headmaster, Mr Brocklehurst, in her novel Jane Eyre.

When the school was later identified by Mrs Gaskell, the Rev Wilson threatened to sue, although he didn’t carry this out. His family and other former pupils defended him and described him as being kind and generous and the school flourished at its Casterton location.

In 1934, Beck Head House became a nursing home run by Mrs Wilson, the wife of blacksmith Jonty Wilson, and was given its current name, Fountain House. There are people still living in the area who were born at the property.

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