Winder Hall History

There is a great feeling of history and ancestry about Winder Hall near Cockermouth, in the Lake District. We have other fascinating documents and pictures at Winder, and you can see some of these around the building. In the meantime, we thought you might enjoy to read an abbreviated history of our unique, welcoming hotel in the vale of Lorton.

Winder Hall is one of the oldest houses in the Lake District. The Scottish King, Malcolm III, allegedly stayed here in the eleventh century. Whatever structure existed then remains a mystery but we do have a Tudor hearth dating from the 1550’s. Our Dining Room formed the main hall in the Jacobean manor house and dates from the 1660’s with Arts and Crafts oak panelling added in the late 19th century.

The house is named after the Winder family who were given Royal Charter to most of old Cumberland County in the 14th century and who then lived here at Lorton Hall for the next three hundred years. As the most prosperous and royally-connected land-owners, they gave their name to Winder(mere) amongst other local features and villages. The Jacobean Manor House was long and thin with the main door having now been converted into the large window in the centre of the Dining Room. The Jacobean hearth has also now been concealed with the recessed dresser, also dating from major changes and additions made to the house in the late Victorian period.

There would have been a staircase leading from the dining room to an up-stairs ante-room (now converted into one of our guest bedrooms). This room led to the two master bedrooms which now both feature four-poster beds. These two main bedrooms also feature ancient fire-places. One of them allegedly contains a priest-hole. The other fireplace was re-built in the 19thC to include the original Jacobean lintel and stone door-frame from Jacobean times including the initials of Peter and Anne Winder.

After the demise of the Winder family, the Lucock-Bragg family took up residence. William Wordsworth was a friend of the family and correspondence records that he stayed overnight here on at least one occasion. The census of the time records two “lunatic” children (probably living with Down’s Syndrome or birth trauma in modern parlance). These two children survived their parents and were cared for by a nurse until they too died at a young age. We think that our friendly resident ghost was one of the children’s nurses. She does a good job looking after us all nowadays just as she previously looked after the Lucock-Bragg children!

In the nineteenth century, Mr Dixon, a prosperous Victorian mine-owner with businesses based along the Cumbrian West Coast (still Britain’s Energy Coast) bought Lorton Hall and significantly altered and added to the property, including the Pele tower to which we are attached. Although this tower is definitely a Victorian folly, it is possible that he built over an original fortified tower of which there are other surviving examples in the area. His legacy is the building you see today. Unfortunately, his son hated the place and refused to live here after his father’s death. He spent most of his time in Africa and only returned twice a year to pay the estate workers. Even then, he refused to stay here and took up residence at The Pheasant Inn in Bassenthwaite. This is not such a long time ago, and there are still one or two elderly villagers who worked on the Lorton Hall estate in their youth.

The twentieth century saw the Estate go into gradual decline with most of the farmland sold off and the house becoming gradually more derelict. It served as an evacuee distribution centre during the war and then as a convalescent hospital. After the war it became a boarding school for ‘vulnerable’ children, run by a teacher and doctor married couple. During the school-holidays, the house opened its doors as a guest house with the option to camp in the grounds.
We have been privileged to meet some of the children who were sent to school here. One of them suffered “brain freeze” after he fell into a frozen lake in London. He certainly has suffered no life-long effects. The other gentleman described himself as a slow-learner. They both re-called a young girl with terrible eczema and asthma who sadly died here. Both gentlemen have fond memories of their time here and described the sad day when the lady doctor died herself. They attended her funeral at Lorton Church and were then immediately dispatched home and the school was closed.

By the 1980’s the house had fallen into disrepair and despite the valiant attempts of a certain Captain Hubbard to restore the house to its former glory and convert Lorton Hall into a hotel, he alas ran out of funds and had to put Lorton Hall on the market. There were no takers for such a large and run-down property and so it was divided into five separate properties. These are as follows:
• Winder Hall – the old Jacobean manor house with Victorian enlargements, converted to a hotel business in the mid-1990s.
• The old Barn and Stables – owned by Winder Hall since 2007.
• The Victorian tower – retaining the name Lorton Hall, and privately owned by the same family since 1982.
• The adjoining cottage which used to be the kitchen and chapel to the house – privately owned since 1982.
• Workers cottage and kennels – privately owned since 1982.

Ann and I moved here in 2002, and still love the excitement and challenges of our lovely life in the Lake District, complete with our three children, cat, dogs, hamster and of course our pigs! We’ve moved just down the road now, but hope to see you at Winder soon so you can enjoy a warm welcome at Winder Hall!

Nick