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Lakeland Writers and Authors

John Ruskin
John Ruskin

Another prominent 19th century literary figure associated with the Lake District is John Ruskin, who was born in London in 1819 and became one of the greatest art critics of the Victorian Age. Ruskin’s father was a wine merchant who loved both arts and the countryside and encouraged his son to paint and write poems about the many travels they took together.

At the age of 18, following a doomed love affair, Ruskin went to Oxford and lived in lodgings with his mother. While at Oxford Ruskin began to collect paintings by Turner and at the tender age of 24 published the classic work 'Modern Painters' that included a successful defense of Turner’s abstract style. Ruskin spent his life writing books, giving lectures and encouraging painters by buying up their work with his private wealth. He was great friends with Rossetti, Burne-Jones and Millais and was appointed Slade professor of Fine Art at Oxford University in 1869.

Brantwood
Brantwood

In 1871 he bought Brantwood near Coniston in the Lake District for £1500, describing it as dilapidated and dismal but in possession of glorious views. He moved in with his cousin, Joan Severn, and began rebuilding, adding extra rooms such as the bedroom tower. Ruskin lived at Brantwood from the age of 52 until his death in 1900 aged 80. He wrote several books whilst at Brantwood, including his autobiography, and was involved in many local activities, although his final years were marred by mental illness and depression. Today the Ruskin museum at Coniston is open to the public as is Brantwood, thought by many to be the most beautifully situated house in the Lake District. Brantwood is home to the Severn Studio exhibition of modern art, a bookshop and a restaurant and tourists are able to rent out part of the house as top-quality self-catering accommodation.

Beatrix Potter, born in London in 1866, was taken by her parents at the age of 16 to stay in Wray Castle near Ambleside. During her stay she became friends with the vicar of the local church, Cannon H. Rawnsley, who influenced her with his views on the need to preserve the natural beauty of the landscape and encouraged her to try to publish The Tale of Peter Rabbit, which was then just a series of sketches. On returning to London Beatrix produced greetings cards out of the sketches, gradually collecting them into a book for which she attempted to find a publisher. Unsuccessful, in 1901 she paid £11 of her own money to print 250 copies of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, which she sold to friends and family.

Hill Top, Beatrix Potter's house
Hill Top, Beatrix Potter's house

In 1902 she wrote and self-published 'The Tailor of Gloucester', at which point one of the editors who had originally rejected her work offered to publish a colour version of Peter Rabbit. Several more books were to follow, until in 1905 Potter was able to buy Hill Top Farm in her beloved Lake District with her earnings. Although she continued to live in London, Potter got ideas for her stories in the Lake District. In 1909, having sold many more books she was able to buy Castle Cottage, across the road from Hill Top Farm, moving to the lake District full time in 1913 to live at Castle Cottage with her husband, a local solicitor.

Soon after moving to Castle Cottage, Potter lost interest in writing books and became instead a successful breeder of the local Herdwick sheep, gradually adding more and more Lakeland property to her portfolio. When she died in 1943 aged 77, Potter was able to leave 14 farms, 4000 acres of land and several flocks of Herdwick sheep to the National Trust. Today Hill Top Farm, a 17th century farmhouse with a traditional cottage garden, is open to the public, while Hawkshead is home to the Beatrix Potter Gallery, showing original water colours by the author that are changed annually. Windermere, meanwhile, plays host to a thriving tourist attraction billed as The World of Beatrix Potter.

The Lakes continued to inspire writers throughout the 20th century. Arthur Ransome, who lived in several areas of the Lake District, placed his hugely popular Swallows and Amazons series, published between 1930 and 1947, in a fictionalized Lake District setting.

Sir Hugh Walpole lived at Brackenburn on the lower slopes of Derwent Water from 1924 until his death in 1947 and whilst there wrote the famous Herries Chronicles, detailing the history of a fictionalized Cumbrian family over two centuries.

Melvyn Bragg grew up in the lakes and set his famous 'A Time to Dance' there, while Norman Nicholson, who died in 1987, spent his whole life in the town of Millom, writing poetry whose simplicity and directness of language caused its author to be known as the last of the Lakeland Poets.

© 2018 Lake District Guide