The estate reached the peak of its development under Ridehalgh, who planted an arboretum of specimen deciduous trees and exotic conifers, as well as laying out shrubberies of species rhododendrons within the open lawns of the paddocks, to optimise views both from the house and from the lake. He also extended the walled kitchen garden behind the house and completed stables and kennels over the road, in addition to reworking the interior of the house (see the photo below – possibly a trophy room?), and lighting the entire estate with coal gas generated on site.
The Gas House of 1869 (above), now Grade II listed, is a delightful picturesque cottage with attractively carved bargeboards of swept Gothic form, and is clearly intended as an ornamental feature of the landscape to be seen from the lake.
The end of the Ridehalgh era came in 1907, when the Colonel’s cousin George died and the estate was sold to Oswald Hedley (1884-1945). Hedley demolished the house and started to build a neo-Jacobean mansion – which had risen no higher than the cellars before his wife died in 1909 and he virtually abandoned Fell Foot for the rest of his life (see photos below of our archaeological excavations of the foundations earlier this year).
His widow – his third wife, Mrs E.L. Hedley – gave the 18 acres between the road and the lake to the National Trust in 1948, in her husband’s memory. The intensive recreational use of Fell Foot enjoyed by thousands of visitors today began at this point, initially with a 21-year lease to Mr P.L. Rhodes to run the site for camping and caravans, and from 1969 under Trust management as a Country Park. It was the first in the Lake District to be so designated under the Countryside Act of 1968, which provided government grant-aid to set up the necessary facilities for outdoor recreation.
The Country Park which opened in 1972 with 19 holiday chalets in the woodland, facilities for touring caravans in the former walled garden, and a car park on the site of the house, has since been largely dismantled, certainly in respect of overnight stays. We know that a photo exists of the ’70s chalets, but we are yet to find it!
Fell Foot will always have considerable importance as a public amenity on Windermere, being one of the very few lakeside venues accessible to the public south of Bowness, and there remains the potential to restore the historic landscape to the splendour of its Victorian heyday!