Improving on history
Country Life UK|March 10, 2021
A beautifully preserved Georgian house reveals the influence of pattern books in the practice of English architecture. John Goodall admires its revival and the addition to it of two well-judged new wings
Beckside House, Lancashire The home of Dr John Martin Robinson

BECKSIDE—as the name suggests —always rings with the sound of running water. The stream that gives the house its name also encloses the garden and helps bestow on the whole property a sense of intimacy and enclosure. Set on the edge of Barbon village, Beckside is approached from the side, the main front revealing itself suddenly to the visitor as they walk down the short drive. At a first sight, it answers the popular ideal of a Georgian gentleman’s seat, with a fine symmetrical façade, strikingly handsome without being pretentious. On acquaintance, the house is exactly what it first promises to be, but it proves to be more noteworthy, interesting and complex as well.

The figure who has made it so is the owner, John Martin Robinson, a name familiar to readers of COUNTRY LIFE as a regular contributor to the magazine’s architectural pages for nearly 50 years. He purchased Beckside in 1986, at a time when it was on the verge of dereliction, and has turned it into a physical manifestation of his expertise in—and love for—Georgian architecture.

In the years since, he has not only lovingly restored the historic fabric of the building, replete with an outstanding series of original fittings but enlarged it as well, with wings. These give the house architectural presence and have been so cleverly conceived and executed that they might easily be mistaken for elements of the original design (Fig 1).

Dr Robinson has also researched the history of Beckside and much of what follows is indebted to his work, as well as that of Prof David Watkin, who wrote up Beckside when it looked very different (COUNTRY LIFE, September 10, 1998). One happy product of these expert investigations is a remarkably full picture of the social history of the house and its owners. Such an impression of a building on this relatively modest scale—and in this part of the country—is a rarity. It is a reminder of how rich and fascinating the underlying history of such buildings can be.

A house is first documented on the site of Beckside in the late 17th century, at which time it was owned by a yeoman family, the Garnetts. Some elements of this earlier building may have been preserved within the service range to the west of the present house when it was built by one George Turner and his wife, Anne. No documents relating to the new building are known to survive, but the Turners’ initials—GAT— and the date 1767 appear cut into the lintel of the central window above the front door.

Turner owned six farms, as well as property in nearby Kirby Lonsdale. He must have been prosperous in order to purchase and construct Beckside, but he was not outstandingly rich, so, as did many figures in his situation across the country, he turned to a local builder to create a genteel new house. The figure he chose was probably John Hird of Cartmel, a joiner who came to describe himself as an ‘architect’ and whose documented work bears technical comparison to that at Beckside. In particular, the internal decoration makes repeated use of an unusual St Andrew’s Cross motif that is found on the gate piers of Witherslack Church, Cumbria, which Hird remodeled in 1768.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM COUNTRY LIFE UKView All

‘Believe nothing to be impossible'

‘No harder than dancing the Charleston’, according to Lady Heath, flying planes was all the rage for the women of the 1930s, explains Charles Harris

6 mins read
Country Life UK
May 18, 2022

With a spring in its step

Kathryn Bradley-Hole selects some of the many highlights of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, which at long last returns to its traditional May slot

5 mins read
Country Life UK
May 18, 2022

To ring a nightingale

On a cold spring morning, Patrick Galbraith held a nightingale in the palm of his hand. Yet, by the time he has grandchildren, this amazing little bird may have sung its last

7 mins read
Country Life UK
May 18, 2022

Three of a kind

The beautiful North Wessex Downs are the leafy backdrop to three imposing country houses for sale

5 mins read
Country Life UK
May 18, 2022

Lek at me

Managed moorland is the place to observe an extraordinary mating ritual

3 mins read
Country Life UK
May 18, 2022

Oriental splendour

Glamorous and easy to grow, Japanese tree peonies are the mainstay of Primrose Hall Nursery in Bedfordshire, says Val Bourne

5 mins read
Country Life UK
May 18, 2022

The lions of Trafalgar Square

Britain's greatest masterpieces

4 mins read
Country Life UK
May 18, 2022

Rivers of waste

Simon Cooper traces the history of sewage discharges in British waters and suggests possible solutions

5 mins read
Country Life UK
May 18, 2022

Loopy about lupins

Steven Desmond uncovers the touching story behind the exotic, multi-coloured field of lupins at Terwick in West Sussex

5 mins read
Country Life UK
May 18, 2022

ENGLISH HOMES OLD & NEW

English Home part V Each month of this 125th anniversary year, COUNTRY LIFE illustrates a period in the development of the English great house. In the fifth of this 12-part series, John Goodall looks at developments through an age of revolution

8 mins read
Country Life UK
May 18, 2022
RELATED STORIES

NEW YACHTS

RUPERT HOLMES REPORTS ON INNOVATIVE CRUISERS AND THE LATEST FOILERS

7 mins read
Yachting World
November 2021

Using T-Track

T-track is a versatile product that has many great uses around the shop.

3 mins read
Popular Woodworking
February 2021

Time to plant spuds

I aimed to make the most of my limited space says Garry

2 mins read
Amateur Gardening
April 23, 2022

Tremendous toadflax

With their flax-like foliage and spurred flowers resembling small toads, linaria or toadflax are easy-going, colourful, sun-loving plants

7 mins read
Amateur Gardening
April 23, 2022

Best annuals for colour

Sow bold, bright annuals now for a riot of vivid colour throughout the summer, says Hazel Sillver, as she reveals the best plants to grow and how to sow them

7 mins read
Amateur Gardening
April 02, 2022

It's a dog-eat-dog world

Wildlife will do whatever it takes to survive

3 mins read
Amateur Gardening
March 19, 2022

Planting for insects

If you want to keep your garden buzzing with a variety of beneficial insects all summer long, plant a range of nectar-rich flowers, says Anne Swithinbank

7 mins read
Amateur Gardening
March 12, 2022

BEDDING IN

In this second instalment of her new series, Stephanie Hafferty gets to work in her new garden, creating no-dig beds, setting up her compost bins and mulching

6 mins read
Kitchen Garden
April 2022

Best plants for a cutting garden

Free up some border space to create a beautiful cutting garden so you can pick vasefuls of beautiful flowers all summer long, says Anne Swithinbank

5 mins read
Amateur Gardening
February 05, 2022

SHOOTS TO savour

Freshly harvested asparagus is one of those tasty delicacies that heralds the start of the growing season and is one to truly relish. Emma Rawlings offers some tips on growing this special crop

5 mins read
Kitchen Garden
March 2022