Thortindale Cottage, Bolton-le-Sands

Thortindale Cottage, Bolton-le-Sands, Lancashire: House History

Thortindale Cottage was built in the early part of the 19th century, probably 1830, for a John Pearson. The more recent suggestion that it is much older or that it has an ‘ecclesiastical’ feel to it is due to the architectural style in which it was built. The building is clearly a ‘cottage orné’ in the Gothic style, the south end was no doubt constructed to act as a coach house and/or stables and was as elaborately decorated as the main part to the north, if not more so. A building of such a form at that date suggests very strongly that the architect was probably George Webster of Kendal (1797-1864), who was something of a pioneer of this style in the area, if not nationally. While there is no specific evidence to corroborate this, the form of the building is very similar to other Webster buildings in the area and he is recorded as building Hawksheads House, also in Bolton-le-Sands, for John Coulston, who had previously lived at Thortindale, in 1856, so it is conceivable that Webster was chosen because of this connection.

The irregular arrangement of the building can also in part be explained as resulting from this style, which was, to some extent, a reaction against the more regular classical forms of the Georgian period. It would appear that there was originally limited access between the two parts of the building, although this is understandable in terms of keeping the ‘polite’ and service wings separate. At a later date a doorway was added between what are now the dining room and study, hence the odd angle. What is not clear is where the original service rooms were and there is no obvious location for a kitchen, unless it was where the ground floor bathroom or study now is.

The details of the residents is of some interest, with initially a local banker, John Coulston, and family, followed by the Fisher family, indicating that it was occupied by and perhaps built for professional people who wanted a home in the most fashionable current style. William Webster is a notable resident in his own right, as an important collector of ethnographic art, although he does not seem to have lived at the house for a great deal of time; he died in Middlesex in 1913 ‘of chronic alcoholism’ having by that time left his first wife and taken a common law wife, Eva Cutter, who came from a family already connected to the trade in ethnographic art. It is conceivable that Webster was also responsible for the stained glass windows present in the house. By the early 20th century it came into the possession of a local clergyman, and it is tempting to speculate that the suggestion that the house was much older than it is or that it had monastic connections might date from this period as aspects of its history not favoured by the new owners (such as its previous occupation by a staunch Catholic and even the presence of a perhaps controversial figure such as William Webster) were ‘covered up’.

Over all, the house represents an interesting example of its type and if it is a Webster building then it is a previously unrecognised example of the work of an important local architectural dynasty.