House and gardens

The Brockhole grounds cover an area of 30 acres, with 10 acres of formal gardens.

Timeline of the house

  • 1896: William Gaddum purchased the site.
  • 1897: The Gaddum family had Brockhole built. Architect Dan Gibson designed the house for William Henry Adolphus Gaddum, a silk merchant from Manchester, who wished to have a ‘summer house’ in the newly fashionable Lake District. 
  • 1899: William, his wife Edith Potter (cousin to Beatrix Potter) and two children, Jim and Molly, moved into the house. Beatrix Potter was a frequent visitor to the house, and she refers to the house in her Journals.
  • 1946: The family sold the house when William Gaddum died. 
  • 1948: Merseyside Hospital Board purchased it and converted it into a convalescent home.
  • 1966: The Lake District National Park Authority (LDNPA) purchased Brockhole 
  • 1969: LDNPA opened Brockhole as the UK’s first National Park Visitor Centre.  In its first month (June) it had 40,000 visitors. 
  • 1998: We carried out a major refurbishment with Heritage Lottery grant funding. 
  • Today: We are looking to refurbish the centre once again, with a particular emphasis on restoring the gardens.

The gardens

Thomas Mawson designed the gardens, working closely with Dan Gibson who designed the house. Mawson is internationally known as a key influence in the design of gardens during the Arts and Crafts movement.

Mawson started his career as a local landscape gardener with many designs in Cumbria, including Rydal Hall and Blackwell. During his career he designed gardens in numerous countries around the world - including the Peace Palace Gardens of the Hague - and contributed to city plans in Athens and many North American cities.

Brockhole is one of his most important gardens because he is a Lancastrian and started his career with a Windermere nursery, so had good knowledge of the plants which would grow here.  He was a teetotaller workaholic with a passion for detail and had firmly held opinions about garden design.

Mawson recorded examples of his work, together with his design philosophies, in his book, The Art and Craft of Garden Making. English Heritage has listed the gardens of National Importance. 

The garden was built as a series of South and West facing terraces, sloping gently down to the shores of Lake Windermere, moving from formal to informal planting through flowerbeds, meadow and woodland to the lakeshore.

A system of underground water tanks below the terrace by the Orangery collected rainwater from gutters to act as a Victorian ‘sprinkler system’ to irrigate the flower beds. 

The terrace was created for the mountain view at the Northern end, towards the Langdales, Bowfell and Crinkle Crags. This immediate terrace adjacent to the house was designed to be restful, and available for promenading at all seasons. We have preserved many of Mawson’s original ideas and garden furnishings. The plantings, whilst still in keeping with Mawson’s ideals, have continued to evolve, and Brockhole is now home to numerous interesting and unusual plants from all over the world. 

Mawson’s original plantings that remain include some fine specimen trees (conifers and broadleaves), formal clipped yew and box hedging, Rhododendrons, Wisteria and Magnolias. Added to these are a wealth of herbaceous plantings, scented plants, old-fashioned roses and various other ornamental trees and shrubs, designed to provide something of interest at all times of the year.  

There are regular garden walks throughout the season, and garden open days each year. See what's on for more details.

Highlights of the grounds

Spectacular view of the Langdales

The terrace enjoys a beautiful view of the Langdale Pikes, Pike of Stickle and Harrison Stickle, two of the most well known Lake District mountains.

These hills were the site of a Stone Age axe factory. In 1947 this major ‘factory’ was discovered, with chisels and axes belonging to the farmers and craftsmen who lived in Lakeland 4-5,000 years ago. This Langdale ‘shop floor’ was 600 meters up in the hills, and during the summer axes were chipped out, and taken ‘home’ to the west coast of Cumbria during the winter months to be polished. These products were widely exported to the Isle of Man, Ireland and Southern Scotland.

Games Lawn

Mawson laid out this lawn when first landscaping the gardens, and the lawn was used for croquet and tennis.  This is where the family was joined by Mrs Gaddum’s famous cousin Beatrix Potter.  


You can see a change in geology from this point. The Langdale hills and surrounding large mountains all represent the volcanic rock. Round to the left, near the lower, wooded hills of Claife Heights the geology is Silurian Slate. Slate breaks down more easily so here there is very fertile soil. These soils have been exploited by medieval farmers and the Cistercian Monks of Furness Abbey who had major estates including deer parks for four centuries.


The largest lake in the Lake District, Windermere is 10.5 miles long and 1.25 miles wide at its widest point. It is 219 feet deep. It is fed by the River Rothay and the River Brathay, and at the southern end, it is drained out by the River Leven at Backbarrow, which meets Morecambe Bay near Ulverston.

At the north end of the Lake is the small town of Ambleside. This was the site of a Roman Fort known as Galava. This was a small enclosed garrison on the way to the larger, better-known fort at Hardknott, heading for the West Coast at Ravenglass.

The early and middle ages in the central lake district were a wild and lawless time. There was scattered subsistence living with some ore mining. Gradually other industry developed, including slate industry, with gunpowder making at places such as Elterwater, in the Langdales. As these industries developed, they used Windermere as a transport system with sailboats and long ore boats. 

A passenger service was introduced on Windermere in 1836. The first paddle steamer – The Lady of the Lake – was introduced in 1845. The tourist trade grew, especially in the second half of the 19th century when the railway arrived at Windermere.

You can travel to Brockhole by steamer today too - find out more about getting here