I have to say, Townend was one of my favorite places of all the sites we visited on our trip. We hiked over from Windermere—again along a busy road (A591—part of the same road we walked on to get to Rydal Mount)—to Troutbeck Bridge and then up Bridge Lane. By a great stroke of luck, arrived just in time for the 11 am house tour. The docent was great—I say this because I actually remember a lot of what he said—and I also bought the guide book to help jog my memory.
The Browne family, prosperous farmers and, according to the docent, social climbers to some extent, lived in Townend for over 400 years, and the house and furnishings are very much as they would have been if my Regency characters had stopped by for a visit. Except for the carving on the furniture. Apparently the last George Browne (there were many) was an enthusiastic woodcarver, and he embellished much, if not all, the wood in the house. Sort of horrifying from a historian’s perspective—or even that of a Regency romance writer—but a reminder that the house was indeed a house and not a museum. The carvings are a bit outlandish—our docent said they speculate that George was a fan of National Geographic and got some of his inspiration there. (But I have to say the figures carved in the Elizabethan paneling at Levens Hall reminded me of George’s work.)
Here are a few of the tidbits I retained from our tour:
* We started in the kitchen where the docent told us the Brownes would hang their meat to dry (in a meat loft, according to the guide book). A visitor could glance up and see if the Brownes were having a prosperous year by the amount of meat hanging there.
* The family and servants all ate together at a long table called a board (as in room and board)
* The family were keen readers and had an extensive library with a wide variety of books.
* The servant’s room was quite spacious. There wasn’t a marked class difference between the servants and the family. Many of the Browne children would at one time or another be sent to neighboring homes to work in service to learn needed skills.
* While the room was large, the furniture wasn’t exceedingly fancy. The wardrobe was a repurposed bin from the barn, turned on its side.
* This was before the invention of box springs. Mattresses were placed on rope supports, and the docent showed us how they fastened to the bed frame. With use, over time the ropes would stretch, and folks would sink into their beds. I don't remember if the Townend or the Hilltop docent told us this (Mr. M thinks it was the Hilltop woman, and I'm sure he is correct), but if things got bad enough, one’s posterior would sink deeper and deeper into the sagging ropes so that you couldn’t get out of bed without help. Supposedly this is where the nighttime wish “sleep tight” came from. (The Hilltop docent told us she’d visited an estate where the bed had a compartment you could open. Inside was a crank for tightening the bed ropes.)
* Baby cradles like the one at Townend sometimes had a door in the back which could be opened and a hot brick inserted to warm the cradle.
* The Brownes had been magistrates at one time or the other. One of the bedrooms had a door in the ceiling, and it was up there they would put people accused of crimes until they could be taken to the gaol.
* In times before running water, taking a bath was a major—and infrequent—occurrence. When it was bath night, a wooden or metal tub would be filled with water, and Mr. Browne, as the head of the household, would get in. After he’d bathed, the grime and scum left behind—it might have been weeks or months since his last bath, and he’d been out working on the farm all that time—would be skimmed off and Mrs. Browne would get her turn. And the water would be skimmed again and the oldest child would get in. And so it would go down to the youngest, the baby, who got the last bath before the bathwater was finally disposed of. And, according to Townend docent—and if I remember correctly, confirmed by the Hilltop docent—that’s where the expression “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” comes from.
* George built a fake interior staircase that goes nowhere so his house would appear grander than it was.
* Walking through the house, you quickly realize the wooden floors are very uneven. The way the Brownes dealt with the changing floor was to lengthen some of the legs on a desk or bed so the furniture remained level even if the floor wasn’t.
Here’s the barn, which isn’t open to the public. And a side view:
The stacked stone walls were everywhere we went. We learned they last about 300 years.
Here’s a view of the countryside as we made our way from Townend to Nanny Lane to begin our hike up Wansfell Pike.