Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Rocks & Tinplate

This is Stoneywell Cottage in the Charnwood Forest, north west of Leicester. If you like arts 'n' crafts buildings and furniture (and I'm bonkers about them) then this seemingly organic house, rising out of the igneous rock and surrounded by woods, must be put very high on your 'must do' list. Designed by Ernest Gimson for his brother Sydney, it was built in Ulverscroft by that mercurial A&C craftsman Detmar Blow. Completed at the very end of the nineteenth century, for the most part it was used as a summer residence, with the family returning for Christmas. Deceptively economic in design, there are beautifully homely touches everywhere. A piece of granite jutting out near a fireplace was left for Sydney's tobacco jar and pipe, the stairs are like church tower steps with helpful ropes leading up to rooms where the floors are all on differing levels. The very nature of the site means that the main fat chimney grows up out the rock, an upstairs bedroom window gives access immediately into the garden.

The furniture is of course so at home. Gimson-designed ladder-backed chairs sit round a solid table in the dining room, almost Shaker-style coat hooks hang against a white painted wall. Contemporary or beautifully reproduced cots, beds and bookshelves; and everywhere a very comforting feel of homeliness. I could have dozed off in an armchair with an Arthur Ransome book on my lap, daffodils on a deeply-inset window sill, a log fire spitting in the grate with its Gimson fire irons in attendance.

As you can probably imagine I got very excited upstairs, with not only wonderful pictures on the walls, childrens' games on cupboards and chairs but also a heart-stopping Hornby O Gauge train on the floor of the Well Room, working its way past tinplate buildings in order to tunnel underneath a bed. And all so genuine. This is no art-directed interior, Stoneywell was left to the National Trust by Donald Gimson, grandson of Sydney, who advised the Trust on so much here. You have to book, which is good because it means you won't be trudging round with a hundred others before and after. But do try and make it soon as spring comes to Stoneywell.