The Chelsea game was on at the time we’d planned to be in Ambleside so we dropped him at the station in Carlisle so he could take the train to Stamford Bridge in London for the game and we continued on to the Lakes District.
Obviously, having an interest in Charlotte Mason’s ideas and practice was one of my main reasons for wanting to visit the area, but I was also intrigued by a place that appeared to have been a mecca for some very influential, intelligent, and gifted people – Beatrix Potter, William Wordsworth and John Ruskin being notable examples besides Charlotte Mason.
In 1891 Charlotte Mason (1842-1923) started a training institute for governesses, which became the House of Education at Ambleside in 1892. After her death it became known as the Charlotte Mason College and was managed by the county until the 1990’s when it became part of Lancaster University. St. Martin’s College took over its management in the late 1990s (Charlotte Mason/St. Martins College in Ambleside).The site of the Charlotte Mason college in Ambleside is now occupied by the University of Cumbria which was formed in 2007.
In 2017 The University of Cumbria signed an agreement with the Armitt Library and Museum Centre, one of the UK’s rarest small museums. The Armitt is in the same location as the university (to the right of the sign pictured below) and first opened in 1912 as a museum, library and gallery ‘devoted to preserving and sharing the cultural heritage of the Lake District.’
Founded in memory of sisters Mary Louisa and Sophia Armitt, Beatrix Potter was one of its early supporters and its greatest benefactor. It is now being established as the national centre for all Charlotte Mason archives.
What was it about this little spot in England? Well, it was obvious as we drove down from the north that the Lakes District is very beautiful and the town of Ambleside itself is very quaint, but there are plenty of delightful little places all over Britain.
Although the second half of the 19th Century was a time of rapid innovation and technological advancement for Britain, Ambleside remained isolated from the general hubbub. It had no electricity until 1930, and it was some distance from the trainline so its comparative tranquillity made it a sought after retreat for intellectuals – artists, writers, and academics. They in turn had ties to numerous other poets, artists & novelists who also spent time in the area.
Surprisingly, there has also always been industry in the Lakes District with quarrying, a gunpowder factory, watermills, and copper mining. Up until the 1970’s bobbin mills were operating there also.
We arrived at the end of the peak season and the centre of the town was a busy little place but it was peaceful & quiet in the Armitt. There are lovely little tea shops everywhere and there was a gentle intermittent drizzle of rain – perfect!
The Armitt building also hosts a gift shop and sells a wide variety of secondhand books that I thought were very reasonably priced.
Although samples of Charlotte Mason’s students’ Nature Notebooks and other material may be viewed online via The Charlotte Mason Digital Collection at Redeemer College, I was so pleased to see and handle some original work at The Armitt. Photographs aren’t permitted in the library but I was told I could photograph the samples I looked through so here are some of them. The library has a Charlotte Mason ‘sample’ box and I looked through this and also a couple of Nature Notebooks (pictured below).
I was asked by a fellow home educator if the nature notebooks looked at all ‘like the intensive sort of things we sometimes see in CM curriculum these days’ and I would have to say that I thought they were quite simple and seemed to reflect the different personalities and inclinations of the owners. One I looked at was predominantly a journal with more text than actual brush drawing or sketching. Another concentrated more on drawing with less writing but observations were clearly labelled.
Moozle expressed her surprise that the notebooks weren’t as artistic or professional as she thought they would be. Maybe that’s because that’s what she often sees when we look at nature notebooks online.
This was a positive aspect for me – seeing what the students of Charlotte Mason’s schools actually did rather than ‘making them the intensive things we sometimes see.’
Amongst the items in the sample box was a more recent PNEU programme for Years 9 & 10 which was just up my alley as Moozle is finishing year 9 this year. This schedule was included too:
Some websites of interest:
Charlotte Mason College, Ambleside: memories from the 60\’s
Charlotte Mason – Armitt