‘Among the many beautiful specimens of rural situation, there are few which can compare with Dallam Tower. Sheltered by tall and ancient trees, surrounded by an ancient park..it is justifiably esteemed as one of the prominent places in the country.’ (Lonsdale Magazine Aug 1821).
Some things change and some things stay the same:
To the southern foothills of the Lake District for a Grade 1 listed house lying so close to a tidal estuary at the top of Morecambe Bay that you don’t actually need a tower to see the sea. Which is just as well really because there isn’t one. Indeed, for a place so-named, there’s a distinct lack of verticality about Dallam Tower. The emphasis here is in fact precisely the opposite and best appreciated in widescreen:Dallam has been the seat of the Wilsons and their descendants (often via marriage or cousins hence Wilson→Bromley→Tryon→Villiers-Smith) since the latter part of the C17 when Edward Wilson acquired the estate some nine miles south of Lakeland’s ‘capital’, Kendal. And the man whose buildings still dominate and characterise that town as we see it today, George Webster, is also responsible for Dallam’s defining elongated facade. Webster was a local architect for local people and the finest flowering of an established family of masons-cum-architects whose work can be seen in towns, villages and country estates all around these parts. His work at Dallam c1826 (for Lt.-Col. George (Smyth) Wilson and wife Sarah) was to be the third and most emphatic phase in the house’s evolution.
Edward Wilson’s son Daniel rebuilt the core of the present house 1720-22 in brick, incorporating much of the existing C17 panelling and mullion windows. A century on, ‘Dallam had an untidy cluster of minor buildings around it when George Webster was brought in to pull the composition together.’¹ The architect duly ‘aggrandized the house, rendering the brick to imitate stonework,’ adding the Tuscan porch and those extended pavilions to produce the ‘substantial, gracious and symmetrical country house’ we see today.² The listing text notes that the ‘interior is extremely fine’; Dallam isn’t open to the public but one person at least has had access to provide these little-viewed images.
Many portraits adorn Dallam, hopefully still some by the great George Romney. Again demonstrating a readiness to support local talent, it was early patronage by the Wilsons – here’s one tender study – that would help to establish the artist, propelling him from Kendal to London where ‘in the 1760s he was exceeded only by Gainsborough and Reynolds in the number of his fashionable sitters.’³ At the rear we can appreciate not only the scale of the pre-Webster house of Daniel Wilson but also what is the jewel in Dallam’s crown, its wrought-iron glasshouse. This scintillating early survivor is also attributed to George Webster but is straight out of the pattern book of C19 gardening guru J.C. Loudon and was certainly built by D & W Bailey, the London firm to whom Loudon effectively gifted his innovative designs. If it occurs to you that maintaining this structure must be a bit of pain, you’d be right: 9000 panes, to be exact. Visiting the garden in 2005, Country Life learned from Susie Villiers-Smith* how the whole thing has to be meticulously taken apart, cleaned and reassembled every five years.
And while the house itself remains private the extensive, re-emergent gardens at Dallam Tower, ‘quietly off the beaten track..full of beauty and historic interest,’† can be visited. Look sharp, mind, it’s only for one day (May 20) and only for three hours…
(* How they are related: Rupert Villiers-Smith and his wife took on the Dallam estate following the death in 2001 of his grandfather Brig. Charles Tryon-Wilson. Villiers-Smith’s aunt married Sir Geoffrey Palmer, 12th Bt., present incumbent of another house previously featured here, Carlton Curlieu Hall in Leicestershire.)
¹ Taylor, Angus. The Websters of Kendal, 2004.
² Hyde, M., Pevsner, N. The buildings of England: Cumbria, 2010.
³ Gascoigne, B. Encyclopaedia of Britain, 1994.
† Longville, T. Country Life 5 Aug 2005.