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Two hundred year time shift as Harden descendants visit Brathay Hall, Ambleside

L-R back row – Godfrey Owen (Brathay CEO), Peter Lawrence, Mrs & Guy Allan, L-R front row – Trisha Andrew, Priscilla Lawrence.

Time went back 200 years for three visitors to Brathay Hall near Ambleside last month (December 2018). Although now the head office and residential centre for youth charity Brathay Trust, back in 1804 it was the home of John and Jessy Harden.

Three of the Harden’s descendants, Priscilla, Peter and Patricia, returned to the home of their ancestors and were delighted to find Brathay Hall thriving.

The building’s occupants are no longer ‘country gentlefolk’ but Brathay staff and those on a residential.

The charity’s mission is to improve the life-chances of children, young people and families. A residential at the Hall forms part of the support given to the 7,000 youngsters Brathay work with every year. It’s also a venue for Brathay’s professional development work with adults providing an income stream for the charity.

Thanks to the sensitive preservation of much of the interiors over the years it was easy for the three descendants to find and identify the rooms that had been sketched or written about by their predecessors, the Hardens.

Details of the family’s late Georgian social life were captured in letters Jessy sent to her sister Agnes in India and by John, a talented watercolourist. A display of John’s work can be found at Abbot Hall Gallery in Kendal until February where it is also possible to purchase a 200 page ‘Jessy’s Journal’ by Maurice Dybeck. It was this book, published in 2015, that brought the three visitors to the Hall.

The Hardens moved in the ‘best’ circles and their visitors, and acquaintances, included artists and literati – Wordsworth, Coleridge, Constable and Raeburn.  Life was a busy round of sketching, social visiting, having fun, managing the estate, playing cards, music-making and raising their five children.

Brathay archivist, Maurice Dybeck was on hand to show round the visitors who had travelled from France and Oxford. He said it was great to see past and present come together as well as discovering lots of other links between those who had connections to Brathay Hall over the centuries.

Anyone interested in finding out more can visit the history section of Brathay’s website which also has archive video.

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