The Armitt Museum & Library
The contents of The Armitt collection – books, records, photographs, artworks and other material – is displayed and interpreted to reflect the social history of the neighbourhood in the wider context of the development of the Lake District as a whole. Life in the present-day Lake District is dominated by tourism and outdoor activities. This pattern of life became established around 100 years ago. The preceding century saw the discovery of the Lake District by a small band of writers and artists. In the century before that, the industrial revolution, through the use of water power, had made Ambleside a centre of industrial activity weaving woollen cloth. In even earlier times the Romans built a staging post at the head of Windermere and stone axes were manufactured in Langdale. All these developments are featured in the Armitt collection.
The original Armitt library was founded in 1912 by historian and naturalist Mary Armitt, as a subscription reference library. There was no public library in Ambleside and, apart from a few motor cars and a handful of telephones, communication had hardly changed since Wordsworth’s day. The new library was meeting a need. About 10 years after it opened, a significant collection of early works about the Lake District was bequeathed to the Armitt. The three principal collections of these works are at King’s College Cambridge, the British Library and the Armitt. Then in 1943, following the death of Beatrix Potter, the acquisition of her scientific watercolours of fungi and other material enhanced its reputation. In the 1970s, the lease on the Armitt’s premises ran out and it was obliged to seek temporary accommodation in the then-new public library. This was a very unsatisfactory arrangement and eventually, through dint of fundraising, the present building was opened in 1997.
As directed in Mary Armitt’s will, and like some other libraries, the Armitt also collected artefacts relevant in the recording of local history. This material formed the basis for the museum display that was created alongside the library in the new building. The Armitt is housed in an extension to the stable block of the Scale How estate, which was the home and workplace of Charlotte Mason. A pioneer in the education of young women, Mason’s archive is now part of the Armitt collection. In recent years, a major collection has been built up of the works of Kurt Schwitters, the avant-garde émigré artist who spent the last four years of his life living in Ambleside. In a significant addition to the collection, the Fell and Rock Climbing Club of the English Lake District (FRCC) has placed its library of mountaineering literature in the Armitt and is available for public reference. They have also added to the Armitt’s very large photographic collection.
Over the Years
The roots of the organisation go back to the Ambleside Book Society, founded in 1828 and which later merged with the Armitt library.
The Ambleside Ruskin Library was founded in 1882 by Hardwicke Rawnsley, with the support of John Ruskin. The Armitt later amalgamates this collection with its own and the Ambleside Book Society.
Founded as a Subscription Library with the collection of Mary Louisa’s and her sister Sophia’s collection
Mary Louisa (Louie) wished that “with the books might be housed such objects of antiquarian or personal interest as could be secured by gift or purchase, and eventually a museum might be made that should illustrate the life of Ambleside, through the long past to the present”.
Mary Louisa Armitt dies
The Armitt formerly opens
8 November 1912 – formal opening of Armitt Library in Ambleside Lecture Room. Proceedings opened by WF Rawnsley (brother of Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley).
It is agreed that artefacts found in excavations of the Ambleside Roman Fort will be stored and displayed at the Armitt.
1914 - 1918
During World War One, the Armitt continues holding meetings and receiving donations.
Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley dies.
Charlotte Mason dies.
WF Rawnsley dies.
The Armitt moves from a temporary home in Church Street, Ambleside to a house known as The Orchard, Lake Road, Ambleside.
Annie Harris (nee Armitt) dies
Beatrix Potters fungi watercolours are formally presented to The Armitt.
Kurt Schwitters settles in Ambleside.
Kurt Schwitters dies.
The Armitt officially acquires the picture of Dr Johnston by Kurt Schwitters.
The Armitt vacates from The Orchard and parts of the collection are stored at Kendal Record Office.
Agreement between The Armitt and the University of Lancaster (then owners of the Ambleside Campus) for plans to be drawn for a building on vacant land that had originally been part of the Charlotte Mason campus.
HRH The Prince of Wales visits The Armitt’s collection.
Heritage Lottery Fund bid approved for the construction and building of a new premises.
The new home of The Armitt opened to the public.