A talented and educated trio


The Armitt Sisters:  Mary Louisa, known as Louie, (1851), Sophia (1847) and Annie (1850)


Originally from Lancashire, the Armitt sisters: Sophia (1847), Annie (1850), and Mary Louisa, known as Louie, (1851) all came to call the Lake District their home in later life, and it is Louie in particular who The Armitt owes its great debt to in establishing the museum, gallery, and library here today. Born and raised in Salford, the sisters were brought up by their father. He was employed as an overseer for the City of Salford and was keen to give his daughters a first-class education – very unusual in the mid-Victorian era. So, the sisters’ early life was filled with knowledge building and cultural exploits. 

In 1866 Sophia and Annie were sent to Paris to study French, but a year later in 1867 tragedy stuck, Mr Armitt died suddenly, and the sisters faced severe financial difficulties. They decided to open a school. Sophia became the headmistress, Annie taught general subjects, and Louie, then aged 15 and younger than the oldest pupil, taught basics to the young children and music to the older ones. The school apparently thrived as the sisters continued to study, to attend lectures and to travel.

In 1882 Louie and Sophia received a legacy enough to live on, and they decided to move to the Lake District where their sister Annie now lived near Hawkshead. In 1894 they moved to Rydal, to be joined by Annie now widowed, and the three sisters lived there for the rest of their lives. Although their income did not allow them to keep a carriage, they enjoyed a large circle of distinguished friends, and among them were the Arnolds of Fox How, the Rawnsley brothers, Charlotte Mason, and John Ruskin.

The Armitt legacy lies in the books the sisters collected, and in her will, Louie left both her book collection, and her sisters book collection to form a library for students and scholars. This collection, with important gifts of books, together with the Ruskin library, given to them thirty years previously, and amalgamated with the old Ambleside Book Club of 1828, forms the nucleus of The Armitt.

The Armitt’s collections and library are available for research and study. Please contact us for further information, or to book a research session on: or call 015394 31212.

SOPHIA from an early age, wanted to specialise in art and she attended the Manchester School of Art. A talented artist, Sophia painted many pictures of the landscape and scenery of the Lake District, as well as undertook still life drawings and botanical illustrations. Sophia Armitt was never strong and died in 1908. Her paintings and drawings are held in the Armitt as part of the sisters’ original material archive.

LOUIE attended the Manchester Mechanics Institute to study music as soon as she was eligible. Her study took her regularly to Oxford for use of the Bodleian Library and she published a number of papers on musicology, and she also went on to research and write a book on the history of Rydal Hall. Sadly, Mary Louisa passed away in 1911, just a year before The Armitt was officially established and opened.

ANNIE, who once wrote she could read the bible at the age of six, began her passion for writing when just a schoolgirl. In 1877 Annie married Dr Stanford Harris, an unhappy liaison with both parties suffering ill health. However, this did not deter her creative spirit and in 1878 she published her first novel ‘The Garden at Monkholme’. She went on to write a series of novels, short stories and articles, and she also wrote poetry. She sent Robert Browning a few of her poems and he replied he was favourably impressed. Annie lived into old age dying in 1933, having seen The Armitt open and being involved in its ongoing establishment from afar. Her correspondence is now in The Armitt’s collection.