Stoneywell is the largest of a small group of cottages designed in the Arts and Crafts style by Ernest Gimson. It was built in collaboration with Detmar Blow in 1899 for Ernest's brother Sydney Gimson as a summer residence, and along with much original furniture, it remained in the Gimson family for over a century. As part of a highly influential vernacular movement, it has become well known within Arts and Crafts circles. Built between 1897 and 1899 out of the stones found in the immediate locality, and constructed directly onto outcrops of exposed Charnwood bedrock, Stoneywell creates the impression it is an organic part of the landscape. Set away from the road, it is close to Stoneywell Wood and its surrounding gardens are by design and necessity more wild than cultivated. The house is built on a slope and approached from above so that a visitor is required to walk round the house to get to the front door, which faces south-west over the rugged landscape.
At one end the roof almost reaches the ground, and the massive chimney stack buttresses the south wall. The roof, like many of Gimson's houses, was originally thatch, but following a fire in 1938 was re-roofed in second-hand Swithland slates. The rooms, windows and roofline step downwards, to follow the contours of the hill, such that the ground floor is on three levels, and both groundfloor and dormer windows are all at different heights. The fireplace and doorway have huge Swithland slate lintels, that were found nearby at abandoned slate quarries. The stone walls were built from undressed stones, their surfaces being kept even by the careful selection of each stone by the masons, to fit the needs of the wall. Many of the stones were re-used from dry stone walls already on the site, or recovered from the boulder clay and outcrops around about. Externally the stone has been left in a natural state, whereas internally both the walls and the exposed timbers are white. These constructional timbers, matching the intricate irregularities of the ground plan, had been cut and prepared by Richard Harrison at Sapperton, Gloucestershire to Ernest Gimson's design, and transported the 150 miles for assembly on site, showing how much pre-planning and design had gone into Gimson's plan.
Ernest Gimson was born in Leicester in 1864, the son of Josiah Gimson, engineer, founder of Gimson and Company, owner of the Vulcan Works. Having worked as an architect in London during the 1880s, he had moved to the Cotswolds to found an Arts and Crafts community. In 1894 he settled in Pinbury near Sapperton, with Sidney and Ernest Barnsley, principally designing and making wooden furniture, following traditional craft principles, applied to new designs using clean lines and unadorned surfaces. It was from this background that Ernest Gimson applied himself not just to the architectural plans for Stoneywell, but to designing and making the furniture too. Because the house has remained with the Gimson family throughout the 20th century, much of the furniture remains at the house, including Gimson's ladder-back chairs, a large table and dresser by the Barnsleys, and an oak bed made by Gimson.
Stoneywell is one of five cottages designed by Ernest Gimson in Ulverscroft. The earliest were a pair of workmen's cottages, built for James Billson in 1897. Rather than employ contractors, Gimson collaborated with a fellow Arts and Crafts architect, Detmar Blow. Following the principle that an architect should be able build what he designs, Blow had begun practical building alongside stonemasons in North Yorkshire. He came to Leicestershire to work on the cottages, and brought several Yorkshire stonemasons, as well as employing three Leicestershire men. The Gimson family were Leicester industrialists, familiar with this corner of Charnwood. They bought three plots of land from James Billson, to build cottages for summer use by Ernest's brothers Sydney and Mentor, and their sister Margaret. Detmar Blow collaborated in the building of two of these, Stoneywell and Lea Cottage. Stoneywell was the most architecturally 'extreme' of these, and remains the most unchanged of any of them.
Growing from a desire to revive the skill of craftsmanship, the Arts & Crafts philosophy aimed to restore simplicity and honesty to how buildings and furnishings were made. The Arts & Crafts movement was a reaction against the Victorian fashion for complicated designs. Although it was at its height between about 1895 and 1915, its origins lie a little earlier with the great thinkers John Ruskin and William Morris, who railed against what they felt were the evils of mass industrialisation and machine production.
There is a small step leading into the cottage, with only one period room on the ground level. This, in addition to narrow doorways and spiral stairs, makes the cottage unsuitable for some wheelchair users. Although the garden and woodlands can be reached via the accessible path along the original driveway, there are many steep slopes through the garden; consequently, wheelchair users may take this route at their own risk and at the discretion of the property. They have provided an Access Folder in the Stables, which contains information and images for those who are unable to access the Cottage. There is also a virtual tour available, which contains images and videos for all rooms of the Cottage. The middle toilet in the Stables is an accessible WC, and also includes a baby changing table. There are benches throughout the garden and some companion seats near the tearoom. There is limited seating available throughout the cottage – this is distinguished from fragile chairs within the collection, which have hats, books and other items on to prevent visitors from sitting on them. Assistance Dogs are welcome.
Location : Whitcrofts Lane, Ulverscroft, Leicestershire, LE67 9QE
Transport: Barrow-upon-Soar, (National Rail) 7 miles. Bus Routes : 29A and 29B stop 2 miles away.
Opening Times : Must be booked in advance.
Tickets : Adults £8.45; Children (5 - 16) £4.50.
Tel: 01530 248040