Brant is an old Norse word meaning "steep" and the house and grounds are situated on a steep wooded area overlooking the lake. Before the house was built the site was regarded as an "essential viewing point" for early visitors to the Lake District in the 18th century. The original house was built at the end of the 18th century by Thomas Woodville and consisted of between 6 and 8 rooms. After a number of owners, the estate and house were enlarged around 1833. In the middle of the 19th century the resident was Josiah Hudson, father of Charles Hudson who was an Anglican priest and an early mountaineer.
In 1852 the resident was the Victorian wood engraver, poet, artist, book illustrator and social reformer William James Linton who bought the house the following year. Between 1858 and 1864, while Linton was living in London, the house was let to Gerald Massey, poet and Egyptologist. After living there again for 3 years Linton emigrated to USA and in 1871 sold the house to John Ruskin who had never previously seen it. Before he came to live there the following year, Ruskin arranged for repairs to the house, the addition of a turret, the building of a lodge for his valet and his family and for improvements to the garden.
For a short time during his stay at Brantwood, Ruskin held tutorial sessions, what would be called today as teaching seminars. These were held three times each week and each day a different subject was covered. Namely Art, Literature and Sociology. His evening assistant when he was absent was a Richard Hosken who had been a former student.
When he was in residence, Ruskin filled the house with art, including paintings by Gainsborough, Turner and the Pre-Raphaelites and a collection of minerals, pottery and sea-shells. Ruskin was joined in the house by Arthur Severn, an artist married to Joan Agnew, his cousin and their growing family. A frequent visitor to the house was William Gershom Collingwood, painter, archaeologist and translator of Nordic sagas who lived nearby. In 1878 a new dining room was built at the south end of the house. A second storey was added around 1890 to provide additional rooms for the Severn family and a studio was built at the rear of the house for the use of Arthur Severn. During this time the estate was also extended.
Following the death of Ruskin in 1900, the house and estate were inherited by the Severn family. In Ruskin's will the wish was expressed that the house should be open for 30 days a year for visitors to see his house and collection. However the Severns did not honour this intention and they sold many of the better pictures. After the death of Arthur Severn in 1931 the remaining contents of the house were sold by auction. Emily Warren, John Ruskin's last pupil, instigated a successful movement to have Brantwood, made into a museum. The house was saved for the nation by John Howard Whitehouse, founder of Bembridge School and of the Birmingham Ruskin Society, who bought the house. He established the Brantwood Trust in 1951 to care for the property for posterity.
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