Cylinders Estate, Elterwater

Harry Pierce, a locally well known landscape designer who had worked with the influential firm of Lakeland landscape architects, Thomas H. Mawson & Sons, purchased the Cylinders Estate in 1944, with the ambition of turning it into a garden to suit all purposes: part landscaped arboretum, part sanctuary for wild flowers, and part small-holding.

From 1824 until the end of the Second World War Cylinders had been owned by the Elterwater Gunpowder Works, which had used it for forestry to produce the charcoal which is a major ingredient in gunpowder. What is now known as The Shippon was the old smithy where the draft horses were shod. Where the Merz Barn stands there was a building set behind a massive outcrop of rock, where the gunpowder was stored.

During the war the trees had all been felled, and when Pierce took over the land it was a sea of brash, the small branches left after the trunks have been dragged away for processing. Manpower was difficult to come by, and working only with an elderly farmer Pierce set to clear the land. The smithy was converted into a cow shed and dairy, and where the gunpowder store had been Pierce constructed a potting shed and a greenhouse. In 1946 he also erected a new building, Ivy Cottage, originally a workshop, but afterwards a dwelling house.

With the help of his later assistant Jack Cook, Pierce set about transforming the site, and by 1946 he was able to start selling his soft fruit and jams to the Caravan Camp opposite (now the Langdale Hotel and Timeshare), and opening the gardens at week-ends to the public. In that year, too, he saw the portrait of Dr. Johnson by Kurt Schwitters (now in the Armitt Library) in a shop window in Ambleside, and commissioned the artist to paint one of himself. In so doing he suggested that the sittings for the work should be at Cylinders, and Schwitters travelled out by bus to see him.

Schwitters was looking for a place in which to create another Merzbau; Harry had an unused barn at Cylinders. The two men hit it off. The rest is history…

Words by Littoral, for Merzbarn Project

Image: Littoral Arts Trust, merzbarn.net