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History of Townend

A costumed woman in the library at Townend in Troutbeck, Cumbria
A costumed woman in the library at Townend in Troutbeck, Cumbria | © National Trust

The farmhouse of Townend gives us a real insight into life in the Lake District during the 17th century. Discover more about the Browne family and how they spent their time here, learn about their farmland, their position in society and uncover the impressive library.

Who was George Browne?

George Browne was an ordinary farmer and a keen gardener. His garden had a mix of colourful flowers, vegetables, herbs and an orchard with apples, plums and damsons. In 1909 he planted 28 varieties of phlox, all in alphabetical order, as well as 19 varieties of sweet peas, pansies and delphiniums.

George kept many notes about his garden in his diaries ‘took up remainder of Sharp Victor Potatoes, only a poor crop – were touched with frost in spring’ and ‘troublesome weeds’, including planting schemes and successes. He won several prizes for his pansies.

Visitors at in the garden at Townend, Cumbria
Visitors at in the garden at Townend, Cumbria | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

Dating the Townend furniture

George Browne spent many years decorating the old furniture at Townend. He created a very early fitted kitchen and made a bookcase look 200 years older than it really was.

George even added older dates and initials to his designs to make them look more antiquated and to blend them in with the other furniture in the house. In the bookcase he designed in December 1887 he carved the date 1687, together with the initials of his ancestors. Luckily his design for this piece of furniture has survived.

George was very good at imitating and copying older patterns – so good in fact that in some cases we don’t know which decorations were done by George, and which by his ancestors. However, not everyone was impressed with his creative additions. Beatrix Potter described him as 'the tiresome Mr Browne', who added 'copied patterns [to a] splendid old bedstead'.

The unusual chapbook collection in Townend's library

There are over 1,000 books in the Townend library, but it’s a small collection of these that hold the most historical interest. The library contains 45 entirely unique books – ones that have not survived anywhere else in the world.

Some of these are delightful, slightly bawdy storybooks called chapbooks and while they never would have been included in national collections, they are now of great value to our understanding of local life and of Townend.

An amorous merchant is tricked

An example of one of the chapbooks is The Crafty Chambermaid’s Garland from 1770. It tells the tale of a rich merchant who falls in love with his mother’s maid.

He tries to seduce her, but she knows he isn’t interested in marriage, so she decides to play a trick on him. She invites him to her bedchamber – only she gets a toothless old hag to get into the bed and pretend to be her.

The amorous merchant gets quite a shock and runs screaming down the stairs. The plucky young maid’s efforts pay off though, as the merchant’s family are so amused by the story that they decide to let him marry her, despite her lowly background.

The characteristic lakeland barn next to Townend, Cumbria
The characteristic lakeland barn next to Townend, Cumbria. | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

The wealth of the Townend bank barn

Opposite Townend is the barn that was used by the Browne family. It's one of the earliest bank barns in the UK and one of the very few remaining in the Lake District. Most bank barns were built in Cumbria between 1750 and 1860, with the last constructed just before the First World War.

The Townend bank barn is still in use today, much like it was in the 18th century. The oldest part of the barn was built by George Browne in 1666, with an extension added in the 18th century.

The barn had many uses: farmers bought cattle from Scotland and fattened them here over winter before selling the cattle on in spring, and it also housed a place for a small carriage, dog kennels and space to dry wood and peat for the fire. Having such a well-equipped barn was yet another sign of the Browne family's wealth.

Three books with fore-edge titles at Townend, Cumbria.

Townend's collections

Explore the objects and works of art we care for at Townend on the National Trust Collections website.

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