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Malham Tarn House: Preserving a historic Dales landmark

Exterior of Tarn House at Malham Tarn in the Yorkshire Dales.
Exterior of Tarn House at Malham Tarn | © National Trust/Emmeline Butler

In 1946, Malham Tarn House was gifted to the National Trust as part of the wider Malham Tarn Estate in the Yorkshire Dales. For many decades the house was used as a field studies centre, but has been vacant since autumn 2023. The Trust is now carrying out essential maintenance to Malham Tarn House as it prepares to seek new tenants for this much-loved local landmark.

The history of Tarn House

Built in the late 18th Century, Malham Tarn House is a listed building within a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The house itself was notably the home of local philanthropist and Member of Parliament Walter Morrison (1836 – 1921), who made substantial extensions to the property throughout the 19th Century. According to Historic England, Walter Morrison was visited by the author Charles Kingsley – who is thought to have been inspired to write The Water Babies while staying there.

“Tarn House has been a Malhamdale landmark for many generations, but its most recent usage for over 70 years as an educational centre meant that it was also quite enigmatic. People would tell us that they might walk past it all the time but had no idea what went on there.”

- Martin Davies, General Manager for the Yorkshire Dales

Caring for Tarn House

The building came back under the direct care of the National Trust once again in 2023, meaning that it could be properly surveyed and explored for the first time in many decades. The Trust has taken the opportunity to carry out essential conservation works while the property is empty, such as repairs to the roof, restoration of the canopies, and external decoration. We’ve also worked with experts to find suitable local homes for many of the property’s artifacts and historic documents, either relocating them to the Trust’s archives, the North Yorkshire Council archives at Northallerton, or to the nearby Museum of North Craven Life at The Folly in Settle. In early 2024, the Trust hosted several open days for the local Malhamdale community, where many people shared their own memories of visiting Malham Tarn House.

Malham Tarn, Yorkshire Dales National Park, North Yorkshire
A view of Malham Tarn | © National Trust Images/Paul Harris

A sustainable future

"Tarn House is a Grade II listed building in an area of internationally important environmental interest... We must be careful and diligent when looking at a sustainable future use.”

- Martin Davies, General Manager for the Yorkshire Dales

Once the ongoing preparatory works are complete, the Trust will work to seek prospective new tenants for the house via a formal marketing process. Visitors to the recent open days remarked on how special it was to see inside such a beautiful local landmark, and many were keen to share their thoughts on its future. Tarn House will remain in the care of the National Trust.

What about the other buildings?

Visitors to Malham Tarn will notice a number of smaller buildings peppered around the estate. This includes two boathouse buildings, and a number of cottages which were previously used by staff working at the field studies centre. The cottages are not included in the marketing of Malham Tarn House and will instead be refurbished by the National Trust as holiday cottages and residential properties to help support its conservation work. The boathouses will remain in use for the anglers and under the Trust’s care.

The North Wing of Tarn House, located just behind the main building, was recently refurbished by the Trust and is now occupied by our Yorkshire Dales staff, rangers and volunteers.

Next steps

  • Summer 2024 – commissioning a Conservation Management Plan to fully understand the property within its setting

  • Marketing of the property to prospective tenants, through Savills, commenced on 19 July. Full details can be found at BD24, Settle, BD24 | Property to rent | Savills

  • The Trust will be keeping members of the local community and the local Parish Council informed of any updates

In the meantime, visitors to Malham Tarn should take care when passing by Malham Tarn House and be mindful of any works taking place. The North Wing (where the National Trust’s Yorkshire Dales team is based) and the neighbouring Orchid House and visitor toilets are unaffected by the works.

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