The first time I visited Britain in June 1975, my most poignant experience was spending a night in one of the most unusual bed and breakfast hostelries I ever encountered. My trip began with a visit to Scotland’s venerable capital, Edinburgh, and was to end in London, so I decided to drive the 400 miles between those cities. Undeterred by the fact that I had never before driven on the left side of the road, I rented a car in Edinburgh, and hoped for the best.
My adventure began rather scarily, as I had to back the car out of the rental lot in a long lane onto a busy roadway, but I managed to do so without mishap. Driving through Scotland proved safe enough and quite enjoyable, stopping briefly out of sheer curiosity to see Gretna Green, the romantic Scottish border village famed as a wedding haven since the late 1700s.
As evening approached, I found my way to a district known as Old Hutton located near the English town of Kendal, the southern gateway to the popular Lake District not far from Lake Windermere.
Watching out for a likely bed and breakfast, I came upon a sign for Bleaze Hall, an imposing stone building set back from the roadway. Politely assured by the hostess, Mrs. L.M. Porter, that it was indeed a bed and breakfast, I agreed to spend the night in what proved to be a most unique setting.
I found that my bed for the night was smartly furnished with a full canopy, giving me the impression that I was really living in style.
Moreover, the ceiling and upper walls were richly decorated with swirling designs reminiscent of Moorish architecture.
I expressed such interest in the Bleaze Hall building that my hostess dug out for me a set of historical notes about its remarkable background. An 1892 document described Bleaze Hall as being used as a farmhouse, but “worthy of note as containing the remains of some originally splendid woodcarving and paneling of this period.” It was built about 1600, probably by Roger Bateman, a cloth maker. A descendant, Henry Bateman, was credited with doing the woodwork, with his initials H.B. and the date 1644 incised in the word.
On the first floor, the main room had remains of an original plaster ceiling of elaborate design; the decoration consisted of large spirals of vine-ornament with smaller spirals in the spandrels; on the north wall was a plaster frieze of similar ornament with human heads or busts at intervals. The bedroom I occupied had to have been that same room, complete with its uniquely designed plaster ceiling.
Reclining that night in my cozy, comfortable centuries-old bed, I couldn’t help recalling an expression my Dad used to quote, mostly to get a rise out of my very properly raised mother, that the ultimate in home comfort in olden days was to have “canopy over the bed and a canopy under the bed,” (except that the second one was not spelt the same way!)