Photo: Rydal Hall, Ambleside

Rydal Hall’s history

Both visually and historically Rydal Hall is the key building in Rydal.

Sir Thomas le Fleming and his family built the first Rydal Hall at St John's Knott in 1409, (the small mound and wood next to the entrance of the Ambleside cricket club on the A591). Although this site was defensible and remote it became too cramped as the family grew in importance. In 1600 William Fleming (the le prefix being dropped in the Tudor wars with France) built the Hall on the present site. The original house is adjacent to the tea shop and now is known as the 'Old Kitchen and Bar'. It was William's son Daniel who greatly expanded the site by building the bank barn (Bishop Bulley Barn), coach house, stables and schoolhouse (the tea shop). Rydal Hall was passed down through the Fleming family and in 1757 the fourth baronet Sir Michael assumed the original family name of le Fleming. It was Sir Michael who built the Georgian south wing which is the modern front of Rydal Hall in 1789.

After the death of the last Squire le Fleming, the Hall was let from the 1940s. During the Second World War, it was used as a school. Later Rydal Hall was let as a hotel and then in 1963, it was let to the Diocese of Carlisle as a Retreat House as a place of hospitality, tranquillity and spirituality for all.

Thanks to the efforts of Right Reverend S.C. Bulley (Bishop of Carlisle 1966 - 1972) and after a protracted period of negotiation, in 1970 the Diocese of Carlisle purchased Rydal Hall and 30 acres of the surrounding land. 

Presently the Hall is run as a residential conference and retreat centre and the outbuildings have been converted for a variety of uses. The former Bank Barn now called Bishop Bulley Barn is used for large meetings and receptions. There is the Bunkhouse which sleeps 29 people and there are camping grounds with camping pitches and eco-pods. The coach house and the stable are now self-catering accommodations.

The grounds of Rydal Hall include the nationally important Formal Garden. This is one of the country's most complete examples of the work of Thomas Mawson, who designed and laid out the Italianate terraced garden in 1909. Mawson was born near Lancaster and lived in Windermere. He combined his love of plants with his knowledge of building, skillfully uniting architecture and landscape. His use of concrete in his garden layouts was innovative.

The Tea Shop you are sitting in was once the schoolroom for the le Fleming children and children from Rydal village.

If you are interested in finding out more about the history of Rydal Hall, the Armitt Library in Ambleside and the County Records Office in Kendal have considerable archives.