Aira Force and the National Trust

by Emma Bray

Banner Image: © Beyond Imagination Photography

Aira Force and the surrounding land was acquired by The National Trust in 1906. The waterfalls are in Gowbarrow Park, a hunting park which was owned by the Howard family, the Dukes of Norfolk. In the 1780s and 1840s, the Howards landscaped the area as a setting for their Gothic hunting lodge, Lyulph’s Tower. By the turn of the 20th century, however, the Howards were looking to sell 750 acres of Gowbarrow Park adjoining Ullswater, including Aira Force.

The National Trust had been founded in 1895 with the aim of preserving places of historic importance or natural beauty so that they might be accessed by the general public. The National Trust was keen to preserve Gowbarrow Park to prevent the shore of Ullswater being built upon as had happened to the shore of Windermere in the 19th century. The same fear had motivated the acquisition of Brandlehow on Derwentwater by the Trust in 1902. 

Henry Howard, the 15th Duke of Norfolk, started negotiations for the sale in 1903. The Trust launched a public appeal in The Times in July 1904. The sale price was £15 per acre, so they needed a total of £12,000 to succeed. This was more favourable than the £60 per acre that had been needed to secure Brandlehow. By October 1904, over a third of the target had been raised by public subscription. The Trust arranged a series of fundraising events including a talk by its founder, Octavia Hill and an exhibition and sale of paintings. By the end of 1905, the full purchase price had been raised.

Aira Force © Beyond Imagination Photography

The park was opened by the Speaker of the House of Commons, Mr Lowther, on 9th August, 1906. Present amongst the spectators was Woodrow Wilson, future President of the United States. Wilson went on to create the National Park Service in America in 1916.

The upper stone bridge was built around the turn of the 20th century and the lower bridge in 1932. They are dedicated to the Spring Rice brothers (see more about the Spring Rice brothers below). The lower bridge is set higher than the earlier wooden bridge, thus shortening the view of the waterfall. The landing stage was built in the 1950s.

In 1935, adjoining land in Glencoyne Park was given to The National Trust by Sir Samuel Scott.

The original acquisition did not include the Howards’ hunting lodge, Lyulph’s Tower, which remains in private hands, although covenants over 70 acres in this area were obtained by the Trust in 1936. The Tower is no longer easily visible from roads or footpaths, other than from behind, so the 21st century visitor does not appreciate the original concept of the landscaped park in its whole setting.

by Emma Bray

The Spring Rice brothers

The upper bridge was built in dedication to brothers Stephen and Gerald Spring Rice. Eldest brother Stephen was a senior civil servant and held the offices of Principal Clerk in the Treasury, together with Auditor of the Civil List at the time of his death, at the age of 46 in 1902. His brother Cecil, always maintained that his dedication to service of the nation was such that he died from overwork. Stephen is buried at nearby All Saints Church, Watermillock.


Gerald the youngest of the three brothers emigrated to farm in Canada but returned at the outbreak of the Great War and served as Transport Officer with the 11th (Lonsdale) Battalion, The Border Regiment. Gerald was killed in action by a stray bullet, at the eve of the Battle of the Somme, on the 26th May 1916, aged 51.  He is buried at the Authuile Military Cemetery, France.


The lower bridge was erected to honour the memory of Sir Cecil Arthur Spring Rice by family, friends and colleagues. Sir Cecil served the nation as a career diplomat and in 1912, he was appointed as ‘His Majesty’s Ambassador to Washington’, a role that was to prove pivotal in the final determination of the Great War. He died unexpectedly in Ottawa, Canada, in February 1918, en-route to his return home to the UK, he was 58 years of age. Sir Cecil is buried in the Beechwood Cemetery, Ottawa. Throughout his life Sir Cecil also wrote poetry, he it was who gave the words to one of the nations’ most iconic hymns – ‘I Vow To Thee My Country’.

by Gordon Lightburn

Dedication plaque to Sir Cecil Spring Rice on the lower bridge at Aira Force © Gordon Lightburn

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