At home with Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell

16 Sep 2019

This year, IOM3 is celebrating 150 years since the Iron and Steel Institute was first formed. One of the founders of this was Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell. Sue Parker FIMMM, Technical Events Officer of Cleveland Institution of Engineers having lived close to the family plot has written a historical piece on Sir Issac and the area in which he lived.

While I was researching the “Steel Heroes” feature on Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell, one of the Founders of the Iron and Steel Institute, I found a comment that he was buried at “Rounton”, and lived at “Rounton Grange”. There are two villages, East Rounton, and West Rounton, in North Yorkshire, close to where I live, so I set off to hunt round the churchyards. I found the Bell family plot at East Rounton Church, where Sir Isaac with Lady Margaret, and some of his descendants are buried. Sir Isaac and Lady Margaret’s gravestone was designed by the Architect Philip Webb.

Inside the church, the main stained glass window above the altar is dedicated to Sir Isaac and Lady Margaret.  Apparently he restored the church from a ruin to its present form.  There are displays inside the church on Rounton Grange, Sir Isaac, and his more famous Grand-daughter, Gertrude Bell, Middle-East diplomat and archaeologist.

Sir Isaac had bought the East Rounton Estate in 1866, and by 1871 had decided to build a substantial family seat. Rounton Grange was designed by Philip Webb to replace the existing farmhouse, and was completed in 1876. William Morris was responsible for the interior decoration.

Sir Isaac died in 1904, and huge death duties depleted the family wealth. The house became too expensive to live in and by the 1920’s the family had moved to Mount Grace Manor for most of the year. The Grange was requisitioned during the Second World War, being used firstly for a home for evacuees, and then as a hostel for Italian prisoners.  Significant damage was the result, and no compensation was paid for such damage to stately homes after the war.  Attempts to sell the house were unsuccessful, and the National Trust would not accept it without an endowment, so it was demolished in 1954.  The exact location of the former Grange was elusive, until I obtained a copy of a 1913 map showing its location relative to the walled garden and other buildings. Many of the buildings surrounding the Grange remain, and the walled garden is now a Nursery, where many of its original features are still standing. 

Water for the estate was provided from a water tower in the village of Ingleby Arncliffe, to a water tower, close to the house.  Adjacent to this the Battery House accommodated a generator and lead acid accumulators for the estate’s private electricity supply. This had its internal walls covered in ceramic tiles to resist the acid.

The Walled Garden is now occupied by Dark Star Plants, but the original walls, and brackets for the glasshouse in there are clearly visible.

The original (west) gatehouse for the Grange was built circa 1875, designed by Philip Webb, and sometimes known as “ink pot” houses, due to all the flues being combined into one central chimney. This still stands today, albeit surrounded by less vegetation!

Beyond the gatehouse, down the track to the right is the splendid Coach House. This was roofed in by Sir Isaac to enable his carriages to be washed, polished and stored safe from the elements. There was even a boiler and radiators. The overall roof has been removed, and this is now a Grade II* listed building and on English Heritage’s register.

Sir Isaac also built a Rest House in the 1870’s, where his employees and their families could stay for a holiday to recuperate after injury or illness. Quite philanthropic for its time. Alas it has been unsympathetically extended, so is not a listed building, but still remains. 

The Home Farm, designed by Philip Webb, was built in 1874, and includes the main farmhouse, 4 workers cottages, and outbuildings.  It now operates as a farm shop and café known as “Roots”.

When Sir Isaac died in 1904, his son Sir Hugh continued his work by constructing a Village Hall and cottages in 1906, designed by George Jack, Philip Webb’s assistant, after the latter’s retirement in 1901. Garden House for the head gardener, was built in 1905, also designed by Jack, with kennels and outbuildings. Many of Sir Hugh’s buildings show a ceramic plaque with the date on.

East Rounton was a “model village” in its day, and much of the building of Sir Isaac, and later Sir Hugh remains. There are various websites with much more detail than included here, some with photographs of the interior of Rounton Grange. My husband and I have cycled to East Rounton many times, had lunch at Roots, and bought plants from the Dark Star nursery without realising the history behind it! You never know what is under your nose until you look!!


  • The Owners of Dark Star Plants, who were most helpful in setting me off on this voyage of discovery, and took time to show me items that they had, and tell me about the garden.
  • Sir John and Lady Venetia Bell for information, kind permission to use the photographs, and directing me to:
  • Martin Brown, Chairman of the Rountons Village Hall, who spent time with me in East Rounton, and supplied information.

Sue Parker FIMMM, Technical Events Officer, Cleveland Institution of Engineers