William Ledsham Dolman (1875-1939)

Written by Kevin Grice

Occupation: Architect

Early Life and Family

William Ledsham Dolman was born in Repton in Derbyshire in October 1875. The village was however situated very close to the county border with Staffordshire and accordingly his birth was registered there in the nearest town of Burton-on-Trent, although the precise date of it does not seem to have been recorded. In consequence of this some accounts of his life suggest that William was born in Staffordshire but this is not correct. His family background was with the use of wood in buildings. His paternal grandfather James Dolman (1825-1891) was a wood sawyer in the neighbouring hamlet of Milton and in 1849 he married Mary Baker (1825-1873) from Repton and thereafter they lived in her home village. They had four children who survived infancy, being William’s father Joseph Dolman (1851-1924) and three daughters Ann (1853-1938), Lucy (1857-1919) and Harriet (1860-1925).

Joseph Dolman continued the family tradition by working as a joiner and carpenter in and around Repton. In 1874 he married Martha Ledsham (1850-1924). She was the daughter of John Ledsham (1821-1901), a market gardener, who married Martha Gerrard (1820-1852) in 1847 in Great Boughton, near Chester. On the 1861 census he was cultivating nine acres and employing seven men; by the time of the 1881 census his land extended to 20 acres. William was given his mother’s maiden name as his second Christian name, a not uncommon occurrence in Victorian England.

Joseph and Martha Dolman had three children of whom William was the eldest. His siblings were firstly Lewis John (1885-1914) who joined the Australian Army, suffered fatal injuries in the Great War and is buried in Coburg Pine Ridge Cemetery in the State of Victoria and secondly James Joseph (1892-1930) who also worked in the family business as a carpenter and joiner. The family lived in Long Street in Repton in both 1881 and 1891 when William was still a scholar at the local school. By then Joseph Dolman had expanded his woodworking trade into becoming a house builder (trading as Dolman & Sanders) and by 1901 the family had moved into a larger house in High Street in Repton. William began working for his father as a carpenter and joiner at the age of 16 in 1892, moved into his own house in Pinfold Lane in Repton after his marriage in 1898 and remained living and working for his father in the area until 1902.

By then however he had begun to study architecture (alongside his younger brother James) and it was this which was to bring him to the Lake District. His love of and knowledge about wood was however to stay with him for the rest of his life and inform in particular the interiors which he was to design for both domestic and ecclesiastical buildings.

Life as an Architect in Cumbria

In May 1902 William Dolman moved with his young family to Windermere to become chief assistant to the Arts & Crafts architect Dan Gibson (1865-1907; qv; DCB). He then began practice on his own account as an architect in Windermere in 1905 but when Dan Gibson died suddenly in June 1907, William Dolman took over and continued his renowned architectural practice in Crescent Road. Under an agreement reached with Dan Gibson’s widow Mary, William Dolman agreed to pay her 10% of his net income for 10 years as consideration for the transfer of the practice and to give the Gibsons’ eldest son Guy an architectural apprenticeship with Dolman free of charge. The practice stayed at Crescent Road in Windermere from 1907 until 1931 when it moved to Crag (or Cragg) Brow on Lake Road in Bowness, where it remained until William Dolman retired in 1937.

William Dolman initially continued the Lakeland vernacular style which Dan Gibson had adopted but the First World War effectively ended the building of large Arts & Crafts houses in the Lake District. William Dolman himself served as a private in the North Staffordshire (Prince of Wales) Regiment then the Royal North Lancashire Regiment  during the Great War and after 1919 his work was of a smaller domestic scale, as evidenced by the Buildings Regulations applications and plans submitted to Windermere UDC which bear his name for the period 1920-1935.

William Dolman was elected a Licentiate of the Royal Institute of British Architects (LRIBA) in 1910, being proposed by Thomas Mawson (1861-1933 qv; ODNB) and became a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects (FRIBA) in 1921. He was also one of Windermere’s two representatives on the Lake District Architectural Advisory Panel set up in the 1930’s. The other representative was Arthur Nicholas Whitfield Hodgson (1880-1942), whose practice was in High Street in Windermere and who was the designer of Greta Hamlet near Keswick. In 1936 the Panel published ‘An Appeal to Those Intending to Build’ on behalf of the Lake District Safeguarding Society. The Panel offered advice ‘with regard to proportions and materials’ and gave ‘their views on the suitability of colour, position of the building on the plot of land and treatment of its surroundings’, all the elements of a building that affected its appearance within the landscape. They also encouraged the introduction of the characteristic features of ‘our old buildings’ including the chimney stack ‘finishing with a cylindrical drum slightly tapering to the top’. The Panel’s brief generally was to help the public to create ‘a subtle and inconspicuous architecture’ in the Lake District. The approach of the Arts and Crafts architects such as William Dolman to the Lake District landscape ‘had finally become absorbed into the official planning advice’ (Hyde and Whittaker p.41).

Architectural Work on Houses

In 1906 William Dolman (then practising on his own account) made substantial alterations to ‘The Yews’ in Storrs Park, Bowness for Sir James Scott of Bolton (1844-1913; qv; DCB). The house was originally the home farm and had been enlarged initially in 1896 by Joseph Pattinson (1860-1945; qv; DCB). Dolman enlarged it further in a contrasting neo-Georgian style with double pilasters copied from the lodge. Dolman’s section grew out of the join between the 17th century firehouse and the 1896 enlargement and all parts were rendered pink to mask the joins. The house is now Grade II listed.

‘Birket Houses’ in Winster for Major Myles Higgin-Birket (1874-1946) was Dan Gibson’s last work and remained unfinished at the time of his death in 1907. His practice having been acquired by William Dolman, it fell to the latter to complete the interior which he did in 1907/8 with additional works in 1910. The plasterwork forming the principal interior decoration is accordingly credited to both of them, although the woodwork may owe more to Dolman. The house also had hot water heating throughout, an innovation which Dolman pioneered.

In 1911/12 William Dolman made significant alterations to ‘Dawstone’, Lickbarrow Road, Windermere (now Heathwaite Manor) which Dan Gibson had designed almost a decade earlier. The client remained the Liverpool merchant and stockbroker Alexander Millington Sing (also Synge) (1854-1923) and Dolman’s work transformed the house into something much grander than that of Gibson. The additional wing, more complicatedly gabled and hipped than the earlier part, accommodated a spacious ballroom or music room served by a large inglenook fireplace, with extra bedrooms and an additional sitting room above. William Dolman’s love of exotic wood can be seen in the wholesale replacement of Dan Gibson’s plain oak panelling with linenfold or Jacobean diamonds in expensive woods. A motor car house or garage was also provided to match the latest taste, along with lodges for the gardener and chauffeur. The results are mixed, with the ballroom appearing too low for its great size but the ambition is clear as former assistant sought to improve upon master although in harmony with the latter’s intentions.

In 1913 William Dolman designed his (and perhaps anyone’s) last great Lake District Arts & Crafts house, ‘Waterbeck House’ (and Lodge) in Thornbarrow Road, Heathwaite, Windermere for James Hyslop (1847-1914) of Manchester. The Lakeland style is evident in its massive round chimneys, the absence of bay windows and the overall roughcast. The interiors display an Edwardian lavishness with the principal rooms being richly classical with columned fireplaces and alcoves and including extensive plasterwork and chimneypieces designed by Dolman with such being the predominant interior decoration, changing in style from one room to the next. The upstairs however finds the Arts and Crafts reasserting itself in charming detail. The garden was co-designed by Thomas Mawson and Dolman to complement the house and is strongly geometrical. The lavishness of the design of the house was accompanied by a bill of similar proportions; Mr Hyslop is said to have died when he got it and although the story may be apocryphal, the house was indeed sold in 1915 after the death of its owner the previous year.

Other Works

In 1910-1911 William Dolman designed a vestry to be added to the north-east of St Martin’s Church in Bowness. In 1922 he converted it into a memorial chapel to commemorate the seventy-one men from the parish who had died in the First World War and as a thanksgiving for those who had returned.

In 1925 he also submitted proposals and an estimate for a new Windermere Police Station but the alternative design submitted by Walker, Carter & Walker was preferred. In the same year Dolman also designed the Chancel and Sanctuary furniture for the Church of St Margaret in Prestwich in Manchester but his work otherwise was by then domestic in nature and smaller in scale.

Own Family

In 1898 in Repton William Dolman married Bertha Phillips (1875-1957), third daughter of Mark Phillips (1847-1916), a house painter, and his wife Jane Elizabeth Phillips (nee Meakin) (1843-1892), daughter of Samuel Meakin, a tailor. The couple lived in Pinfold Lane in Repton after their marriage (as recorded on the 1901 census) but after their move to the Lake District in 1902, they lived at Olive Mount in Sunny Bank Road in Windermere (as recorded on the 1910 RIBA records and the 1911 census) before moving sometime before 1930 to Heathcote (again in Windermere), one of a pair of houses attributed to Dan Gibson and Thomas Mawson. They had four daughters.

Gwyneth Ledsham Dolman (born 7 July 1899 in Repton died 5 April 1980 in Kendal) never married, lived with her parents then her widowed mother and was a grocer’s assistant in 1939. Phyllis Jane Dolman (born 25 December 1900 in Repton died 23 December 1954 in West Yorkshire) married John Whittaker (1903-1984) a corn and agricultural merchant in 1923 and moved to his home in Elland in West Yorkshire, where she had two children. Frances Martha Dolman (born 4 January 1903 in Windermere died 4 February 1966 in Barrow-in-Furness) married David Thomas Ludgate (1903-1962) a marine engine draughtsman in 1938 and had no children. Irene Kathleen Dolman (born 28 August 1907 in Windermere died 1966 in Kendal) married Edward Bradley Taylor (1910-1992) a motor insurance clerk in 1937 and they lived in Kendal thereafter; they also had no children.


William Dolman’s health began to fail in the mid 1930’s and as a consequence he retired from architectural practice in 1937, so is absent from all the Trade Directories thereafter. He moved with his wife and eldest daughter Gwyneth from Windermere to Kendal in that year (perhaps to be near to his youngest daughter Irene and her husband) and they lived at 7, Kent Lea. There William Dolman died suddenly on 16 April 1939 at the age of 63. His funeral took place at Windermere Cemetery four days later, although his death was registered in the Border region of Cumberland at Carlisle. The Westmorland Gazette for 22 April 1939 contains a notice of thanks from his widow and family for all the letters, cards and flowers received as the community’s condolences were expressed. Soon after her husband’s death, Bertha Dolman moved with Gwyneth the short distance to 102, Burneside Road in Kendal where she continued to live until she died in Kendal Green Hospital in 1957. Gwyneth continued to live at Burneside Road where she died in 1980.


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