During one February Half Term at Blackwell the Arts & Crafts House, I set up a fairy tree house activity inspired by Blackwell’s architect, Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott. In 1897, a year before he started working on Blackwell, Baillie Scott decorated a wonderfully whimsical tree house for the Crown Princess Marie of Romania.
When it came time to design Blackwell, Baillie Scott filled the house with nature, making it the perfect holiday home for the Holt family and their five children. The woodcarvings in the main hall, by local artist Arthur Simpson, are particularly impressive, with birds, plants and trees carved throughout. The minstrel gallery, jutting out above the inglenook fireplace, is decorated with tree branches that make it look like an indoor tree house.
I invited visitors to build a fairy tree house by ‘planting’ willow rods into a polystyrene base. Wire, pipe cleaners, and coloured tape could be used to bend and shape the flexible green willow into any structure they could think of. They decorated their fairy tree houses with paper flowers inspired by plants Baillie Scott used to decorate Blackwell. The resulting tree houses were impressive – the tallest reaching almost 5 feet!
This activity encouraged families to work together, be creative and look more carefully at Blackwell's historic interior. The living sculptures could be planted in their gardens at home, ready to welcome any wandering fairies.
I made sure the activity would be of interest to adults visiting without children, as it was taking place in a main room in the historic house. I printed out archival images and used the story of the Princess's tree house to start discussions about Blackwell’s history and design choices made by Baillie Scott. I also encouraged visitors of all ages to look out for specific plants that were hidden around the house.