Steve Wooldridge and his son Luke bought a damp rundown cottage, looking for a good investment.

They snapped up the deceptively spacious Glen Cottage, in the Solway coastal village of Allonby, at auction for £53,000, knowing they had the skills and vision to transform it into a desirable holiday let.

What they didn’t realise, until a few days after the purchase, was that they had bought a cottage of huge historical significance in West Cumbria.

Neither Steve, 48, nor Luke, 21, had heard of artist Percy Kelly, the troubled genius who lived in the cottage for 12 years, producing much of his best work.

Today, the cottage is something of a pilgrimage site for the most devout Kelly fans. It features in a number of his paintings and there are photographs of him working in his scullery studio which is now a modern kitchen.

Glen Cottage was not marketed at auction as having belonged to Kelly. But within days of taking ownership, Steve discovered the history of the cottage and began swotting up on knowledge about the artist and his paintings.

He discovered that Kelly, who died in 1993, is now regarded as one of the county’s finest and most remarkable artists. An exhibition of his work at Carlisle’s Tullie House last year was an astounding success with record numbers of visitors.

Born in Workington in 1918, he was brought up in a poor working-class family. But his natural talent was evident from as soon as he could hold a pencil. Despite this, he received no formal art education until he was in his 40s and spent most of his adult life working as a postman, along with six years in the Army during the Second World War.

Winston Churchill was among the many influential people who came into Kelly’s life, including poet Norman Nicholson, artists Shelia Fell and LS Lowry, and collector and patron of the arts Helen Sutherland.

They first met during the Blitz, in a room next to the Cabinet War Rooms, and chatted about art and drawing for several hours then and on subsequent occasions.

Churchill encouraged Kelly, who’d never been to an art gallery, to visit the National Gallery.

But Kelly shunned recognition and was loath to sell his work. Instead, after the war, he returned to his job with the postal service in West Cumbria although he became frustrated and depressed with life.

After a nervous breakdown in 1958, he resigned and moved to Glen Cottage.

The 12 years at Glen Cottage produced some of Kelly’s best watercolours; he also used oils for the first time and turned to etchings and charcoal, finally enrolling in art school at Carlisle College of Art.

His time at Glen Cottage, and his marriage, came to an end when his wife Audrey returned home one evening to find him sitting by the fireplace, wearing her clothes and asking her to help him put on mascara. She was horrified, told him to leave and changed the locks.

The fireplace had been built by Kelly in 1958 and it remains a feature of the living room today. After finding a picture of the living room in Kelly’s time, Steve recreated the original picture of Maryport harbour that hung above it, asking a graphic designer to Photoshop a photograph. It works brilliantly.

Steve, who lives at Bolton Park, near Caldbeck, also used a clever ploy to show Kelly’s work throughout the cottage. “Obviously, I couldn’t afford to buy his original art so I bought a Percy Kelly calendar from Tullie House and framed the illustrations,” he says. Surprisingly effective, at first glance the pictures look like good prints.

The cottage is now warm and airy. The first job he and Luke did was to remove all the cardboard and plywood that lined the inside walls and the cement render on the outside walls, allowing the cottage to breathe again.

Diathonite cork render, a natural cork and lime plaster, was used to insulate the house both externally and internally. Ecological Building Systems, based near Carlisle, carried out the work.

The damp sandstone-flagged flooring was removed and underfloor heating installed before modern sandstone was relaid with a dark grout which gives an illusion of age.

All the ceilings were also pulled down and replaced. In fact, Glen Cottage was virtually rebuilt, with all the family pitching in to help.

Steve’s wife Lindsey and her friend Carla McTear, who has a Wigton business Made to Measure, took care of the interior design, while his parents Ian and Joan helped with painting and cleaning. Following the transformation, the cottage retains the atmosphere and many of the characteristics from Kelly’s time there.

The decor, however, is aimed at the contemporary eye, with neutral shades spiced up by arty splashes of colour.

One of the most exciting finds is in the master bedroom where Steve had hired a specialist to sandblast a fireplace.

“I am just so glad he didn’t blast the lintel over the fireplace as Luke, who is studying business with management at York University, discovered the letters AK and PK 1958 carved there. I used a toothbrush to gently clean them up,” says Steve.

The bathroom, which fits under the eaves of the house, features the original cast-iron bath that Kelly would have used, although now it is surrounded by smart white tiling.

Downstairs a modern shower room is coloured in a cool, contemporary grey with Fusion mineral paint. This was the room where Kelly created his astonishing images and where he also kept a printing press.

Percy Kelly Cottage is available to let through

This article first appeared in Cumbria Life magazine.