William Wordsworth. 250th anniversary of the poet’s birth

Introduction

2020 sees the 250th anniversary of the birth of William Wordsworth, England’s greatest poet. Although he was born in Cockermouth on April 7, 1770 and later had eight years at school in Hawkshead, it was the area around Grasmere and Rydal where he spent much of his life. Even then there were few other parts of Lakeland left untouched by his sole because he walked pretty well everywhere.

Here’s a guide, then, to the places with which he is most closely associated, plus a diary of commemorative events, both in Cumbria and further afield. Finally, a selection of books about William Wordsworth, his life and work.

Dove Cottage, Grasmere

Dove Cottage, Grasmere

Wordsworth’s first family home (1799-1808) and the place where a great deal of his best known works - The Prelude of 1805, Michael, the Immortality Ode and I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud (Daffodils) - plus Dorothy Wordsworth’s Grasmere Journal were all written. Closed until spring 2020 for the Reimagining Wordsworth redevelopment project.

www.wordsworth.org.uk

Grasmere, Hawkshead and Coniston

Wordsworth Museum

Wordsworth Museum

With its portraits, paintings, original manuscripts and personal memorabilia, this is the perfect introduction to the poet. Closed until spring 2020 for the Reimagining Wordsworth redevelopment project, it will re-open with four new galleries, a new welcome area and a viewing station ‘to create a stronger link between Wordsworth’s poetry and the Lake District landscape’.

www.wordsworth.org.uk

Grasmere, Hawkshead and Coniston

Allan Bank, Grasmere

Allan Bank, Grasmere

Wordsworth’s home for three years after he and his family moved here from Dove Cottage in 1808. Later the home of Canon Hardwicke Drummond Rawnsley, one of the founders of the National Trust. This is a ‘different type of National Trust experience’: you can read or write, paint or draw, play chess or simply watch the red squirrels outside.

www.nationaltrust.org.uk/allan-bank-and-grasmere

Grasmere, Hawkshead and Coniston

St Oswald’s Church, Grasmere

St Oswald’s Church, Grasmere

Wordsworth’s church and the place where he is buried. His prayer book is on show and there’s a memorial tablet to him on the wall. Close to one of eight yew trees that he planted in 1819 is William and Mary’s grave. ‘William Wordsworth 1850. Mary Wordsworth 1859’ says the simple inscription. The Wordsworth Daffodil Garden is a few steps away.

www.stoswaldsgrasmere.uk

Grasmere, Hawkshead and Coniston

Rydal Mount, Rydal

Rydal Mount, Rydal

Wordsworth’s home for the last 37 years of his life (1813-50) where he played host to many leading literary lights of the day. The house was bought by the great, great granddaughter of the poet in 1969 and so it retains the warm feel of a family home. The garden he created - with its glimpses of Rydal Water - is still pretty much as it was then.

www.rydalmount.co.uk

Grasmere, Hawkshead and Coniston

St Mary’s Church, Rydal

St Mary’s Church, Rydal

Close to Rydal Mount, this church, built in 1824, was Wordsworth’s regular place of worship for many years, his pew located at the front left of the building. Through a gate in the churchyard is Dora’s Field (National Trust) where William and Mary planted hundreds of daffodils in memory of their daughter Dora. She died in 1847 at the age of 43.

www.rydal.org.uk/the-church.html

Grasmere, Hawkshead and Coniston

Rydal Water/Grasmere

Rydal Water/Grasmere

Two lakes forever associated with Wordsworth, and you can walk around them both. At the western end of Rydal Water is a rocky outcrop known as Wordsworth’s Seat, a favourite viewpoint of the poet. Not far away is White Moss House, originally three cottages, which Wordsworth bought for his son, Willie, in the early 19th century. The Wordsworth family lived here until the 1930s.

Grasmere, Hawkshead and Coniston

Wordsworth House and Garden, Cockermouth

Wordsworth House and Garden, Cockermouth

This was where Wordsworth was born in 1770 (as were his three brothers and sister) and thanks to the National Trust, you get a strong sense of what life was like here in those days. There’s a permanent exhibition about Wordsworth’s Lakeland legacy. Small Visitor Attraction of the Year at the Cumbria Tourism Awards 2019.

www.nationaltrust.org.uk/wordsworthhouse

Northern Lakes, Keswick and Western Lakes

Hawkshead Grammar School

Hawkshead Grammar School

Wordsworth was a pupil here for eight years from 1779, the schoolroom itself being the one big space downstairs. Upstairs is the headmaster’s study, a collection of old books and a selection of quill pens and nibs. One of the pens might have been used by Wordsworth to write his first surviving piece of poetry. The school closed in 1909.

www.hawksheadgrammar.org.uk

Northern Lakes, Keswick and Western Lakes

The Duddon Valley

The Duddon Valley

One of Wordsworth’s favourite areas of the Lake District to which he devoted 34 sonnets. Not only did the scenery impress him but he became a great admirer of the Rev. Robert Walker, Wonderful Walker, who was not only the curate at Seathwaite for over 60 years but a teacher, sheep shearer, knitter, brewer and father of eight.

www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/duddon-valley

Northern Lakes, Keswick and Western Lakes

Ullswater

Ullswater

‘The happiest combination of beauty and grandeur which any of the Lakes affords,’ said Wordsworth of Lakeland’s second biggest lake. It was in 1802 while returning from a visit to anti-slavery campaigner Thomas Clarkson at Pooley Bridge that he and his sister Dorothy spotted the daffodils at Glencoyne Bay which were later immortalised in his famous poem I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud (Daffodils).

www.ullswaterway.co.uk

Northern Lakes, Keswick and Western Lakes

Penrith

Penrith

William’s parents, John and Ann (née Cookson) were married in the town’s St Andrew’s Church; the churchyard was where Ann was buried in 1778. The grave is unmarked. Nearby is the building that once housed Dame Birkett’s School which William and his sister, Dorothy, briefly attended. His future wife, Mary Hutchinson, was a pupil here too.

This quiet enclave of Penrith is just behind King Street where William stayed (at the Robin Hood Inn) during 1794-5 as he nursed his friend Raisley Calvert. The Devonshire Street site of clothes shop N Arnison & Sons (founded 1742) was where Ann Cookson’s parents used to have their home while William’s cousin, Captain John Wordsworth, lived in one of two Adam-style houses which now make up Penrith town hall.

Walking in the Lakes

Walking in the Lakes

The writer Thomas de Quincey estimated that Wordsworth walked almost 180,000 miles (289,682km) in his lifetime. A favourite stroll was from Grasmere to Easedale Tarn but he also walked to Keswick to see Samuel Taylor Coleridge, to Ullswater, to Loweswater, Crummock Water and Buttermere, to Derwentwater, the Duddon Valley, Martindale, Blea Tarn in the Langdales and many other places.

Grasmere, Hawkshead and Coniston

What's on: a summary

What's on: a summary

March. Exhibitions at Wordsworth House and Garden in Cockermouth and Allan Bank at Grasmere on until November and December respectively. Four RHS gardens celebrate with thousands of daffodils, March 19 is Poetry Bus day, there’s a concert in Carlisle Cathedral, a display of Wordsworth’s verse at the British Library, London and a wreath laying ceremony in Westminster Abbey.

April. April 7 is the 250th anniversary. Dove Cottage in Grasmere reopens on the same day and there are celebrations at Wordsworth House, Cockermouth and Allan Bank, Grasmere. Exhibitions at both latter places continue. Rydal Mount at Rydal holds two talks on Wordsworth, Wordsworth House has one talk. Keats House in London offers readings of poetry, four RHS gardens dazzle with daffodils.

May and subsequent months. Rydal Mount and Wordsworth House continue their programme of talks. Wordsworth Museum in Grasmere reopens.

For details of all events, go to www.lakedistricttravelguide.co.uk/index.php/component/k2/item/980-wordsworth

Books about Wordsworth

Books about Wordsworth

If you want to find out more about the great man, here’s a selection of books. Some might be easier to get hold of than others. The list is in no particular order.

Radical Wordsworth: The Poet Who Changed the World by Jonathan Bate (published April 2020); Well-Kept Secrets: The Story of William Wordsworth by Andrew Wordsworth; Wordsworth: A Life by Juliet Barker; William & Dorothy Wordsworth: All in Each Other by Lucy Newlyn; The Golden Store. An illustrated selection of poetry by William Wordsworth. Compiled and illustrated by Nancy Martin.

William Wordsworth: A Life by Stephen Gill; The Making of Poetry. Coleridge, the Wordsworths and their Year of Marvels by Adam Nicolson; William Wordsworth by Hunter Davies; The Hidden Wordsworth by Kenneth Johnston.

A Passionate Sisterhood: Women of the Wordsworth Circle by Kathleen Jones; A Wordsworth Chronology by FB Pinion; The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth by Frances Wilson; William Wordsworth. A Biography. The Early Years. 1770-1803 by Mary Moorman; William Wordsworth. A Biography. The Later Years 1803-1850 by Mary Moorman; The Grasmere and Alfoxden Journals by Dorothy Wordsworth (edited by Pamela Woof); Dorothy Wordsworth, Writer by Pamela Woof; An Anthology by Dorothy Wordsworth.

With thanks to Rydal Mount, Wordsworth House and Fred’s Ambleside Bookshop.

Stay connected

Keep up to date with all the latest news from the LAKE DISTRICT travel guide.

We use cookies on our website. Some of them are essential for the operation of the site, while others help us to improve this site and the user experience (tracking cookies). You can decide for yourself whether you want to allow cookies or not. Please note that if you reject them, you may not be able to use all the functionalities of the site.