Grasmere’s ambitious plans to celebrate Wordsworth’s 250th birthday

PUBLISHED: 00:00 31 May 2019

Rydal Mount where Wordsworth died in 1850

Rydal Mount where Wordsworth died in 1850


Grasmere is gearing up for an international celebration of Wordsworth’s 250th birthday with a £6 million project to enhance the poet’s beloved village.

Elaine Taylor at Allen Bank which Wordsworth described as an abominationElaine Taylor at Allen Bank which Wordsworth described as an abomination

The most celebrated English poet, William Wordsworth, his beloved Lake District, the tourism he helped kick-start and the birth of the conservation movement all come together in the village of Grasmere.

He may have been born in Cockermouth and gone to school in Hawkshead but, after a brief dalliance with France, it was here Wordsworth chose to put down roots, raise a family and create his greatest works such as 'The Prelude' and 'Daffodils'.

The village is busy preparing for next year's 250th anniversary of his birth in 1770 and the landmark undergoing the biggest change is Dove Cottage, now known as the global centre for British Romanticism.

Visitors to the Wordsworth Trust complex this summer need to check what will be open as Blackpool builders F Parkinson are in the middle of a major renovation and building project ready for the celebrations next April.

The entrance hall at Allen Bank which was ravaged by fireThe entrance hall at Allen Bank which was ravaged by fire

Under the title 'Reimagining Wordsworth' the trust has embarked on a £6.2 million project to bring Wordsworth's story into the 21st century.

Director Michael McGregor said: 'We want to mark this momentous anniversary and recognise we have to ensure the Trust's attractions reflect the relevance of his poetry to the present and the future. And we want that message to go out to as many people as possible.'

The first task is the renovation of Dove Cottage itself. It was here that, after years of wandering and restless uncertainty in the wake of the French Revolution, Wordsworth returned to make a home with his sister Dorothy.

They settled in this small house on the edge of Grasmere for what would be Wordsworth's most prolific period of writing. Once Parkinsons have renovated the fabric of the building, it will reopen for the peak tourist season, from July to October. It will then close again to be refitted to better reflect how it was when the Wordsworths lived there.

Michael McGregor, director of The Wordsworth Trust, in the planned  sensory gardenMichael McGregor, director of The Wordsworth Trust, in the planned sensory garden

Downstairs will re-enact the frantic, crowded lifestyle of 1800. Upstairs will be a place of calm reflection where the two siblings created their writings.

The Wordsworth Museum, which houses a unique and internationally significant collection of manuscripts, books and fine art, will be closed for longer. It is being expanded and modernised with new galleries and an introductory exhibition.

Wordsworth's manuscripts will be interpreted using new methods - displays will be more interactive and engaging, and contemporary voices will celebrate their modern-day relevance to give visitors a closer insight into his world.

To mark the link between his writing and the local landscape, the project will also open up a woodland area, with new walking trails and create a new courtyard in the heart of the site. A viewing station will enable visitors to connect Wordsworth's poetry to the landscape that inspired him and Grasmere volunteers are helping to create a sensory garden for contemplation and relaxation.

An elderly visitor takes a rest atThe Grot near Rydal MountAn elderly visitor takes a rest atThe Grot near Rydal Mount

Temple of abomination

When Wordsworth first saw a new house being built for Liverpool merchant John Gregory Crump at Allan Bank in Grasmere he called it a "temple of abomination". But Elaine Taylor, a National Trust manager there, has a more charitable view, believing the villa to be where the sublime and picturesque come together.

A commemorative plaque to William Wordsworth in St Oswalds Church in GrasmereA commemorative plaque to William Wordsworth in St Oswalds Church in Grasmere

And the view of Grasmere Island from the villa was an inspiration for a later resident, Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, to help found the Trust.

He was horrified when the island was sold privately and wanted access to beauty spots preserved, hence the creation of the Trust. But it wasn't until 2017 that they took over the island.

'One of the prime factors that affected Rawnsley's foundation of the National Trust was his admiration for William Wordsworth,' said Elaine.

Inside the ancient St Oswalds Church in GrasmereInside the ancient St Oswalds Church in Grasmere

'He wanted to look after the beautiful Lake District that had connections to Wordsworth and to allow them to gain a greater understanding of his poetry by experiencing this landscape.'

Allan Bank's part in the Reimagining project is focusing on restoring the gardens, with work already started on the vast vegetable patch.

Next year is not only 250 years since Wordsworth's birth, it is 100 years from Rawnsley's death and 125 years since the founding of the Trust. So a busy year of celebrations is planned.

Ironically, the poet did end living at the "abomination" with his family when they outgrew Dove Cottage.

His passion for Grasmere never wavered, calling it 'the loveliest spot that man hath found'.

Family gathering

Rydal Mount, where Wordsworth lived until his death in 1850, also has an anniversary in 2020, marking 50 years of being open to the public. It is still owned by the poet's descendants.

Christopher Andrew Wordsworth said: 'We are planning a Wordsworth family get together at Rydal Mount, trying to get as many cousins together as possible.'

Rydal Mount has new curators Emily and Matthew Heath, who have taken over from Peter and Marian Elkington who retired at the end of 2018 after 25 years.

Emily, who studied religious studies at Edinburgh University, and Matthew, who studied Japanese at Oxford University, plan to enlarge the food offering at the Mount, focusing on local produce. A couple of hundred yards away is one of Wordsworth's favourite places of reflection. This is The Grot, a stone bothy with a view of a waterfall in the grounds of Rydal Hall, and described in the poem "An Evening Walk."

Resting place

Wordsworth is buried, along with his wife, sister and several relatives in the graveyard at St Oswald's Church in the middle of Grasmere. His memorial stone is also in St Oswald's, and not Westminster Abbey as some would expect. The church is named after Oswald of Northumbria, king and champion of Christianity, who is believed to have preached on the site before his death in 642 AD. The current Grade 1 listed building dates from around 1300.

Next door is the former church school, where Wordsworth taught, and is now the headquarters and shop for Grasmere Gingerbread.

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