Wordsworth House, Cockermouth
“We’re going to the Wordsworth House this afternoon.” “Oh good. You’ll enjoy that. Which one?”
It’s easy to imagine that kind of conversation between Lake District visitors over a lunch table. Currently there are three houses with strong Wordsworth connections open to the public, and before long the three will be four.
Wordsworth House, Cockermouth
Starting with his earliest life there is Wordsworth’s birthplace, now known as Wordsworth House in Cockermouth. Their father was agent to Sir James Lowther who owned the rather splendid, then almost new, property on Cockermouth’s Main Street. The Wordsworths moved in around 1766. William was born in 1770, the second son in what would become a family of four boys and a girl, and lived there during his early childhood, but his mother died in 1778 when he was only eight years old, and his father five years later.
His early schooling was in Penrith, his mother’s home town, then at Hawkshead. Subsequently, after not very distinguished studies at Cambridge, Wordsworth for some years in his twenties moved around from place to place, including time in France and also Somerset. By 1799, though, he was back in the Lake District and made his home here for the the next fifty years.
Dove Cottage, GrasmereA legacy enabled him to devote his life to his poetry and in 1799 he and his sister Dorothy, who served as his secretary, moved into Dove Cottage close to the lake just outside the village of Grasmere. Before long they were joined by William’s new wife, Mary Hutchinson whom he and Dorothy had known from childhood. It is Dove Cottage which is most closely associated with what is generally considered to be his greatest poetry.
Dove Cottage had previously been an inn known as the Dove and Olive Branch. Wordsworth joked at that as he referred to himself as a “water-drinking bard”. It is today owned by The Wordsworth Trust which has developed the area around not only as a visitor attraction but also as a major international centre for literary research associated with Wordsworth and the Lake Poets.
Eventually the demands of a growing family, not to mention the visitors such as Coleridge, Scott, Southey and deQuincey whom they so often entertained, made a move into more spacious accommodation inevitable. After a brief spell in another Grasmere house the family in 1810 moved down the road in the direction of Ambleside to a house by the next lake, Rydal Water.
Rydal Mount was home to Wordsworth for longer than any of the others. He lived there until his death in 1850. Rydal Mount, with its gardens, is now once again owned by members of the Wordsworth family who open it to the public.
Allan Bank, Grasmere
The above three houses are open to the public. But I mentioned a short stay in Grasmere after Dove Cottage. This was at Allan Bank, a house which Wordsworth had earlier condemned as ugly but which he later occupied for two years from 1808. This has been owned by the National Trust for many years but rented out to private tenants. Following a fire in March this year, however, the Trust now plans to renovate the property and open Allan Bank to the public with some kind of Wordsworth-related content (precisely what being as yet undecided), so making it the fourth Wordsworth house in Cumbria open to visitors.