William Wordsworth in the Lake District
William Wordsworth was born on 7 April 1770 in a fine Georgian house in Cockermouth, now called Wordsworth House. His father John was estate agent to Sir James Lowther, who owned the house.
1770 – 1779
William had an elder brother Richard, a younger sister Dorothy and two younger brothers John and Christopher.
His childhood was spent largely in Cockermouth and Penrith, his mother’s home town. William and Dorothy and his future wife Mary Hutchinson attended infant school in Penrith between 1776 and 1777.
William’s mother died in Penrith when he was 8. His father died when he was 13, and is buried in the churchyard of All Saints Cockermouth. All Saints church rooms is on the site of the Cockermouth school that William attended as a boy.
1779 – 1787
Hawkshead – Ann Tyson’s Cottage
From 1779 until 1787 William attended the Grammar School in Hawkshead, lodging with Ann Tyson initially, then with his brothers.
At Hawkshead William thrived – receiving encouragement from the headmaster to read and write poetry.
Old Grammar School, Hawkshead
During these years William Wordsworth made many visits to the countryside, gaining inspiration as the powers of nature exercised their influence.
He then went to St John’s College Cambridge, where he was not a notable student, but inevitably matured in thought and sophistication. In 1795 he received a bequest of £900 which gave him the means to pursue a literary career.
In 1795 the Wordsworths stayed in a cottage in Dorset, where they met Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey. In the years ahead a close relationship developed between William, Dorothy and Coleridge. William and Coleridge then undertook a tour of the Lake District, starting at Temple Sowerby, and finishing at Wasdale Head, via Grasmere. At Grasmere they saw Dove Cottage, then an empty Inn called the Dove and Olive Branch.
1799 – 1808
Dove Cottage, Grasmere
In December 1799 William and Dorothy moved into Dove Cottage, in Grasmere. Dorothy was William’s secretary, as William dictated his poetry. In 1802 William married his childhood companion Mary Hutchinson, and the first three of their five children were born.
During this period William’s friends, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey, moved in to Greta Hall in Keswick. Southey, who was poet laureate from 1813 – 1843, lived there for forty years.
1808 – 1811
Thomas de Quincey was a permanent guest at Dove Cottage and in 1808, as it became inadequate, they moved to Allan Bank in Grasmere, a large house that William had condemned as an eyesore when it was being built.
Looking across Grasmere to Helm Crag (Lion and Lamb) and Allan Bank
The Wordsworths lived at Allan Bank for three years, with poet and friend Coleridge.
1811 – 1813
In 1811 William Wordsworth and his family moved to the Old Rectory, opposite St Oswald’s Church in Grasmere. This was a cold and damp house and where William and Mary’s two youngest children died.
1813 – 1850
In 1813 William and Mary moved to Rydal Mount, where they stayed until their deaths in 1850 and 1859.
While living here, William bought the Rash field, next to St Mary’s Church, originally to build a house. The house never materialised. It is now called Dora’s Field, and has a splendid display of daffodils.
Whilst at Rydal Mount William became Distributor of Stamps for Westmorland, and had an office in Church St, Ambleside. In 1820 he published his ‘Guide through the District of the Lakes’. In 1842 William Wordsworth became the Poet Laureate, and resigned his office as Stamp Distributor.
He helped to choose the site of St Mary’s Church, built just below Rydal Mount, and where he was church warden from 1833 to 1834.
In 1850 William caught a cold on a country walk, and he died on 23 April, St George’s day, 80 years after his birth.
He and Mary, who died 9 years, later have a simple tombstone in the churchyard of St Oswald’s Church in Grasmere, now one of the most visited literary shrines in the world.
William Wordsworth wrote some 70,000 lines of verse, 40,000 lines more than any other poet.
Opposite Wordsworth House in Cockermouth is a memorial to William Wordsworth unveiled on 7 April 1970, the bicentenary of his birth.
Related link: The Wordsworth Trust
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