Sunday, July 5, 2015

Wordsworth House

Wordsworth House, Cockermouth,  photo by Mary M Payne

When I was a kid I got a break from domestic work each summer .  We children could memorize a poem or we could choose from a list of chores to do that day.   So it is no surprise that I know at least two poems of William Wordsworth  by heart,  "Daffodils" and "Written in March". 

  "I wandered lonely as a cloud" has gotten me through some difficult moments not least of which are are the easing of boring I was happy to find that William Wordsworth's childhood home is in Cockermouth, Cumbria. 

The outside of the house is much more impressive than Bill's father would have been able to afford as agent to a powerful landowner.   But he was given the house to live in as one of the "perks" of working for a wealthy man, Sir James Lowther, or "wicked Jimmy". 

I will try to be brief and not go through the house for you room by room..nothing could be more boring than having it all second-hand. 

  But I will give you a few interesting points.  First of all William was just eight years old when his mother died and only 13 when his father died.  He and his favorite sister, Dorothy were split up and sent to relatives (as were the three youngest boys.)  Later he and his sister wrote fondly of their years in Cockermouth. 

Unlike other children of his time William was allowed to explore freely in the surrounding meadows and rivers.   One can see that the Lake District had a strong influence on some of his greatest work.    Whether he was allowed to do this because his family was more enlightened than families of the 1770's ( or today) or because his mother was just overwhelmed with responsibilities of a house and 5 young children is not known for certain. 

 Other Stuff I learned: 

1. The front rooms of the 12 room house were for  important guests and adults and the five children were not welcome.  They had their own room and parlors to use and the garden. 

2.  The chamber pot was just a few feet away(in a sideboard) from the formal dining table in the dining room ( not shown) so that male guests never need leave their port wine and rum at the end of a meal when the ladies had removed to another room. 

3.  Hens at the time were not selected for egg size and some of these early breeds are being kept on the premises now.   I have a photo of their offerings.  You will note the varied sizes of looks as small as a quail's egg.

4.  The "maid of all work" did the cleaning for the entire house, the fires, shopping and food preparation.  She was the first to rise in the morning and the last to retire.   She was paid the least of three servants having many more duties than the two men servants.

5. It was a habit of the time for the parents to each have his own bedroom. 

6.  The "privy" garden has been designed with the help of archaeologist and researchers to recreate as close as possible the one in which Dorothy and William loved to play. 

7.  There was a clark's room as well. William Arnott was clerk for at least ten years and was paid 20BPS a year.  

8.  Writing was kept as small as possible ( with a quill) on all documents or letters as paper was expensive. Sometimes the paper was used both horizontally and vertically for the same document.

9. When the flood of 2009 came to Cockermouth  the water reached the Georgian cellars of the house ( larder, wine etc.) and the furniture  (some of it antique and authentic) was quickly moved to the top floors.  The garden was completely destroyed but none of the other floors were breached before the flood subsided. 

Drawing Room for guests only, a beautiful recently made harpsichord at the other end.  The carpet has been recreated to match the one that Sir James owned. 

Mrs Wordsworth"s common parlor where she would have done accounts, writing menus, spinning, sewing etc. and feeding the children. 

Food that would have been served to guests.  Wordsworth House, photo by Mary M Payne

A "modern" kitchen with a smoke jack for spit roasting, charcoal burners for sauces, copper to heat water and even an oven.    Wordsworth House, Photo by Mary M Payne

An "exciting" dish of flowers in batter.  Wordsworth House,  photo by Mary M Payne

Mint leaves in Sugar, Wordsworth House,  photo by Mary M Payne

Eggs laid on the premises by an ancient breed of chickens.  Note the tiny one.  Wordsworth House, Cockermouth, photo by Mary M Payne

The children's bedroom,  It is believed that they all shared this room.  A chamber pot chair was disguised as a night stand.    Wordsworth House, Mary my Payne

Wordsworth House, photo by Mary M Payne

The garden re-planted after the flood of 2009..... Used mostly as a kitchen garden. The far terrace looks over River Derwent. 

Wordsworth House Garden,  photo by Mary M Payne

Looking at Wordsworth House from back Garden.  photo by Mary M Payne

Wordsworth House, Photo by Mary M Payne

Near the chicken yard. Wordsworth House, Cockermouth  photo by Mary M Payne

Wordsworth House Garden,  photo by Mary M Payne

10.  The National Trust does a lovely job with this property. Great care has been taken for authenticity.   We see and hear actors renditions of Wordsworth's poems and Dorothy's letters.  Several rooms have interactive elements for visitors to try.   For example, in the clark's room, I found out it's damned hard to write a small script with a quill pen.  Below is one of my "task saver" poems by Wordsworth.

Written in March

The cock is crowing,
The stream is flowing,
The small birds twitter,
The lake doth glitter
The green field sleeps in the sun;
The oldest and youngest
Are at work with the strongest;
The cattle are grazing,
Their heads never raising;
There are forty feeding like one!

Like an army defeated
The snow hath retreated,
And now doth fare ill
On the top of the bare hill;
The plowboy is whooping- anon-anon:
There's joy in the mountains;
There's life in the fountains;
Small clouds are sailing,
Blue sky prevailing;
The rain is over and gone!

Find more pics and information of Wordsworth House at :


  1. i loved this posting, Mary. bravissima! I love the poem Daffodils and as a Keats scholar, I am always reading about Wordsworth, whom Keats looked up to

    Karen Vicki

  2. Love your pictures and narratives. Wish I were there.

    Love, Iris

  3. I wish I could have gone there with you Lovely and interesting post! I memorized Daffodils but not Written in March. I still bring it out when I need it...