Dove Cottage and The Wordsworth museum
Tel:- 015394 35544
Dove Cottage was once the home of William Wordsworth, and remains largely unchanged from Wordsworth's day, being presented to the modern visitor in a style that the poet and his family would recognise. Stone floors, dark panelled rooms, glowing coal fires and even the family’s own belongings recreate the atmosphere of the early 19th century.
Despite the intrusion of 21st century tourists, the cottage retains a peaceful and homely feel to it. It is easy to imagine William and his sister Dorothy returning to the warmth and comfort of a coal fire after a winter afternoon strolling on the local fells, or entertaining visitors with a poetry reading in the main kitchen-parlour, with it's window seat looking out to the Lakeland fells.
This feeling has been enhanced by the way in which visitors to Dove Cottage are handled. There are timed guided tours of the house, and as a consequence visitors learn about the house and the people that have occupied it over the years, whilst the main fabric of the building and it's contents is protected.
The garden at Dove Cottage is open when the cottage is, weather permitting. It has been planted with native plants in a semi- wild state, as it was when the Wordsworths lived here. Visitors are encouraged to take their time to enjoy it's natural atmosphere, as William and his family did over 200 years ago.
William and Dorothy were keen gardeners, not only growing flowers and other native species, many of which they obtained from the local fells, but also producing a surprising variety of vegetables. This was no mean feat given that the climate in Grasmere 200 years ago was both wetter and colder than it is today.
They also enjoyed the garden's aesthetic qualities, from using it as inspiration for poetry, to watching the local wildlife that came to feed on the buds, seeds and insects that abounded within it's walls.
The Wordsworth Museum
Situated next door to Dove Cottage, the Wordsworth Museum houses the largest collection of Wordsworth manuscripts in the world.
Also on display are everyday objects from the Wordsworths' time at Grasmere; pictures; poems and original letters. Modern interactive displays help to bring the man and his work to life, further aiding the visitors' understanding of the life and times of England's greatest poet.
The museum's permanent displays are supplemented by a busy exhibition programme, with items from the trust's own collection being supplemented by material borrowed from other sources.
Dove Cottage was built in the early 17th century as an inn, the "Dove and Olive Bough", and provided hospitality to travellers and locals alike until it closed in 1793. Constructed of traditional Lakeland stone, with limewashed walls and a slate roof, it has four rooms on each of it's two floors. The ground floor rooms retain their oak panels and slate floors and it's not difficult to imagine the house in it's pre Wordsworth days, with groups of men enjoying their pints by the roaring Peat fires.
William and his sister Dorothy took over the lease of the cottage in December 1799, and were to stay for 8 years, during which time William married Mary Hutchinson, a childhood friend.
William's sister Dorothy continued to live with them and kept a journal detailing the family's daily life. An everyday diary when written, the journals of Dorothy Wordsworth are now a valuable social document providing a rare glimpse into early 19th century everyday life, and are fascinating to read.
As one of the most celebrated Romantic poets of his day, William received many visitors. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey, Walter Scott, Charles and Mary Lamb, all literary giants of the time, were entertained by the Wordsworths. Coleridge and Southey were particularly close friends, as was Thomas de Quincey, and when the Wordsworths left the Cottage for Allan Bank in May 1808 De Quincey took up residence, remaining for 11 years.
De Quincy was a devotee of Wordsworth, and he entertained lofty literary aspirations. In 1816 he married the daughter of a local farmer, (with whom he eventually had 8 children), but with a family to feed and little regular income, he eventually ran out of money. After a brief period as the editor of the Westmorland Gazette newspaper, he and his growing family moved to Fox Ghyll, a larger house close to Rydal. Despite his perilous financial situation he continued to rent Dove Cottage until 1835, when his mounting debts eventually forced him to leave the cottage for good.
Dove Cottage then had a succession of tenants, and was eventually bought by a London businessman named Edmund Lee, the doting father of an aspiring poet, who was convinced that the house would do for his offspring what it did for Wordsworth. Unfortunately for him, his son found the cottage to be totally uninspiring, and when Lee realised his mistake he put it back on the market.
It was bought by The Wordsworth Trust, an organisation formed with the sole purpose of preserving the house and it's links with Wordsworth. The asking price in 1890 was £650, a considerable sum of money for the fledgling trust to raise. But raise it they did and in July 1891 Dove Cottage opened to the public.