Tag Archives: William Wordsworth

A love letter to our lost language

7 Mar
Sunlight on the surface of a lake

Sun-scald is an old Sussex term for a patch of bright sunlight on the surface of water

My home, Wordsworth House and Garden, in the lovely Lake District, reopens on Saturday with a breathtaking new photographic exhibition – and a free entry weekend for locals.

The Word-Hoard: Love letters to our land celebrates the beauty of our landscape and the evocative language once used to describe it, and is a particularly appropriate exhibition for poet William’s childhood home.

Guest-curated by award-winning author Robert Macfarlane, the exhibition builds on themes he explored in his best-selling book Landmarks. It features images by his parents, Cumbrian-based photographers Rosamund and John, alongside some of the endangered words for our landscape, weather and nature that Robert has collected.

Zoe Gilbert, the house’s visitor experience manager, says: “The Word-Hoard goes to the very heart of William and his sister Dorothy’s twin passions – nature and the words we use to talk about it – and we’re thrilled to be showcasing Rosamund and John Macfarlane’s beautiful photographs.”

Robert explains: “The natural world is steadily disappearing from our language, knowledge and stories, and especially those of our children. ‘Hashtag’ was declared the UK Children’s Word for 2015, and a 2016 survey of primary school children found eight-year-olds were more able to identify species of Pokémon than common UK wildlife.

“Technology is wondrous – but so is nature, and I wanted to recover some of that wonder. So I spent two years gathering as many of our place-terms and nature-words as possible, from more than thirty languages and dialects around Britain and Ireland, and then releasing them back into imaginative circulation.”

Mist hanging over Loweswater

Shreep is an old East Anglian word for mist clearing slowly

Robert continues: “Once you know the word smeuse, for instance, an old Sussex term for the ‘hole in the base of a hedge made by the regular passage of a small animal’, you begin to spot smeuses everywhere. Without words, the landscape can easily become a blandscape: generalised, indifferent, unobserved.”

Other words in his hoard include foggit, a Scots term for “covered in moss or lichen”; shuckle, Cumbrian for icicle, and pirr, Shetlandic for a “light breath of wind that ruffles the surface of the water”.

The Word-Hoard will be open daily, except Friday, until 3 September, and admission is included in entry to the house and garden.

Locals can enjoy a free visit to the house, exhibition and garden for the whole family on Saturday 11 or Sunday 12 March if they bring along proof of their CA postcode. For those who can’t make it then, we’re open Saturday to Thursday, from 11am to 5pm (last entry 4pm), until 29 October.

On Monday and Thursday in term-time, there are free half-hour guided tours at 11.30am and 2.30pm. On Wednesday and Saturday, the costumed servants are hard at work in the kitchen, and on Tuesday afternoons, you can listen to the harpsichord being played, and if you’re musical, even play a tune yourself. For more information visit our website.

Hope to see you soon!

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Why Squirrel Nutkin owes his life to the North Lakes

14 Jul
The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin1903 SN14 7.7.14

Nutkin and friends fishing on Derwentwater. © Frederick Warne & Co. 1903, 2002

Our new exhibition at Wordsworth House and Garden, in Cockermouth, reveals how some of Beatrix Potter’s best-loved characters own their existence to the northern Lake District.

Beatrix, who was born 150 years ago this month, is more usually associated with the area around Hill Top Farm, Near Sawrey, close to Windermere, where she wrote several of her children’s books and devoted her later life farming and breeding Herdwick sheep.

But, without the early family holidays she spent in the north Lakes, around Keswick and Derwentwater, she might never have written the world-famous tales of Squirrel Nutkin, Benjamin Bunny and Mrs Tiggy-winkle, the hedgehog.

The stories behind their creation are told in Beatrix Potter and a Love of the Northern Lakes, which opens here, at poet William Wordsworth’s childhood home, on Saturday. The exhibition includes several of her original illustrations together with a selection of photographs taken in the area by her father, Rupert.

Beatrix sketching on Derwentwater 1903 by Rupert Potter. © The Cotsen Collection

Beatrix sketching on Derwentwater 1903 by Rupert Potter. © The Cotsen Collection

Zoe Gilbert, our Visitor Experience Manager, said: “Although Beatrix was born almost 100 years after William and wrote children’s stories rather than poetry, they had more in common, as writers and early conservationists, than many people realise.

“Like William, Beatrix was profoundly influenced by the time she spent in this beautiful part of the Lake District, so we’re delighted to be marking her anniversary with this very special exhibition. The local places she visited, the views she admired and the wildlife she observed inspired some of her most popular books.”

Admission to the exhibition, which runs until the end of October, is free with entry to the house and garden.

We’re also holding Beatrix-themed talks, art classes, storytelling sessions and family events throughout the summer.

On Thursday 28 July – the 150th anniversary of the day she was born – we’re hosting a birthday picnic for families, from 11.30am to 3.30pm. There will be storytelling, activities and free birthday cake, and children bringing a picnic lunch or tea plus a favourite toy will get the whole family in free.

For more information on our full programme of Beatrix Potter events and activities for adults and children, visit our website.

Get spooked this autumn!

13 Oct
Costumed servants hard at work in Wordsworth House kitchen

Hard at work: My friends the costumed servants in Wordsworth House kitchen

There’s so much going at on Wordsworth House and Garden this October holiday that I hardly know where to begin. There are family trails, spooky storytelling sessions or kitchen activities every day.

On Monday October 27, Wednesday 29 and Friday 31, you can get cosy by the kitchen fire as my friends the costumed servants tell some of the traditional Cumbrian ghostly tales young William and Dorothy Wordsworth might have enjoyed. Sessions are at 11.30am and 2.30pm and last about 20 minutes. They’re free with entry and suitable for children aged seven and above.

Children can roll up their sleeves and have a go at making clapbread on Tuesday 28 or Sunday 2 November, while on Thursday 30, they can fashion a pastry pumpkin, dinosaur, Tardis – or anything else they fancy. Drop-in sessions run from 11.30am to 3.30pm.

There’s even a chance to listen to the servants’ stories after dark – and explore the whole of William and Dorothy’s childhood home by lamplight – on Saturday 1 November from 6pm to 9pm. Spooky storytelling sessions are at 6.30pm and 7.30pm.

Meanwhile, a host of ghostly characters, including 13-year-old William and Bill, the grumpy manservant, have taken up permanent residence in the cellar, where they’re waiting to share their own haunting and often heartbreaking tales of life in this late 18th-century household.

Every day during the holiday week, families can borrow an Explorer Bag full of trails, toys and tools to help them delve into the nooks and crannies of the house and garden. There are also lots of reproduction toys and dressing up clothes in the children’s bedroom.

In the clerk’s office, you can write with a quill and ink. In the kitchen, there’s always a Georgian recipe to taste, and anyone with a musical bent can play the reproduction harpsichord in the drawing room.

We’re open, in the centre of Cockermouth, from 11am to 5pm with last entry at 4pm, so why not come and visit us?

Normal admission price applies to all activities. Entry is free to National Trust members. Call 01900 820884 for more information.

An inspiring way to learn

30 Sep
Head Gardener Amanda and Fletch the Perchcrow

Discussing poetry: Me with Head Gardener Amanda

I’m proud to say the garden that inspired some of William Wordsworth’s best-loved nature poems is firing the imagination of today’s young poets too.

The selection below are the work of year 5 and 6 pupils from nearby Eaglesfield Paddle School, who came to visit recently. School groups are among my favourite visitors because they always come to say hello and are so enthusiastic about everything they see and do – in other words, they learn without realising it!

I love reading the thank you letters they send, as the things they pick as highlights are so delightful. Kate wrote: “The flint was so fascinating – it must have been hard to set the candle alight.”

And Emily said: “My favourite thing that I learned was about the horrible medicines that they had eg a live frog being strapped to your neck, crushed snails and hare’s brains.” Wonderful! Emily also wrote me a lovely poem:

The Scarecrow
A smiling face with the most perfect grace
With a hat of flowers, most beautiful powers
He stands still over the days.
Flowers surround going round and round,
In the different blustering ways.
Flowers of blue, white and pink – all those colours
Help me think.
On the days path, he has a woolly scarf
His jacket grey and tall, it makes him
The boldest scarecrow of them all.

Pretty Pink Flowers by Sophie
Pretty pink flowers,
How you glisten in the sunlight.
Your pink, light petals are so so
Bright and beautiful.
Oh pretty pink flowers.

Me as a Bee by Caitlin
Thin strands of yellow placed aside an endless well
Sweet sour emerald tears that sop down its twisty stalk
I sit in the flower with my big stripey body
Buzz, buzz, buzz!

Season of mellow fruitfulness

4 Sep
Harvest time: Apple picking in William's beloved garden

Harvest time: Apple picking in William Wordsworth’s beloved garden

I think we can all agree that summer is finally over, but there’s still plenty to enjoy in my wonderful heritage garden. The trees are laden with apples, and the terrace – where William and Dorothy Wordsworth loved to play – is dense with orange and black hips.

If you would like to find out more about the fruits of this abundant season, why not join my friend Amanda, the Head Gardener, for a special tour?

She will be exploring the highlights of William’s childhood garden, which inspired many of his best-loved nature poems.

The tours are on Wednesday 10, 17 and 24 September and 1 October at 11.30am, and they’re free with the price of a ticket to the house and garden.

If you don’t want to pay anything at all to come in, why not take out membership of the National Trust? You can visit my garden any time you want (from mid-March until the end of October) as well as hundreds of others that are in the care of the Trust!

PS The glamorous apple picker in the picture is my other good friend Alex, who despite now working mainly as a duty manager and in our office, can occasionally be persuaded to frock up in 18th-century costume.

Autumn colour: Sweet briar hips on the terrace

Autumn colour: Sweet briar hips on the terrace

Wordsworth’s haunted house

11 Aug
One of Wordsworth House's current maids encounters her ghostly 18th-century counterpart

Face-to-face: One of our current maids encounters her ghostly 18th-century predecessor

Do you believe in ghosts? I didn’t until I heard from my friends Amanda and Alex about the spooky goings on in the cellar of the house.

It seems that a group of spirits from Wordsworth House’s past have taken up residence.

A host of characters, including 13-year-old William; Bill, the grumpy manservant, and Amy, the maid, have moved in to share haunting and often heartbreaking tales of life in this late-18th-century household.

Cockermouth was William and Dorothy Wordsworth’s home until the death of their mother Ann. The cellar ghosts tell the story of their childhood, their traumatic separation and their eventual reunion as adults.

Amanda says if you think you might encounter them, make sure you have a tissue in your pocket, as you’re bound to shed a tear or two.

Unleash your inner poet – like my friend Chloe did

28 Jul
Old friends: Chloe and Fletch

Reunited: Chloe and Fletch

An old friend of mine came to visit Wordsworth House and Garden for work experience last week and thoroughly enjoyed taking part in one of our “unleash your inner poet” workshops led by my pal Dave Cryer, the storyteller. (See note at end for details of upcoming sessions!)

The last time I saw Chloe was when she came to the launch of her grandma Alex’s novel Tandem, which was held in the house a few months ago. Before that, I hadn’t seen her since a couple of years ago, when her dad and step-mum became the first couple ever to get married in the house.

Chloe spent her week with us helping in the house, reception, café and shop. I’m going to hand you over to her, so she can tell you about the highlights herself…

Even though I was 150 miles away from my home town, I felt just as at home in Wordsworth House. Meeting my friend Fletch again kind of sparked my imagination, and I made up millions of things that he could have seen or heard – for example, the birds in the sky migrating or the adults’ laughter if they were hit on the head by an apple off one of the trees!

On my second day, I got to dress up and become a costumed maid. At first I was not looking forward to it – I felt that I’d look like a right numpty – but the visitors enjoy the atmosphere in the kitchen (and the tasters on the side) so they make you feel appreciated and you fit straight in.

Gwen (who was dressed as Amy, the maid-of-all-work) taught me how to decorate the food for the table, even the chocolate tart that looked like it had a sausage hidden in it (not sure how that happened – it really was all chocolate).

Keith (the manservant) taught me how to make clap bread. I enjoyed it so much that I forgot to keep an eye on the time and ran over into lunch. Whoops!

Later in the week I was in costume again. This time Julia (the other maid) decorated the food and I got to place it on the dining room table as the Wordsworths would have eaten it, while also helping Gwen make yummy celery fritters.

Then, still dressed as a maid, I headed for the garden, where I met Fletch’s new girlfriend Little Bo Peep and her sheep. Dave, one of the volunteers, was leading a poetry workshop all about where William Wordsworth got his inspiration from. Dave read out a lovely poem and asked us about our inspiration, then we wrote one of our own. If my evil grandma Alex has her way, my poem will be put on the poetry tree.

Note from the evil grandma (who also works as Fletch’s typist): Dave will be leading sessions on Wednesday, July 30 and August 6, 13 and 20 at 11.30am and 2.30pm. They are free with entry to the house – so why not come along and join in? Your poem could end up on our poetry tree too!

Leaves of literature: The Wordsworth House poetry tree

Leaves of literature: Our poetry tree

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