One of the Lake District’s most popular visitor attractions is celebrating its 125th birthday this year and hopes to attract even more visitors in this historic year.
Dove Cottage, first family home of Britain’s most beloved poet, William Wordsworth, first opened its doors to the public on July 27 1891. On that day, a total of just three visitors viewed the property William and his family had left in 1808, after eight years of what they called “plain living but high thinking.”
The previous year The Wordsworth Trust had been founded to secure Dove Cottage, in the words of its first trustees, “for the eternal possession of those who love English poetry all over the world”. Various works had been undertaken to return the property to the way it was in 1808 and the tenant was given the princely sum of £5 to relocate.
The purchase of Dove Cottage and opening it to the public in many ways, illustrated the influence of Wordsworth’s poetry and his position as the greatest of the Romantic Poets. It also highlighted how Wordsworth’s poetry had helped put the Lake District on the tourism map, bringing Victorians in their thousands, along with an array of artists and writers, to view the landscape he described in his nature-inspired poems. Wordsworth wrote over 70,000 lines of verse and his words and sentiments have profoundly influenced other poets and everyday people alike.
Wordsworth composed some of the poems for which he is most famous during his time at Dove Cottage, including: Ode: Intimations of Immortality, Ode to Duty, My Heart Leaps Up’ and the poem known the world over as the Daffodils Poem, I wander’d lonely as a cloud. His autobiographical epic, The Prelude, was also written during his tenure at Dove Cottage.
The first day wasn’t very busy and the custodian, a Mrs Mary Dixon who lived opposite Dove Cottage took the admission fee of 6d (an old sixpence worth 2.5p now, which would have bought three pints of beer back then) from the first visitors: Miss F. Aspen of Chicago, Illinois, the first of many American visitors, the Rev. and Mrs Cowe of Glasgow and P.Thornber of Manningham near Bradford. The first Grasmere resident didn’t visit until 15th August!
They all signed the visitors’ book which is currently on display in the Wordsworth Museum which stands beside Dove Cottage. You can also see the signatures of some of the famous people who visited in later years, Beatrix Potter, Woodrow Wilson, Daphne du Maurier, Lloyd George, Virginia Woolf, Alan Ginsberg, and more recently Rob Brydon, Anne Widdecombe, Len Goodman, Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall.
On Wednesday 27th July, we celebrate Dove Cottage being continuously open to the public for 125 years, which makes it the oldest, continuously open tourist attraction in the Lake District.
Most of our cottage guides and front of house staff will be wearing period costume and the great-granddaughter of Mary Dixon will be visiting and sharing some memories with staff and visitors.
In the evening, there will be a talk about ‘The Hidden History of Dove Cottage’ by Dr Adam Menuge, a professor from Cambridge University.
If you have an old-fashioned sixpence and bring it along, you will get free admission to Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Museum including the fascinating new exhibition, ‘Wordsworth Country’.
On Saturday, 30th July we will celebrate again.
This time we are looking forward to a day of costumed fun.
Our staff will be in period costume again and we will be joined by costumed re-enacters who will be circulating with visitors. Visitors can join in the fun with a tasting of Lakes Distillery gin (the Wordsworths wrote about drinking gin with hot water after getting soaked in the rain)and whiskey for the adults, dressing up and Victorian games and crafts for the kids and an outside broadcast from our local radio station, Lakeland Radio.
They can also write their own poem and have it read out on air with a prize for the best poem which will be decided by a vote on Facebook www.facebook.com/wordsworthtrust and anyone with their own Victorian costume will be encouraged to put it on and join in the fun.
The Wordsworths outgrew Dove Cottage in 1808, when it was then rented by Thomas De Quincey, whose ‘Confessions of an English Opium Eater’ described his experiences whilst under the influence of laudanum. From 1835 to 1880, it was occupied by a variety of tenants, until a wealthy businessman, Edmund Lee, bought it for his son – an aspiring poet.
In 1890, 40 years after Wordsworth’s death, a public appeal was launched to save Dove Cottage and preserve it as a national treasure. This resulted in the Wordsworth Trust, formed by Reverend Stopford Brooke, buying the cottage and opening it to the public in July 1891.
Today, the cottage is not just a literary shrine to Wordsworth visited by people the world over, but also a piece of living heritage, in which poetry afternoons and evenings are held and in which its days as an inn, ‘The Dove and Olive Bough’ have also been recreated.
The building beside Dove Cottage is now the Wordsworth Museum which opened in 1943 and is home to many of William’s personal possessions, including the ice skates he records using in The Prelude and the ‘green goggles’ that visitor, Ralph Waldo Emerson, noted the poet wearing.
The Jerwood Centre, opened in 2005 by poet, Seamus Heaney, is a centre of research and learning, in which the Wordsworth Trust’s collection of over 65,000 items and designated as being of national and international importance, can assist understanding not just of the past, but of the present day too.
Michael McGregor, Director of the Wordsworth Trust said, “This is a great opportunity to celebrate being open for so long and we hope that the local community and tourists will come and enjoy the day.”
Things you could buy for 6d in 1891:
Three pints of beer
2oz of tobacco
8oz of butter
3lb of sugar
½ lb of tea