Life returns to Wordsworth's 'little croft' after 225 years

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The Independent Culture

Admirers of William Wordsworth will from tomorrow be able to enjoy an important insight into the poet's "golden years" with the reopening of his childhood home.

The lime-washed townhouse in Cockermouth, Cumbria, where he born in 1770 and lived in until he was nine, has been recreated in painstaking Georgian detail by the National Trust, with actors portraying the bustling lives of its inhabitants.

Wordsworth wrote that "the child is the father of the man" and was deeply inspired by his time at the house when his parents were still alive, writing Guilt and Sorrow, about their "little croft".

The death of his mother, Ann, shortly before his eighth birthday, and his father, John, five years later, led the young Wordsworth to return and seek solace in the mountains and lakes that surrounded him. He had been sent to school in Hawkshead by his father after his mother died.

Researchers have spent two years turning the interior of the house on the fringes of the Lake District into a working household that would be recognisable to the poet, using inventories of the family's possessions and papers, and historical background.

The house, first opened to the public in the 1980s, has been redecorated to an authentic colour scheme and new rooms have been furnished, including young William's bedroom, complete with toys, clothes and juvenile clutter.

At the heart of the house is a working 18th-century kitchen, where visitors will be able to sample cooking from the period.

They will be able to sit on the replica furniture which has been designed using Georgian methods and designs, and walk through the garden which has an assortment of fruit trees, a "physic garden" for herbal remedies and 18th-century plants. There will also be authentic furniture, including John Wordsworth's desk which would have been used by him as well as by William.

The NT was given nearly £1m from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Rural Regeneration in Cumbria and the European Regional Development Fund. Kate Hilton, custodian of the house, said: "John Wordsworth was the estate agent of Sir James Lowther, a wealthy landowner who had provided this house for the family, which would otherwise have been beyond their means.

"They had around five or six servants and furnished it as best. The nine years William Wordsworth lived there were idyllic, golden years for a poet who believed that our earliest experiences colour the rest of their lives."

Many of the rooms the Wordsworths inhabited were sparsely and modestly furnished, and a few of the best rooms were kept for entertaining dignitaries.

The inventory published when John Wordsworth died showed much of what was owned by the family including a "large and handsome Wilton carpet" which has been reinstated.

After the death of their parents, the five Wordsworth children left the house and began living with relatives, facing separation from each other at times. But William and his sister Dorothy, remained loyal to the beautiful surroundings they had grown up with in their poetry.

More prosaically, Wordsworth was embroiled in a 15-year battle in getting hold of his father's inheritance, because of family debts, including to Lord Lowther.

Wordsworth came under the care of his uncles and studied at St John's College Cambridge. On a visit to France, he was influenced by the ideas of those who eventually led the French Revolution.

He had an illegitimate child, and five children by Mary Hutchinson, his wife and childhood companion . Two of those children died young and his brother, John, drowned at sea when Wordsworth was 35.

He lived at Dove Cottage in Grasmere. The Lake District is littered with monuments to Wordsworth, and to his close friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Wordsworth died in 1850.

But often in his work he returned to his childhood, at Cockermouth or Hawkshead. Wordsworth's poetry reveals the child in the man.

(Guilt and Sorrow - XXIV)

"A little croft we owned - a plot of corn,
A garden stored with peas, and mint, and thyme,
And flowers for posies, oft on Sunday morn
Plucked while the church bells rang their earliest chime.
Can I forget our freaks at shearing time!
My hen's rich nest through long grass scarce espied;
The cowslip-gathering in June's dewy prime;
The swans that with white chests upreared in pride
Rushing and racing came to meet me at the water-side."