The Wordsworths

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The Wordsworths

The Richard Wordsworth (1680–1760) who lies buried beneath the Chancel is the grandfather of William Wordsworth (1770–1850). Born in Yorkshire, Richard Wordsworth was Steward to the Lowthers, including Christopher and James, the 3rd and 4th baronets, between 1723 and 1738. He married Mary Robinson of Appleby, and bought Sockbridge House (now Wordsworth House) to be close to his employer’s family at Sockbridge Hall. Sockbridge House was built in 1699 by Reginald and Elizabeth Dodson, whose initials appear over the door.

At the time of the Jacobite Rising in 1745, Richard Wordsworth was Receiver General of the County of Westmorland. He took refuge somewhere in Patterdale—with the County’s money—while his wife bravely entertained groups of rebel officers until Sir James Lowther and others were able to clear the rebels from the county.

In the Chancel of St Michael’s is a memorial stone to Ann Myers, 1734–87, Richard’s daughter and William’s Aunt. In 1763 she married Reverend Thomas Myers, curate of Barton and schoolmaster of Barton School, and lived at Barton Hall. Their son John was at St John’s Cambridge at the same time as William. Years later, the two cousins visited Eusemere, together with Coleridge, and lunched with the Clarksons, with whom William and Dorothy became lifelong friends, often walking over from Grasmere, by Grisedale Hause.

Richard Wordsworth died in 1760, and in 1765 his widow transferred Sockbridge House to her younger son John Wordsworth, who was Steward to another Sir James Lowther, the 5th baronet, but lived in Cockermouth. John and Ann (née Cookson) had five children: Richard, William, John, Christopher and Dorothy. On their father’s death, Sir James (‘wicked Jimmy’) refused to recognise the large debts he owed to his Steward’s estate, and the four children were farmed out to various relatives— Dorothy, for instance, lived in Norfolk, and Yorkshire, and for a while with the Cookson family in what is now Arnison’s drapery in Penrith.

Their legal cause was pursued by Richard Wordsworth, the poet’s brother (who had inherited Sockbridge House) until William, Lord Lonsdale (known as ‘the Good Earl’) settled the suit and became the poet’s generous patron. The poet and his sister were among the first admirers of the new gardens at Lowther Castle built in 1812/1814 in Gothic style by Robert Smirke. From Richard, Sockbridge House passed to his young son John, with the surviving brothers William and Christopher Wordsworth as Trustees, so the poet and the Cambridge don were for some time joint licensees of The Queen’s Head in Tirril.

Sockbridge House remained in the Wordsworth family until 1920.
The subject of one of Wordsworth’s poems is John Gough—known as the Unfortunate Tourist of Helvellyn. He died falling from Helvellyn to Red Tarn, and his few remains were recovered many months later, along with his dog. Gough is buried in the Quaker graveyard in Tirril, near Thomas Wilkinson and John Slee. His faithful dog is commemorated in Wordsworth’s poem, Fidelity, Sir Walter Scott’s Helvellyn and Thomas Wilkinson’s To the Memory of Gough.

Wordsworth’s Prelude tells of being lost at five years old near Penrith Beacon (a memorial to border warfare still visible from the Tirril to Yanwath Road) and recalls how, in later years the young William and Dorothy enjoyed climbing on the ruins of Brougham Castle, including the winding stair of its keep. Lady Ann Clifford, who restored Brougham Castle, was one of Wordsworth’s culture heroines.

His poem Song, at the Feast of Brougham Castle (about the restoration of Brougham to the Cliffords after the Battle of Bosworth Field) celebrates the ‘Shepherd Lord’, Henry Lord Clifford, who was placed with a Blencathra shepherd by Sir Lancelot Threlkeld during the Wars of the Roses, and learned to love tranquillity:

Love had he found in huts where poor Men lie,
His daily Teachers had been Woods and Rills,
The silence that is in the starry sky,

The sleep that is among the lonely hills.
In him the savage Virtue of the Race,

Revenge, and all ferocious thoughts were dead:
Nor did he change; but kept in lofty place

The wisdom which adversity had bred.

Resolution and Independence (or The Leech-Gatherer), began in Barton. While ‘crossing over Barton Fell, from Mr Clarkson’s [Euse- mere] … towards Askham, a after heavy rains,’ Wordsworth saw the hare whose playful races are recorded in his poem:
All things that love the sun are out of doors;

The sky rejoices in the morning’s birth;

The grass is bright with rain-drops; on the moors
The Hare is running races in her mirth;

And with her feet she from the plashy earth Raises a mist;
which, glittering in the sun,

Runs with her all the way, wherever she doth run.

On Boredale Hause, between Martindale and Patterdale, lies a small stone ruin, roughly 8 yards by 4, and aligned East-West. It has been known for at least two centuries (and is shown on the Ordnance Survey since 1860) as ‘the chapel in the hause’. In his Guide to the Lakes Wordsworth imagines the chapel having been placed here, perhaps by a Celtic community, for ‘the convenience’ of both valleys centuries before separate chapels were built. And he adds: ‘scarcely did the Druids, when they fled to these fastnesses, perform their rites in any situation more exposed … the rustic psalmody must have had the accompaniment of many a wildly-whistling blast’. It is perhaps just as likely to have been a refuge for travellers between these outlying corners of Barton parish, but who knows? It could be a relic of St Kentigern’s 6th century mission in Cumbria—which is where, with the baptismal well in Barton, we came in.