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Lake District Literary Trail - Follow famous Lake District writers

Lake District Literary Trail - Follow famous Lake District writers


The Lake District is intimately associated with English literature in the 18th and 19th centuries. Thomas Gray was the first to bring the region to attention, when he wrote a journal of his Grand Tour in 1769 but it was William Wordsworth whose poems were most famous and influential. Wordsworth's poem I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, inspired by the sight of daffodils on the shores of Ullswater, remains one of the most famous in the English language. Out of his long life of eighty years, sixty were spent amid its lakes and mountains, first as a schoolboy at Hawkshead, and afterwards living in Grasmere (1799-1813) and Rydal Mount (1813-50).

In the churchyard of Grasmere the poet and his wife lie buried, and very near to them are the remains of Hartley Coleridge (son of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge), who himself lived for many years in Keswick, Ambleside and Grasmere. Robert Southey, the friend of Wordsworth, was a resident of Keswick for forty years (1803-43), and was buried in Crosthwaite churchyard. Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived for some time in Keswick, and also with the Wordsworths at Grasmere. From 1807 to 1815 John Wilson lived at Windermere. De Quincey spent the greater part of the years 1809 to 1828 at Grasmere, in the first cottage which Wordsworth had inhabited. Ambleside, or its environs, was also the place of residence both of Thomas Arnold, who spent there the vacations of the last ten years of his life and of Harriet Martineau, who built herself a house there in 1845. At Keswick, Mrs Lynn Linton (wife of William James Linton) was born, in 1822. Brantwood, a house beside Coniston Water, was the home of John Ruskin during the last years of his life.

In addition to these residents or natives of the Lake District, a variety of other poets and writers made visits to the Lake District or were bound by ties of friendship with those already mentioned above. These include Norman Nicholson, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Sir Walter Scott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Arthur Hugh Clough, Henry Crabb Robinson, Thomas Carlyle, John Keats, Lord Tennyson, Matthew Arnold, Felicia Hemans, and Gerald Massey.

During the early 20th Century, the beloved children's book author Beatrix Potter was in residence at Hill Top Farm, setting many of her famous Peter Rabbit books in the Lake District. Her life is currently being made into a biopic film, being filmed in the Lake District and the Isle of Man, starring Renee Zellwegger and Ewan McGregor. In more recent times, Arthur Ransome was resident in several areas of the Lake District and set a number of his Swallows and Amazons books in a fictionalised Lake District setting.

The novelist Sir Hugh Walpole lived at Brackenburn on the lower slopes of Catbells overlooking Derwentwater from 1924 until his death in 1941. Whilst living at Brackenburn he wrote the The Herries Chronicle detailing the history of a fictional Cumbrian Family over two centuries.

William Wordsworth, 1790 - 1850

william wordsworth

William Wordsworth was born in the town of Cockermouth on 7 April 1770, at Wordsworth House ehere he spent the first 8 years of his life though he was to spend the first 17 years of his life in and around the Lake District.

William's mother, Ann died when he was 8 and his father, 5 years later. For a short time he went to school in Cockermouth, where one of the pupils was Fletcher Christian, of mutiny on the Bounty. Later he would attend the dame school in Penrith, his mother's home town. After his mother's death Dorothy went to live with relations in Yorkshire, while William and his brothers were sent away to school in Hawkshead, on the other side of the Lakes. William and his brothers boarded with Ann Tyson, who looked after them with great love and affection.

He loved the area and the landscape deeply affected Wordsworth's imagination and gave him a love of nature. When he was 13 his father died, and various uncles looked after Wordsworth. His siblings returned to live with the relations in Penrith.

After leaving the area in 1787 to further his studies at Cambridge University, Wordsworth spent the next twelve years of his life travelling around England and the continent.

During a summer vacation in 1790, Wordsworth went on a walking tour through revolutionary France and also travelled in Switzerland. On his second journey to France, Wordsworth had an affair with a French girl, Agnate Vallon, a daughter of a barber-surgeon, by whom he had a illegitimate daughter, Anne Caroline. The affair was the inspiration for the poem 'Vaudracour and Julia.'. After his journeys, Wordsworth had a number of unhappy years.

In 1795 he met Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy lived in Racedown, Somerset, then later on in Alfoxden, to be nearer Coleridge. Encouraged by Coleridge and stimulated by the close contact with nature, Wordsworth composed his first masterwork, Lyrical Ballads, which opened with Coleridge's 'Ancient Mariner.'In about 1798 he started to write large and philosophical autobiographical poetry, completed in 1805, and published posthumously in 1850 under the title THE PRELUDE. The long work described the poet's love of nature and his own place in the world order.

Wordsworth spent the winter of 1798-1799 with Dorothy and Coleridge in Germany, where he wrote several poems, including the 'Lucy' poems. On arrival back from Germany in 1799, William and Dorothy decided to return to the Lake District, Hawkshead for the first time in 10 years. They spent one night in Hawkshead before moving onto Grasmere. In December 1799, William and Dorothy moved into a small cottage at Town End [Dove Cottage], Grasmere and lived here for 8 years. It was here that he produced some of his best works and also Dorothy wrote her Grasmere Journal [1800-1803].

In 1802 William married Mary Hutchinson and 3 of his children were born here in Dove Cottage. Dorothy continued to live with them. When Mary was expecting their fourth child, the cottage was becoming too small, so they moved, first to Allan Bank and the Vicarage in Grasmere before moving to his last home at Rydall Mount in 1813. He was appointed official distributor of stamps for Westmorland and became a patriotic, conservative public man, abandoning his radical faith. In 1843 he succeeded Robert Southgey (1774-1843) as England's poet laureate.

William Wordsworth died at the age of 80 on 23 April 1850

Today, the three properties of Wordsworth House, his childhood home (a National Trust property), Dove Cottage, his inspirational home (a Wordsworth Trust property), and Rydal Mount and gardens, his most beloved home (owned by the Wordsworth family), come together for you to visit 'Wordsworth's Lake District'.

Places to visit

Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Museum Grasmere - Beautifully preserved Grasmere home of England’s finest poet William Wordsworth. Award-winning attraction offers guided tours of his inspirational cottage. The adjacent Wordsworth Museum displays priceless national treasures. Onsite tearooms and book & gift shop. Reciprocal discount ticket with Rydal Mount and Wordsworth House. The majority of the property is accessible to wheelchair users travelling with a helper

Rydal Mount and Gardens near Ambleside Nestled in the picturesque village of Rydal, with its small church, unique waterfalls and famous hills lies ‘The most beloved’ home of Wordsworth, Rydal Mount. Wander through his historic home and splendid gardens with the magnificent views of Lake Windermere and Rydal Water. The majority of the property is accessible to wheelchair users travelling with a helper

Wordsworth House Cockermouth A fine Georgian town house, the birthplace and childhood home of William Wordsworth

Beatrix Potter 1866 - 1943

Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter was born in London in 1866. Her love of the countryside stemmed from her childhood holidays in the Lake District. In the 19th Century, there was no formal education for girls and Victorian values also forbid her to become a farmer. When Beatrix was young she had various animals as pets, which she made drawings of, whilst watching them.

During the summer months she would go to Scotland with her parents for a 3 month holiday. When she was [16] they could not go to Scotland because the house they usually rented was not available. Therefore, her parents decided to go to the Lake District and stayed at Wray Castle near Ambleside.

Beatrix became friends with the vicar, Cannon H. Rawnsley of Wray Church, who would later encourage Beatrix to publish her first book, "The Tale of Peter Rabbit". His views on the need to preserve the natural beauty of Lakeland had a lasting effect on the young Beatrix, who had fallen in love with the unspoilt beauty surrounding the holiday home. Cannon H. Rawnsley would become one of the co-founders of the National Trust, in the hope of preserving the natural beauty of the Lake District.

Over many years the family would visit the Lake District periodically, staying at various areas, watching the animals and also making many sketches of the numerous landscapes. Although she stayed in many places, she still remained in contact with Cannon H. Rawnsley and he would encourage her in her drawings. On returning home to London from her holidays she would make greeting cards of her pictures and eventually began making a book.

The book was to be "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" and was sent to Frederick Warne, a well known publisher of children's books. But it was returned, and many other publishers also rejected it. In 1901 she found a printer herself and he produced 250 copies of the book for a cost of £11. The books were then sold to doting aunts and uncles for their nephews, nieces and to friends for a price of 1s 2d. They sold well and more were produced. Also, another book was brought out, named "The Tailor of Gloucester" in 1902. In this year, Frederick Warne contacted Beatrix and said they would publish "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" if it could be published in colour. Then several books followed-"The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin" and "The Tale of Benjamin Bunny".

In 1905, Norman Warne, the son of the publisher, whom she spent a lot of time with, proposed to her. Beatrix' parents were upset at this, but she went ahead and became engaged to him. In doing so, she disobeyed her parents for the first time. During the summer of 1905 and a few weeks into their engagement, he fell ill and died of leukemia.

Also in 1905 she used her earnings to buy Hill Top, which was a farm in nearby Sawrey. Here, she would be able to escape to from London. The next 8 years, while based in London, she kept herself occupied by writing more books. The ideas came from Hill Top when visiting the farm.

In 1909, with her income beginning to grow, she bought Castle Cottage, a property just across the road from Hill Top, using a solicitors at the W. Heelis offices in Hawkshead [which are now the National Trust's "Beatrix Potter Gallery"], In1913, she married Mr Heelis, despite her parents disapproval. They lived together in Castle cottage. It was a bigger and more convenient farm cottage than Hill Top and it became her home for the next 30 years. Hilltop now had a farm manager at one end and the part in which she lived, remained empty and her possessions exactly as she left them. This later became her personal museum.

Beatrix was now Mrs. Heelis, a woman farmer who only wrote a few more books, rather giving herself to purchasing more property in and around Sawrey. In 1923 she purchased Troutbeck Park Farm and the Monk Coniston Estate in 1930, in which Tarn Hows is situated.

Beatrix was a passionate conservationist and as a farmer she became best known for the breeding of Herdwick sheep, Lakeland's own breed. She would talk more about the sheep than the books she wrote attending exhibitions and judging them.

When she died on 22 December 1943, aged 77, Beatrix Potter left £211,636, 14 farms and 4000 acres of land to the National Trust, together with her flocks of Herdwick sheep. The copyright of all her works went firstly to her husband and then onto her favourite nephew, Norman Warne.

Place to visit

Hill Top at Near Sawrey - Beatrix Potter wrote and illustrated many of her famous children’s stories in this little 17th century farmhouse which she owned for 38 years, and it has been kept exactly as she left it, complete with furniture, china and a traditional cottage garden. National Trust Property

Beatrix Potter Gallery at Hawkshead - A display of original watercolours painted by Beatrix Potter for her children’s stories. Exhibit changed annually. The 17th century building was once the office of her husband William Heelis, a solicitor, and is substantially unaltered since his day. Next door to the inspiration for Tabitha Twitchet’s shop. National Trust Property Don't forget to visit World of Beatrix Potter Attraction at Windermere

John Ruskin 1819 - 1900

John Ruskin

John Ruskin was born in London in 1819 and was to become one of the greatest figures of the Victorian age, poet, artist, critic, social revolutionary and conservationist. His father was a wine merchant and was in partnership with Domecq, the sherry people and in the early days of his business he would take his wife and family on his tours.

His Father was a great lover of the arts and countryside and therefore encouraged his son to paint and to write poems about his travels. Some of these travels have taken him around Europe.

When he was 17, he fell in love with Adele Domecq, the daughter of his father's partner. When this relationship failed it had a big effect on his future love life. In 1836 he went to Oxford with his mother. They stayed in lodgings close by, but with his mother watching over him, his social life was rather constrained. His father gave him a generous allowance and in 1869 Ruskin was appointed Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford University.

Whilst at Oxford he began to collect paintings by Turner, who was being condemned for his abstract style. This led to the first volume of his great classic work, Modern Painters, which appeared in 1843 when Ruskin was 24 years old. It proved to be a success although Turner was slightly embarrassed by the passionate defense from a young man.

Ruskin wrote books, gave lectures, collected and encouraged painters by purchasing their works with his private wealth. He was a great friend of Rosetti, Burne-Jones and Millais. W.G. Collingwood who was to become after Ruskin, Coniston's most notable resident, was an artist, writer and antiquarian of more than local reputation and was Ruskin's secretary from 1881 onwards.

In 1848, he married Effie Gray, who was the daughter of a Scottish friend of his family. This marriage came to an end in 1854, with Effie running off with Millais. Ruskin had a relationship with a young girl called Rose La Touche. He seemed to like young girls and was always writing letters to them and having intense relationships.

In 1871, he purchased Brantwood for the sum of one £1500, calling it dilapidated and dismal, but he purchased it for it's excellent views. Ruskin moved into the house with his cousin, Joan Severn and began rebuilding. Extra rooms were added, one known as fancy bedroom tower. He also purchased some of the land surrounding the house. He was 52 when he moved into the property and lived there until he died in 1900 at the age of 80. From the time he moved into Brantwood, he began to write many books, including his autobiography, with prominent people from around that time, visiting him.

He was involved in many activities in the local area, loving nature and the Lakeland way of life. He never remarried and the final years of his life he suffered with mental illness and depression.

Places to visit

Brantwood at Coniston - The former home of John Ruskin, is the most beautifully situated house in the Lake District. Explore Brantwood’s estate and gardens or experience contemporary art in the Severn Studio. Brantwood’s bookshop, the Jumping Jenny restaurant and Coach House Gallery combine for a perfect day out! The majority of the property is accessible to wheelchair users travelling with a helper

The Ruskin Museum at Coniston - Be inspired by the life-changing political philosophy of John Ruskin, breath-taking artist, critic, social reformer.

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