Dove Cottage

Image Source: Vivienne Crow

The Romantic poet William Wordsworth lived in quaint little Dove Cottage, on the edge of Grasmere, from 1799 until 1808. Having spent many years living and travelling outside his home county, he saw Dove Cottage while on a walking tour with his friend and fellow poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and realised it would be a good place for him and his sister Dorothy to settle. The years he lived there were good ones – a time when he wrote some of his best-known work including I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud (or Daffodils). It was also during this period that a long-standing debt to the family was finally paid off and that he married his old friend Mary Hutchinson. The couple had three children while living at Dove Cottage: John, Dora and Thomas. It wasn’t until Mary was expecting their fourth child that they were forced to move to a larger home – Allan Bank on the other side of the village.

Dove Cottage received many notable guests while the Wordsworths lived there, including inventor Humphry Davy, the Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott, poet Robert Southey and, of course, Coleridge. Wordsworth’s young friend, Thomas de Quincey, was also a frequent visitor and became the tenant of Dove Cottage after the family moved out. Indeed, he lived there for 22 years, much longer than the Wordsworths. He is probably best known for his autobiographical work Confessions of an English Opium-Easter, and there is a set of scales on display in Dove Cottage which he is said to have used to weigh the drug.  

The seventeenth-century building had started life as an inn, the Dove and Olive, and was only renamed after the Wordsworth Trust bought it in 1890. It has been open to the public ever since. On a tour of the property, knowledgeable guides show modern visitors the tiny downstairs rooms, including a ‘parlour’, the kitchen and Dorothy’s bedroom, all with chilly flagstone floors. Upstairs are three more bedrooms and Wordsworth’s study. As well as de Quincey’s scales, there are various interesting family artefacts scattered about the home. The garden, like the interior of the cottage, has been restored by the Wordsworth Trust – to the semi-wild state that Wordsworth, himself a keen gardener, favoured.   

The Wordsworth Trust museum is located in the building next door to Dove Cottage. This is home to manuscripts, artwork, original letters and various artefacts relating, not just to Wordsworth, but to the Romantic movement in general. There are more than 68,000 items in the collection in total, items as diverse as Wordsworth’s favourite Panama hat, Turner’s 1835 watercolour painting of Ullswater, a sketchbook kept by Wordsworth’s daughter Dora and a walking stick that belonged to Robert Southey. 

The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions and is the venue for poetry workshops and readings by both well-known and aspiring poets.