Wordsworth curators say farewell to Rydal Mount

The curators of William Wordsworth’s house at Rydal Mount are retiring after 25 years in the Lake District.

Peter and Marian Elkington came from South Africa to take up the post and were employed by the descendants of the poet, who still own the house today.

marian and peter

They became popular members of the local community, making many friends among artists, poets and patrons of the arts, as well as transforming the House into a significant tourist attraction.

During their time at Rydal Mount they hosted weddings, poetry readings, dinners for Japanese visitors, and musical soirees including a night when two grand pianos were carried out onto the lawn.

gorgeous view of house

There were special events in the tea-room, which became famous for Marian’s home-baked cakes, and they entertained many notable visitors who loved Wordsworth including the late Terry Wogan and, more recently, the actresses Petra and Kika Markham (the widow of Corin Redgrave).

Film nights were organised in association with Zeffirellis in Ambleside, including a special screening of The Carer, starring Brian Cox, and they staged drama performances in the gardens in the summer with the touring theatre company Three Inch Fools.

Peter and Marian hosted many art exhibitions, most notably the launch of a new portrait of William Wordsworth by Hideyuki Sobue to mark the 200th anniversary of the publication of the poem Daffodils. And they launched a poetry competition for Cumbrian schoolchildren which has become an annual event, attracting poems from youngsters across the county.

P, M and Chris

Peter and Marion with Christopher Wordsworth at the opening of a Rydal Mount exhibition

Peter and Marian have added to the collections in the house with items they find at auctions and sales. But perhaps their most important legacy has been the development of the extensive gardens, using plans drawn up by William Wordsworth, to return the grounds to the naturalistic landscape that the poet had envisaged. It was a labour of love for Peter, and head gardener Helen Green, and they won awards year after year.

“Wordsworth wrote that if he had not made a success of poetry, he would have liked to have been a landscape gardener,” said Peter.

After coming to live at Rydal, Marian discovered that her great grandfather, Henry Poultney, had been an editor of the Westmorland Gazette in the 1880s, a post once held by Wordsworth himself. Poultney went on to edit the Birmingham Daily Post.

“We came planning to stay for five years, and stayed 25,” said Peter, who is more than just an admirer of the poet and his work. “You can’t help but be inspired by his spirit. Living here one feels the atmosphere. It’s been a very different experience from just studying his work.”

Their place will be taken by Matthew and Emily Heath who will start work in the new year.

Christopher Wordsworth Andrew, the poet’s great great great greatgrandson, said:  “The last 25 years seems to have gone by so fast. But over this period Peter and Marian have developed and improved Rydal Mount beyond recognition. We now have a fantastic tea-room and a garden that is regularly winning awards. The whole welcoming feel of the house and the reason visitors return year after year is entirely down to the hard work and love that they have both put into the house.

“Our whole family is going to miss Peter and Marian terribly. Over 25 years they have become close friends and we are sad to see them go. We wish them all the very best and hope they will come back to visit regularly.”

Peter recites to Marian

 

 

Advertisements

A new dimension to Dorothy’s room…

An exhibition at Rydal Mount gives a new insight into the life of Dorothy Wordsworth – in her own bedroom.

Dorothy’s Room is a new installation created for Rydal Mount which uses film, sound and objects brought in from the outside landscape.  Dorothy, the sister of William Wordsworth, lived at Rydal Mount with the poet and his wife, Mary. She was an author, poet and diarist herself.

Dorothy's Room

The exhibition, created by Louise Ann Wilson, is part of a project called Women’s Walks to Remember.  “With memory I was there” is a new participatory walking-art project that celebrates the walking-lives of Lake District women and collects maps, drawings, objects, photos, films and sounds relating to a significant route that they can no longer walk.

The project is inspired by Dorothy Wordsworth’s Rydal Journals in which she describes “rural sights and sounds” in vivid detail and recollects the landscape and walks she was no longer able to do.

“In older age Dorothy gradually became house, bedroom and terrace bound, relying on memory to transport herself into the landscape she had once walked,” says Louise Ann.

“It was really radical at that time for a woman to walk in the landscape.”

Dorothy also brought “treasures” into her “quiet” room. The walls were hung with paintings, pots of flowers lined her window ledge, plants grew around her window, which framed the fells she once walked, sunshine and the “sweet sound” of a robin singing entered from the garden. William acknowledged the importance of her influence in some of his poems.

The exhibition has a display of objects and artefacts on the bed, on whose pillows are copied scripts from the journals. There are knitting needles and thimbles, birds’ eggs, feathers, dried flowers and herbs. A repeating film of Dorothy’s landscape is projected onto the bedroom wall.

Dorothy's pillow

Louise Ann Wilson has a Ph.D. in Theatre Studies from Lancaster Institute of the Contemporary Arts, Lancaster University, where she is a visiting lecturer.  The title of her thesis is: ‘Emplacing, Re-Imaging and Transforming ‘Missing’ Life-Events: A Feminine Sublime Approach to the Creation of Socially Engaged Scenography in Site-Specific Walking-Performance in Rural Landscapes’.

Rydal Mount curator Peter Elkington said: “This adds an extra dimension because it brings people to see Dorothy in a new light, in the very room where she spent a lot of her time.”

The exhibition runs until August 28 and then moves to the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere.

Dorothy Wordsworth: 25 December 1771 – 25 January 1855

https://louiseannwilson.com/work/dorothys-room

A visit from eminent actors

It was something of a pilgrimage for sisters Kika and Petra Markham when they came to visit Rydal Mount.

Kika was even clutching a biography of Dorothy Wordsworth, and both were enchanted to see the house and the gardens.

Kika Markham is the widow of Corin Redgrave, and last visited the Lakes before he died eight years ago. An actor herself, in a family of famous actors, Kika had just finished a run at London’s Arcola Theatre in the play, Not Talking.

She has appeared in many TV series including Holby City, Doctors, Mr Selfridge and Call the Midwife. She starred in the Ken Russell film Clouds of Glory , about the lives and loves of Coleridge and Wordsworth, which was filmed in the Lakes.

Her sister Petra Markham appeared in films including Get Carter and also in many TV series including Eastenders, Dr Who, The Bill and Bergerac. She was also in the very first episode of Z Cars.

They went on to visit Wordsworth’s grave in Grasmere. Kika said: “This is a wonderful experience for us. We both love Wordsworth and his poetry, and have never been to Rydal Mount before. His spirit is so clearly all around us here.”

the markham sisters at Rydal Mount

Wordsworth is still among us

It’s always a delight when we learn of the impact that Wordsworth and his beautiful home here can have on our visitors.

One in particular took the time to write to us after a recent visit..and to send a photo of himself enjoying the garden and the view.

french professor

He is Michel Barrucand,  an admirer of Wordsworth and a retired professor of English literature at a French University.

He wrote to tell us how much he enjoyed visiting the place and musing in the garden: “It was a gorgeous time for me to sit on the bench and read some poems with the lake in view.”

He told us that he was currently reading from Wordsworth’s many letters, and highlighted a few sentences from a letter sent to Wordsworth by William Boxall, August 29 1836: “… You have here a knot of true & sincere worshippers … I verily believe there is no book but the Bible that is to them so full of inspiration. You would be delighted to see the beautiful appreciation with which they read you & I believe nothing short of a pilgrimage to Rydal Mount will suffice them that they may themselves tell you how much gratitude they feel towards you – I envy you, my dear Sir; & yet with what pleasure I tell you that your words & thoughts live so cherished in their “heart of hearts” – Can any poet wish for more than to feel that he has thus created happiness –“

“As a modest reader and scholar of romantic poetry, I exactly felt what is said in the letter when I visited this beautiful place,” Michel wrote to us. “And I walked out of Rydal Mount full of happiness and gratitude.”

He also thanked our gardeners, Helen and Pauline, and urged them: “Please, keep the place as enjoyable as I discovered it. It’s one way to say to the world that Wordsworth is still among us.”

The garden that Wordsworth planned

Visitors know that William Wordsworth lived here for most of his life, that he wrote many of his greatest poems when he was living here. But not all realise that he began the planning – and the planting – of the glorious garden here which has never looked so lovely.

Now his work, and ours, is celebrated in The English Garden magazine, whose cover story this month is about Wordsworth’s romantic garden. Accompanied by seven pages of truly stunning photographs (thank you, Joe Wainwright, these are breathtaking) it tells how the poet was also a landscape gardener in tune with the ideals of Romanticism.

house and gardens in TEG mag

No formal planting schemes here. Wordsworth wanted nature to lead the way, to “defend us from the tyranny of trimness and neatness”. Sketches of the garden drawn in the year he died, and only discovered recently, have helped us to continue our work – his work – so that the garden is still very similar to how it was in Wordsworth’s day.

Of course, trees planted by Wordsworth are now mature specimens, and there are shrubs – including magnificent varieties of rhododendron – which were planted after his time. There are weeds too, and we, like Wordsworth, see these are glowers out of place, not just to be pulled up and thrown away.

The magazine feature pays tribute to the hard work and dedication of our curator, Peter Elkington, and head gardener Helen Green: “The poet would surely be happy if he could see the lightness of touch with which Helen and Peter care for his garden, as he would have wanted, with the same deference to the natural world.”

Please do look out for the magazine and read Clare Foggett’s lovely article. But better still, come and see for yourself. We’re open every day and there is surely nowhere more lovely to spend a few summer hours.

magazine in the shops

The English Garden magazine in the news stands

Through the eyes of a child…

“The house was stunning and we all loved it. Our favourite part was exploring and getting lost in the woods…”

letter lost in woods

This is from a thank-you letter sent to the Wordsworth family after the recent poetry awards for young people. Christopher Wordsworth and his mother, Susan, were here to present the prizes. And among the schools attending was a group from Bewcastle School, north of Carlisle. So far north that they are only six miles from the Scottish border.

So the Wordsworths were thrilled to receive a batch of letters from the children, several of whose poems were commended at the award ceremony. Especially the note that “we really enjoyed the drinks and nibbles because we were really hungry after our long drive”.

The prize-giving event is an opportunity for local people – well, Cumbrians, if not necessarily local – to visit what many see as a tourist attraction. “It’s on our doorstep yet we’ve never been before,” said one parent from Ambleside, who now recommends Rydal Mount to all her b&b guests.

And we always invite the youngsters to explore the gardens that William Wordsworth created, and which we are continually restoring in accordance with his plans. He would be thrilled to see the grounds being explored by young people loving the chance to run wild if just for a short time. They agreed with Dorothy Wordsworth who said: “Rydal Mount is the nicest place in the world for children”.

“It was like fairies live in the garden,” wrote Niamh from Bewcastle School. “My favourite part was when we ran away from the teachers.”

RM natural garden today

“..as if there were fairies in the garden..”

She sent us copies  of  pictures of daffodils, and the famous poem in their own handwriting, which she and her friends made, inspired by William Wordsworth.

letter from bewcastle school

The refugee crisis that inspired our winning poet

 A perceptive and shocking account of the plight of refugees has won our annual poetry prize for young people.

Deep Waters by 12 year old Mayumi Singh is the winner of the Rydal Mount poetry prize , organised  – and judged – annually by Wiliam Wordsworth’s family.

It describes the terrifying and tragic journey of refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean to safety.

One of the judges, Christopher Wordsworth, William’s great great great great grandson, said that Mayumi’s poem showed a deep concern for and understanding of the world around her. “It is very, very sad, but beautifully expressed,” he said.

Mayumi, sitting in Wordsworth's chair, reads her poem

Mayumi, sitting in Wordsworth’s chair, reads her poem

The competition, now in its sixth year, attracted nearly 200 entries this time. We invite entries from all Cumbrian schools, but even had one entry from further afield this year. Mayumi has won a trophy, a cash prize, and her poem will be framed and displayed in the house, alongside a portrait of Wordsworth, for all visitors to see.

Mayumi, a pupil at Windermere School, lives at Whitehaven and comes from an international background.

English teacher Mrs Lucy Baker said: “Mayumi is only Year 7 but she is a very serious thinker and has tremendous general knowledge. She is interested in international affairs and wrote the poem after hearing her father talk about the plight of the Syrian refugees.”

The theme of Deep Waters was chosen by the Wordsworth family, and attracted a wide range of interpretations. Along with Mayumi’s “overall winner” title, other awards went to:

  • Senior school winner: Harriet Rush – Windermere School
  • Senior school commended:
  • Shree Bhattacharjee – Bradford Grammar School
  • Libby Danby – Keswick School
  • Rowenna Hamilton – Windermere School
  • Juniors:
  • Winner: James Leech Sanders – Grasmere Primary
  • Commended:
  • Connor Little – Bewcastle Primary
  • Cecilia Kelly – Coniston Primary
  • Lily Lloyd – Flookburgh Primary
  • Seb Mason – Dean Primary
  • Woody Leece – Dean Primary
  • Holly Engleby – Ambleside Primary
  • Sam Arundale – Grasmere Primary
  • Thomas Metcalfe – Coniston Primary (the youngest, just six)

 

Deep Waters by Mayumi Singh

A boat. Waiting. 10pm. The sound of silence.

A line of people. Terrified. They get onto the boat. Some with lifejackets, others without.

They might not survive.

 But they want to escape from the place that was once filled with laughter and happiness,

that they once called ‘home’.

 Away.

  The captain starts sailing. It’s pitch black. All is calm but all is not bright.

The children’s eyes are filled with desperation.

They remember the days when their dreams were filled with wonder.

All they can dream about now is their horrified mother screaming.

 The journey takes a turn for the worse. A storm is heading their way. The waves become bigger.

The tension rises. The captain tries to divert. The people are terrified.

They are clinging onto the helpless boat. The boat turtles, children scream, mothers cling onto their precious babies.

 They are in the middle of the empty Mediterranean Ocean.

No hope. They go in deeper into the water.

Deeper and deeper and deeper.

 Till all we can see is a little girl’s doll. Floating away.