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.
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.
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.
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.”