Have you ever thought of training in a literary house? Today’s Guest Post comes from Becky Hearfield, trainee with the Wordsworth Trust. Throughout the past year, I have attended a poetry reading group run by the trust, and the wonderful Susan Allen. The group means everything to me. It brings our local community together, and Susan is one of the first people I dared to show my writing to. Everything about the group supports people to find what interests them in writing, and to speak about it in their own words.
I have had the pleasure of meeting Becky a couple of times over the year, and am amazed by how much the trainees do. It is lovely to hear from Becky at the end of her traineeship, and to hear what Christmas meant to the Wordsworths themselves. Thank you Becky for your time and fab post. Christmastime at Town End by Becky Hearfield
The Wordsworths spent eight Christmases together at Town End, Grasmere and their domestic sphere changed considerably during that time. Wordsworth became husband to Mary Hutchinson in October 1802 and the couple welcomed three of their five children into the world at Dove Cottage, which was transformed into a home ‘crowded with life’ (Stephen Hebron, Dove Cottage).
The Wordsworths first arrive at Town End on 20th December 1799, just 5 days before Christmas and Dorothy Wordsworth’s 28th birthday, and although Dorothy tells us that their arrival is hailed by ‘a dying spark in the grate of the gloomy parlour’, it marks the bright beginning of a period of intense happiness and shared warmth. William and Dorothy waste no time in getting to know their neighbours and, in a letter dated Christmas Eve 1799, Wordsworth writes to his friend, and collaborator on Lyrical Ballads, Samuel Taylor Coleridge to detail the particulars of their new home and relate their first impressions of the local people, who would come to be very dear to them:
The people we have uniformly found kind-hearted frank & manly, prompt to serve without servility. This is but an experience of four days, but we have had dealings with persons of various occupations, & have had no reason whatever to complain.
On 20th December 2017, 218 years after the Wordsworths first arrived at Town End, the current residents of Grasmere, and neighbours of the Wordsworth Trust, gathered in the same ‘gloomy parlour’ to share mulled wine, mince pies and to sing carols by candlelight in celebration of that day in 1799. Just across the lane, at the Foyle Room (once the site of their neighbour Thomas Ashburner’s cottage), families were busy making kissing boughs and learning about Georgian Christmas traditions with the Trust’s Education Team. The President of the Wordsworth Trust, Pamela Woof, also gave her annual Christmas reading this December for the Trust’s Friends and Trustees. She read from Dorothy’s Grasmere Journal and noted the way the Wordsworths embraced the charitable spirit of the season in their daily lives, as they would readily share what they could with those who called at their home seeking solace. So, despite Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Museum often being bereft of visitors in the winter season, Town End has been aglow with that special community spirit that only Christmastime can engender.
In a letter written to her friend Catherine Clarkson on 25th December 1805, Dorothy reflects on the ‘Blessings of the last six years’ and ‘the pleasures and consolations of Friendship.’ I arrived at Town End in January of this year to begin a traineeship with the Wordsworth Trust, working alongside their Community Outreach Officer, Susan Allen. The traineeship has lasted eleven months and is sadly coming to an end in the next few days. Just as Christmas Day 1805 gave Dorothy Wordsworth cause to reflect on the ‘Blessings’ and ‘Friendship’ she had been fortunate enough to receive in ‘the last six years’, in the build up to Christmas 2017, I find myself in an equally contemplative mood as I take stock of the ‘Blessings’ I have received here and prepare begin a new chapter elsewhere. The Trust now looks forward to welcoming a whole new batch of trainees in 2018, and even further ahead to 2020 as they work towards their Reimagining Wordsworth HLF funded project, in celebration of Wordsworth’s 250th birthday (https://www.reimaginingwordsworth.org.uk).