Sunday, 10 September 2017

Branwell Brontë and Wordsworth’s Lake District, Part II

Grasmere is a pretty little village, but a little bit too busy and touristic to our taste. We still had to visit one more house in the area where the Wordsworth family moved to after Dove Cottage, and that is Allan Bank which is a short and steep walk away from the village Centre. When it was being built on a fell side outside Grasmere, Allan Bank was described by William as “a temple of abomination”. 

The Wordsworth graves

The family and some of their  literary friends lived here from 1808 till 1811. It was not a house that Wordsworth liked, but it had space, and with an expanding family (two more children were born here) the family needed space. Allan Bank is a National Trust property. It was purchased by Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley (co-founder of the National Trust) who came to live here in 1917. Upon his death in 1920 the property was handed over to the National Trust, on the condition that his wife could continue to live there until her death. The house was seriously damaged by a fire in 2011, but the National Trust restored it and opened it again to the public. However, do not expect a nicely decorated house with all the fine trimmings! 

Allan Bank



A visit to this house and gardens is something out of the ordinary. After the fire and restoration the rooms were left as a blank canvas: no wall paper, no painted walls, no expensive frames on the walls or other exquisite ornaments in the rooms are seen. Old furniture was put in the house following donations. The concept of the house (unlike other historic houses of the National Trust) is that every visitor should make themselves at home and enjoy everything in the house with no limit. There are no items ‘on display’: you can touch all items and use all furniture. In each room visitors can find hints and clues about the history of the house and its inhabitants. Each room has been given a theme: children have a playroom, dogs are allowed inside, you can read the books, study the history, there is an art room for young and old where you can make your own painting, you can watch birds and wildlife, you can get yourself a tea or coffee and relax in a comfortable chair by the fire. You can also go outside and explore the gardens and the outdoors: you can walk, have a picnic, sit and enjoy the scenery and the view, watch the red squirrels, or just relax and unwind. It is up to you to decide how to experience this house and its gardens. There is something for everyone, for the adults and the children! You just have to embrace the challenge. We just loved it! And we did get our cup of coffee with cake and sat down whilst enjoying the view. Truly remarkable experience. It's the perfect place to come explore, relax, reflect and be inspired, as Wordsworth and many others were.
 
Inside Allan Bank today

A quite reading at Allan Bank

From here the Wordsworth family moved to Grasmere Rectory, a cold and damp house opposite St. Oswald’s Church, where the two youngest children died. They stayed here only two years, moving then to Rydal Mount and their final home. This ended our Wordsworth tour for the day.

It is very unlikely that any of the Brontës visited any of these houses. However, there are some links between the Brontës and the Lake District and it poets. Southey, Wordsworth and Coleridge were all very much admired by the Brontës. There is clear evidence that  Wordsworth’s poems had an influence on the Brontës in their writings. In 1837 Branwell Brontë wrote a brash (rather impertinent) letter to Wordsworth, seeking his advice on his work. Sadly for Branwell he never received a reply.

In the same year Charlotte wrote to Robert Southey seeking his advice on some of her poems.  She was more fortunate than her brother and she received a reply from Southey praising her poetic talents, but also discouraging her from writing professionally. He said "Literature cannot be the business of a woman's life: & it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties, the less leisure will she have for it, even as an accomplishment & a recreation. To those duties you have not yet been called, & when you are you will be less eager for celebrity." In her reply to Southey she said: “I trust I shall never more feel ambitious to see my name in print – if the wish should rise I’ll look at Southey’s autograph and suppress it: It is an honour enough for me that I have written to him and received an answer. That letter is consecrated…”. On the envelope she wrote: “Southey’s advice To be kept for ever”.  Years later, Charlotte remarked to a friend that the letter was "kind and admirable; a little stringent, but it did me good." It is a remarkable story, certainly now that we know Charlotte has become a world famous writer and Southey’s work is not much read and known these days!

Charlotte visited the Lake district on a number of occasions: she visited the Arnold Family in 1850 in their home Fox How near Ambleside, she also stayed with sir James Kay-Shuttleworth and his wife at Briery Close (near Windermere) where she also met Elisabeth Gaskell,  she stayed with Harriet Martineau in her home The Knoll in Ambleside. These houses are not open to the public, they are either private properties or have been transformed into holiday homes.

Marina Saegerman

2 comments:

Karen Rosenthal said...

I really enjoyed your review! A beautiful, detailed description and I've bookmarked it...I hope I'll visit it one day. Thank you :)

Marina said...

Thanks Karen for your nice comment. It really is worthwhile visiting and I'm sure, you will enjoy it.
Kind regards Marina