Wordsworth and the Yorkshire Connection

Daffodils. Mountain summits. Peaceful lakes.  Think of these and you probably associate them with William Wordsworth and the Lake District, not Yorkshire.

Wordsworth penned many of his well-known poems in the Lake District. He is arguably our most famous Romantic poet.

Yet Wordsworth’s strong connections with Yorkshire are many …

The Lake District

His sister Dorothy, born 1771, lived with her brother and his wife, Mary in several locations in the Lakes, including the beautiful village of Grasmere.

Dorothy wrote her detailed Grasmere Journals in the early years of the 19th century. She was enchanted with Yorkshire, writing extensively about one of her visits to the county in 1802, the year in which William married her friend Mary Hutchinson.

Some Yorkshire Places

In July of that year, Dorothy and William travelled to Yorkshire to visit Mary. The siblings set off from Keswick taking in Thirsk, then Rievaulx, Helmsley (the town’s fair was held during their visit), Kirkbymoorside, Sinnington, and then to ‘Gallow Hill’, between Wykeham and Brompton-by-Sawdon, a few miles from Scarborough.

During their stay at Gallow Hill, they travelled to Scarborough. Other places they visited included Beverley, were the Minster, according to Dorothy, was: “injured very much with Grecian architecture.”

William’s sister was not a fan of the countryside between Beverley and Hull, nor of Hull itself, which she goes so far as to call: “… frightful. Dirty, brick housey tradesmanlike, rich, vulgar.”

A cairn with the Langdale Pikes in the distance

From Hull, they travelled to Lincoln, and then to London before they embarked on a trip to France. 

After their trip to the Continent, they returned to English shores in late August. They stayed in London until late September.

Wedding Day

The Wordsworth party made their way back to Yorkshire and Gallow Hill, the purpose of this visit was William’s impending marriage to Mary. 

On arrival at Gallow Hill, they are greeted by Mary and her many siblings. During the run-up to the wedding they travelled to Hackness and doubtless other places. Dorothy does not think them worthy of note in her journal.  

Then on Monday 4thOctober, William married Mary in the lovely church in Brompton village.

Later that day, Dorothy writes in her journal: “A little after 8 o’clock I saw them go down the avenue towards the Church. William had parted from me upstairs. I gave him the wedding ring – with how deep a blessing! I took it from my forefinger where I had worn it the whole of the night before – he slipped it again onto my finger and blessed me fervently … I kept myself as quiet as I could, but when I saw the two men running up the walk, coming to tell us it was over, I could stand it no longer and threw myself on the bed where I lay in stillness, neither hearing nor saying any thing …”

Gravestones in Grasmere

We can safely assume Dorothy is glad to be away from Gallow Hill that same day. They departed soon after the wedding breakfast.

Lovely Helmsley

Mary Wordsworth, as she was now called, was understandably distressed at leaving her brothers and sisters to start her new life with her husband and her sister-in-law in the Lakes.

The wedding party first stopped at Kirkbymoorside, where they stayed for two hours while the horses were fed.

While the horses were cared for, they posted a notice of marriage to the York Herald. This was published on 9th October: “On Monday last was married at Brompton Mr Wordsworth of Grasmere to Miss Hutchinson of Gallow Hill near Scarboro’”.

Dorothy seemed uninspired by the countryside between Kirkbymoorside and Helmsley, though she liked ‘Helmesly’ enough to wax lyrical about its ruined castle: “We … looked over a gate up to the old ruin which stands at the top of a mount, and round about it the moats are grown up to soft green cradles, hollows surrounded with green grassy hillocks and these are overshadowed by old trees, chiefly ashes.”

As they left Helmsley, Dorothy made a fascinating observation about Duncombe House (of Duncombe Park today): “Duncombe House looks well from the Road – a large Building, though I believe only 2 thirds of the original design are completed.” 

A modern view of Helmsley

They returned to Grasmere at 6 o’clock on Wednesday 6th October, after two long days of arduous travel.

Today, it is beyond our comprehension as to how much was involved in such a journey. To the Wordsworths, it was probably nothing, given they had always travelled thus and enjoyed arduous walking on the majestic Lakeland fells as much as possible.

The Grasmere Journals

Dorothy’s visits to Yorkshire took place before she endured serious illness in 1829, which affected her general health until her death aged 83 in 1855.

Her Grasmere Journals were first published in 1897. Subsequent analysis and study of her work indicate her own poetic observations no doubt inspired her famous brother, who it is thought borrowed freely from her journals when writing some of his poems.

Wordsworth’s most famous poem ‘Daffodils’ could well have been inspired not only by the yellow flowers themselves. It could also be inspired by Dorothy’s own delightful description written on 15th April 1802:

The stunning Lake District landscape

“When we were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow park we saw a few daffodils close to the water side. We fancied that the lake had floated the seeds ashore and that the little colony had so sprung up. But as we went along there were more and yet more and at last under the boughs to the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road. I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew among the mossy stones about and about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness and the rest tossed and reeled and danced and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the lake, they looked so gay ever glancing ever changing.”

William’s famous poem is written 1804, so there is strong evidence to suggest that we have Dorothy to thank for one the world’s most recognised Romantic poems. 

If you love literature, ready my blog about the Brontes and their Yorkshire roots.