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Cockermouth Post Article April 2012 – The Wordsworth family and their household accounts (held at Dove Cottage, Grasmere)

With the Georgian Fair on May 5th now very close, I thought I’d look at some aspects of Georgian Cockermouth. A few years back I visited Dove Cottage and spent some time going through the household accounts of the Wordsworth family during their time in Cockermouth. William was born on April 7th in 1770 and began his schooling at the Free Grammar School (on the site of the present Saints’ Rooms). His brothers John and Christopher also went there, and on March 5th 1781 Mr Wordsworth senior paid 10 shillings to the Reverend Gillbanks for their entrance there, and then quarterly fees. William by that stage had moved on to board at Hawkshead School, and Hugh Tyson was paid £10 10s 0d in December 1779 for half a year’s board for William and his brother Richard.

Of his early school days, William notes that they were happy, ‘chiefly because I was left at liberty, then and in the vacations, to read whatever books I liked’. He later says that at Hawkshead School he learnt more Latin in a fortnight than he had ‘during two preceding years at the school of Cockermouth’. Juliet Barker’s ‘Wordsworth: A Life in Letters’ (from which the extracts here are taken) gives an interesting account of William’s life and is thoroughly recommended.

Mr Wordsworth’s household accounts mention all the expected kinds of payments: money paid to glaziers, stationers, horse hirers, painters, carpenters gardeners, saddlers and blacksmiths. Wages were paid to staff: £4 per annum to a maidservant called Amy, and 2/6 per week (12 ½ p) to a nurse hired at Christmas 1771. He doesn’t seem to have had much luck with manservants: of Duncan Campbell, paid £2 12s. 6d at Martinmas 1772, he notes ‘he ran away having rob’d me’. Robert McNought, hired in 1774 ‘did not come to his services in time so hired another’. Quite striking is the amount of wine, beer and spirits bought by the household: 10 gallons of sherry (1779), in addition to large quantities of brandy, rum, port, white wine, and small beer from ‘the Brewery’. There would have been considerable entertaining done by Mr Wordsworth in his role as law-agent to Sir James Lowther.

Another name mentioned in the accounts is that of John Walker, whitesmith, of Main Street. Dr John Walker, who began his working life in Cockermouth in his father’s whitesmith business, later trained as a doctor and devoted his life to vaccination in Europe and then in London. He became known as the ‘apostle of vaccination’ and he came from Cockermouth! John’s contemporary at the Free Grammar School was Dr William Woodville, another important name in the world of medicine, who in 1791 became Director of the London Smallpox Hospital.

Georgian Cockermouth clearly produced some outstanding players on the international stage - and I haven’t even mentioned John Dalton or Fearon Fallows yet!

Gloria Edwards

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