Cumbria Crack

Exhibitions bring record visitors to Wordsworth House and Garden

Inventor Sally Phillips checks on one of her Herdwick wool Chimney Sheep

[C]ockermouth’s Wordsworth House and Garden has had its busiest visitor season for five years.

Poet William Wordsworth’s childhood home, which is the town’s main tourist attraction, welcomed more than 29,000 people between mid-March and Sunday 29 October, when it closed for the winter.

Zoe Gilbert, the National Trust property’s visitor experience manager, said: “We’re thrilled to have had our best season since 2012, with a total of 29,370 visitors – more than 2,000 ahead of target and 15 per cent up on last year.

“Most are from outside the area and they’ve been able to see that Cockermouth is thriving again after the devastation caused by Storm Desmond, which we hope is good for everyone in the town.”

Many people came because of the house’s special exhibitions, The Word-Hoard, guest curated by award-winning writer Robert Macfarlane, and Objects of Celebrity, about the Bowder Stone.

Zoe said: “We’re confident our next exhibition, Where Poppies Blow, commemorating the end of the Great War and celebrating the role of nature in helping sustain Britain’s troops, will help us replicate this success in 2018.

“Our guest curator, John Lewis-Stempel, is a historian, farmer and Wainwright prize-winning author, and it feels like exactly the right kind of thing for the home of one of the world’s favourite nature poets to be focussing on.”

Former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, who will talk at Wordsworth House next year

As part of a linked season of evening talks, on Thursday 7 June, former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion will share his love of First World War poet Edward Thomas, author of Adelstrop, and read from his own forthcoming verse memoir, Essex Clay. Tickets, which cost £20 including a glass of wine, can be booked by emailing [email protected].

But before then, the Wordsworth House and Garden team have a lot of work to get through.

Outside, head gardener Amanda Thackeray and her volunteers are clearing and preparing the ground for 2018’s planting, which will include a swathe of poppies to mark the century since the war ended.

Indoors, the housekeeping staff are “putting the house to bed”, packing small and fragile items in tissue, wrapping larger ones in bespoke dust covers and rolling rugs onto lengths of drainpipe so the fibres can relax.

They will also be checking on their Chimney Sheep, a system of Herdwick wool draught excluders invented by local ecologist Sally Phillips. Inserted above the building’s hearths, they prevent heat loss and keep chilly air out during the colder months.

House steward Rachel Painter said: “We have to keep humidity in the house under tight control to protect the antique furniture and paintings. Our Chimney Sheep not only make excellent use of Cumbrian wool, they keep warm air in and prevent debris falling down.”