William Wordsworth

The most famous visitors to Holford were the poet William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy who stayed here in 1797-8. They were friends of Tom Poole of Nether Stowey, and he persuaded the St Albyn Family to let them rent Alfoxton House, which was empty at the time. The Wordsworths and other poet friends liked to go on long walks at night time. The locals didn’t understand this and grew very suspicious of them. They thought they must be spies and revolutionaries sending messages to enemy French ships in the Bristol Channel. Because of these rumours, the St Albyns ended the lease and the Wordsworths had to go back to Westmorland. But their writings show how much they loved the Quantocks.

Here is an imaginary letter from Basil Montagu, a young friend of the Wordsworths, who travelled with them to the Quantocks.

ALFOXDEN, JULY 1797

Dear Quantock Friend,

My name is Basil Montagu. My parents are friends of Dorothy Wordsworth.

The Wordsworths have brought me from the Lake District to Alfoxden House at Holford, deep in the Quantock Hills in Somersetshire. People speak stangely here, different from home. The house is really large, with stables and a coach house with woods and streams surrounding it, and all for the rental of £23 a year.

Mr. William Wordsworth is a plain looking man, large nose, straight dark hair straggling onto his collar. His teeth are a bit rabbity and stained. He wears high collars with flounces, and dark frock coats. He is a thinking man, forever wondering about war and revolution.

His sister Dorothy is quiet and shy, she helps him with his poetry, suggesting words and writing them out for him. She keeps away from local people, hiding and scuttling away.

Mr. Wordsworth's poetry is mainly about nature, light and shade, moonlight, sunset, landscape and stories of poor and simple people. He has given up writing about war and unrest in France but unfortunately he has left his lady love over there where a huge revolution is threatening. Mr. Wordsworth says he has " a new creative drive" and is finally writing in his own voice. He writes about the walks we all take on the Quantocks. This poem is about a thorn.

          "of olive green and scarlet bright
           in spikes, in branches and in stars,
           green red and pearly white." 

                

There is a boy called Simon Lee who lives in Stowey. He is simple and slow-witted and goes about saying: "the cocks did crow, and the moon did shine so cold." Mr. Wordsworth has written a poem about him, called The Idiot Boy.

 

People are wary of us, as we go to untrodden places, and Dorothy speaks to no-one. They talk of us being spies for the French, especially when we walk with Mr. Coleridge. He writes with Mr. Coleridge, but I fear something bad will come of this friendship.

 

Your friend,
Basil Montagu

More about Wordsworth

  • William Wordsworth

These books are useful;

  • ‘A Quantock Tragedy’, by David Worthy
  • ‘Thomas Poole and his friends’, by Elizabeth Sandford
  • ‘William Wordsworth: Selected Poems’, Penguin

Wordsworth wrote these poems at Alfoxton:

  • Old Man Travelling.
  • A Night Piece.
  • The Thorn.
  • Lines Written in Early Spring.
  • Lines Written at a Small Distance from my House.
  • The Idiot Boy.
  • We Are 7.

(Specially written for the Quantoxyclopedia by Judy Fursland)