Skip to main content

Did Wordsworth like gingerbread?

I’ve just spent a few days in the Lake District, staying only a few doors away from the Wordsworth House in Cockermouth, where Richard, William, Dorothy, John and Christopher Wordsworth were born. In 1937 the house was due to be demolished to make way for a bus station, but luckily it was rescued from the clutches of the bus company when the Wordsworth Memorial Fund bought it and gave it to the National Trust. The NT have done a good job of recreating a 1770s style house, complete with costumed servants. In 2009 it was rescued from yet another peril when Cockermouth was hit by floods, when its dedicated staff moved the house’s contents to safety on the upper floors and afterwards cleaned up the debris and floodwater (a horrible mucky job judging by the photographs).

I also went to Grasmere and visited the Wordsworth graves; my thoughts were with John particularly who died in a shipwreck only three days out from Portsmouth en route to India and China. The tragic story is well-told in Alethea Hayter’s The Wreck of the Abergavenny. While in Grasmere I bought some of its world-famous gingerbread. At the same time I carried away with me a leaflet about the shop and its sweet product which led me to wonder: did William Wordsworth like gingerbread?

The leaflet doesn’t say as much, which is hardly surprising because he was dead before Sarah Nelson’s gingerbread recipe was invented. Even so, it doesn’t miss an opportunity to associate the poet with the bread. We are told that Sarah Nelson worked in a house overlooking Ullswater “the lake beside which WILLIAM WORDSWORTH wrote his famous poem ‘Daffodils’”. Like the poet she was “inspired”; he wrote about daffs, she invented a cake. Sarah’s business was associated with him from the start, her earliest customers being Victorian pilgrims to Wordsworth's grave, which is only yards away from her shop. The current manager’s great great grandparents “entertained the Wordsworths for tea”, though they could not of course have given William Sarah Nelson’s gingerbread with his cuppa. Still, “Like the great Romantic poems, Sarah Nelson’s Grasmere Gingerbread has stood the test of time”.

So did William like gingerbread? Well, yes, it seems he did. His sister Dorothy mentions in her Grasmere journal going out to buy gingerbread and I’m allowing myself to speculate that she wouldn’t have bought anything William didn’t like. I haven’t been able to find the reference in her journal myself, so can’t tell you what type of gingerbread he liked to tuck into: there was more than one variety available in Grasmere. Nor can I tell you if he ever offered it to Coleridge when he called into Dove Cottage after a tramp from his house, Greta Hall, in Keswick. If he had perhaps Coleridge would have recorded somewhere in his journals, “Goes well with opium”.

Greta Hall was originally built as an astronomical observatory and converted into a three storey house by its owner Mr Jackson, who lived in the back of the house and let the front rooms to Coleridge and family. From his study windows Coleridge could see “Mountains & Lakes & Woods & Vales” across which “mists, & Clouds, & Sunshine make endless combinations, as if heaven & Earth were forever talking to each other”. (Quoted in Richard Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions.) It was really Greta Hall that I wanted to see, although the house is not open to visitors (no costumed servants here). According to Richard Holmes:-

“To this day its white façade can be seen shining out of Keswick from almost every peak of the encircling fells – most impressively perhaps from Cat Bells across Derwent Water – a sort of landlocked lighthouse, upon which the lonely fell-walker can always get an accurate compass fix in his wanderings.”

Fell-walking might have been lonely in Coleridge’s day; I don’t suppose that is so much the case now in so busy a district as the Lakes. But the white façade of the house with its curiously curved wings can be seen from Cat Bells, and a wonderful sight it is on a brilliant sunny day with the blue beneath and above filled with shredding clouds and the sense that, just for a moment, you are gazing through a poet’s eyes.


You can make your own Grasmere-style gingerbread by following BBC Good Food’s recipe at http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/10774/grasmere-gingerbread-style

And Jamie Oliver has a go with his modestly-named “Ultimate Gingerbread” at http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/bread-recipes/ultimate-gingerbread

There’s a nice 2005 article (with two gingerbread recipes) at the Baking For Britain blog – see http://bakingforbritain.blogspot.com/2005/11/grasmere-gingerbread-from-cumbria.html

Comments

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Dickens and Chickens

On 17 April 1860, in fields near Farnborough, Charles Dickens joined an audience amongst whom were the Prince of Wales and the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, as well as a number of MPs and clergymen, to watch the American John Carmel Heenan and England’s Tom Sayers (the Brighton Titch) beat one another blind and bloody in a bare-knuckle fight that lasted nearly two and a half hours. The fight ended in a draw when Aldershot police stormed the ring, forcing the fighters and their illustrious spectators to flee the scene. It was the brutality of this match that signalled an end to the bare-knuckle era and prompted the development of the Marquess of Queensberry’s rules. Dickens’s interest in pugilism was of long standing. In 1848 Dombey and Son , which had been published in serial form over the preceding two years, came out in book form. One of many of his novels that draws on the world of the prize fighter, it introduces the unforgettable Mr Toots, a would-be man about town, an

Spotlight On...Begbrook House, Frenchay, Bristol

On 11 November 1913, the head gardener at Begbrook House in Frenchay near Bristol discovered that the   building was on fire. The house stood in its own wooded grounds, and was said to have twenty rooms and a fine old staircase. Within a few hours the house was gutted. The fire caused £3,000 worth of damage. A copy of the WSPU newspaper, The Suffragette , was left at the site with the message, “Birrell is coming. Rachel Pease is still being tortured”.  Begbrook House Picture: Frenchay Village Museum Augustine Birrell was the Liberal MP for Bristol North, and a cabinet minister. He was frequently targetted by militants in Bristol. Suffragettes interrupted his meetings and two women once accosted him at Temple Meads Railway Station with their demand for the vote.    Begbrook House belonged to Hugh Thomas Coles, a wealthy banker. Hugh Coles was the son of   William Gale Cole of Clifton, who was also a banker, and was born in Clifton in 1856. Lik

The Bristol Boys: The Bare Knuckle Champions and The Hatchet Inn

The Hatchet Inn on Frogmore Street in Bristol is all that remains of a row of seventeenth-century timbered houses dating back to 1606 – making it one of the city’s oldest pubs. It was substantially altered in the 1960s, and these days it stands on a traffic island. But at one time it boasted extensive grounds – and amongst the facilities on offer was a bare-knuckle boxing ring. Plaque at The Hatchet Inn, Bristol The pub’s connection with Bristol’s boxing heroes is commemorated in a plaque illustrating five of Bristol’s champions – one of whom, Hen Pearce, features in Bloodie Bones: A Dan Foster Mystery. Hen Pearce (Detail) Bristol born Hen Pearce, The Game Chicken (1777 – 1809), a former butcher’s boy, became champion of England in 1805. He was a hero inside and outside the ring. In 1807 he climbed onto the roof of a building in Thomas Street, Bristol to rescue a servant girl from a fire. Always a popular figure, this courageous act inspired many eulogies in pr