William Wordsworth
Family and early education

The Wordsworth family home, Cockermouth
The Wordsworth family home, Cockermouth: but the building belonged to Sir James Lowther

Birth and parents
William Wordsworth was born on 7 April 1770 at Cockermouth in Cumberland, son of John Wordsworth, and Ann, née Cookson, of Penrith. The Cooksons were well-to-do people who ran a large drapery near to the George Hotel in Penrith. Ann's mother had aristocratic pretensions as a descendant of the Crackanthorps of Newbiggin Hall. John worked as an agent and rent collector for Sir James Lowther.

William Wordsworth's parents
father John Wordsworth (b1741 d1783) = mother Ann née Cookson (b1749 d1778)

brother Richard b19 August 1768 becomes a lawyer (d1816)
William b7 April 1770 becomes Poet Laureate in 1843 (d1850)
sister Dorothy b25 December 1771 constant companion of William after 1795 (d1855)
brother John b4 December 1772 becomes sea captain for the East India Company (d1805)
brother Christopher b9 June 1774 becomes Master of Trinity College, Cambridge in 1820 (resigns 1841, d1846)

William Wordsworth's paternal grandparents
grandfather Richard Wordsworth = grandmother Mary née Robinson
uncle Richard b1733 joint guardian of John Wordsworth's children after 1783 (d1794)
aunt Ann b1734 married Rev Thomas Myers (d1787)
aunt Mary b1735 (d1761)
father John b1741 agent for Sir James Lowther (d1783)

William Wordsworth's maternal grandparents (Cookson)
grandfather William Cookson = grandmother Dorothy née Crackanthorp
uncle Christopher (Kit) b1745 joint guardian of John Wordsworth's children after 1783 (d1799)
uncle William b1754 in holy orders (d1820)
mother Ann b1749 married John Wordsworth (d1778)

As a small child, William's time was divided between Cockermouth and his maternal grandparent's house at Penrith. On the death of his mother in 1778 (8), his father employed two extra servants with responsibility for the children, while Dorothy was sent to her 'aunt' Thelkeld in Halifax. For a while, William and Richard attended Cockermouth Grammar School, but, in May 1779, they were sent to Hawkshead Grammar School, an institution with some ninety pupils which had strong links with the University of Cambridge and a reputation for excellence. The boys lodged with Ann Tyson, with whom William developed a strong bond of affection.

Map of Lake District
The Lake District

On the death of his father in 1783 (13), William's two uncles, Richard Wordsworth of Whitehaven and Christopher Crackanthorp Cookson, obtained Letters of Administration to settle debts and administer the estate of John Wordsworth for the benefit of the children. But by far the largest debt of £4625 (around £250,000 in today's terms) was owed by Sir William Lowther, who did everything in his power to avoid paying. It would be nearly twenty years before the debt was finally discharged, leaving the children in a precarious financial situation, and dependent on the goodwill of friends and relations.

Hawkshead School
Hawkshead School

Despite these problems, William found his time at Hawkshead congenial: he was allowed a great amount of freedom to wander far and wide by Ann Tyson, who also regaled him with local tales, and the headmaster of Hawkshead School from 1782, Rev William Taylor, encouraged him not only to read but also to write poetry.

The situation at the Cookson's became increasingly strained. Recalled to Penrith from Halifax, Dorothy Wordsworth writes to her friend Jane Pollard during the summer of 1787: each day we do receive fresh insults, you will wonder of what sort; believe me of the most mortifying kind; the insults of servants every one of them so insolent to us as makes the kitchen as well as the parlour quite insupportable. James has even gone so far as to tell us that we had nobody to depend upon but my Grandfather, for that our fortunes were but very small, and my Brothers can not even get a pair of shoes cleaned without James's telling them they require as much waiting on as any Gentleman, nor can I get a thing done for myself without absolutely entreating it as a favour.

It would appear that William was therefore more than happy to travel down to Cambridge in October 1787.

Links to Poems

Poems written in youth
Lines left on a Seat in a Yew Tree  
  Descriptive Sketches
An Evening Walk 

Poems on the naming of places
Joanna's Rock  

Poems of the Fancy
   The Linnet

Poems of the Imagination
  Lines written above Tintern Abbey
   Night Piece

Miscellaneous Sonnets
   Upon Westminster Bridge
It is a Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free  
   Composed in the Valley near Dover
The Poet's Work  

Poems dedicated to National Independence and Liberty
On the Extinction of the Venetian Republic  

Links to external sites

Recording of The Wanderer

Comprehensive poetry resource

The poet biographies, criticism, maps, translations, and textual notes on this site are the copyright of Paul Scott