Wordsworth House inches from disaster as flooding devastates historic properties

By Culture24 Staff | 23 November 2009
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A photo of a flooded street at night

(Above) Cockermouth, home of Wordsworth House, saw flooding on an unprecedented scale during the weekend.

Wordsworth House, the Cumbria birthplace of iconic poet William Wordsworth, has escaped being destroyed by the weekend floods in North-West England "by about two inches".

The National Trust House and gardens stand in the centre of Cockermouth, where a policeman died attempting to warn motorists off a bridge and 50 people had to be evacuated by RAF helicopters as Red Cross and Royal Navy Lifeboat Institute volunteers rescued 200 people from their homes.

A photo of debris outside a flooded house

The front courtyard of the House

"The ceiling in the basement is wet with flood water, so literally the width of the floorboards have saved the ground floor," said a spokesperson for the House. "The main rooms in the house have survived by about two inches.

"The garden is trashed, the terrace has completely collapsed and all the walls are down. The garden contains probably half the debris of the town and river, as it swept through."

A photo of debris piled up on a flooded street

The front wall of the garden, which was described by Wordsworth scholar Ernest de Selincourt as "sacred to the memory of one of the most beautiful and most fertile relationships that is recorded in our literary history"

"I have heard reports from structural engineers that there is substantial damage to the historic garden walls at the rear of the House.

"The garden is one of the most important elements of the House and is obviously the worst affected part.

A photo of workmen outside a cordoned-off house

Emergency workers outside the House

"The House was saved from demolition to build a bus station in 1937 by the people of Cockermouth and given to the Trust in 1939. It's the people of Cockermouth – our staff and volunteers – who will save it again and bring it back to life."

John Darlington, the Trust's Assistant Director of Operations in the North-West, praised the "amazing work" of House manager Jeremy Barlow and his team, who battled to save the precious contents of the house as the surroundings where Wordsworth grew up were devastated by the floods.

A photo of an ancient brick building partially submerged by water

Fell Foot Park on Lake Windermere

"Drystone walls are down, livestock is lost and tracks and roads have been blasted by the sheer volume of water," he said.

"There are corners of the countryside we have not got to yet, and many areas where we simply cannot assess the damage because they remain covered in water. It means months of hard work for Lake District farmers and our own teams."

A photo of a brick building flooded by rain

The entrance barrier at Low Wray campsite

All the staff at the House had taken to the nearby streets and hills this afternoon in a bid to try and gauge the damage, repair walls and rebuild paths.

At Fell Foot, the Victorian park on the lake of South Windermere, a metre-deep flood filled the tea room and nearly pushed a boat out of the roof of a nearby boathouse.

"A tidemark of debris marks the furthest reach of the floods, halfway up the lawns which attract thousands during the summer months," said Darlington. "The devastation has changed our countryside."

Shop and restaurant facilities at Low Wray campsite, on the Western shore, witnessed a 50cm increase on the rain levels which submerged the site last year.

A photo of brick buildings half-submerged by rain

Fell Foot Park

The Beatrix Potter Gallery, which is home to original watercolours and sketches by the author, suffered damage and was closed to the public after the village of Hawkshead was flooded.

Nearby Tarn Hows woodland was also closed, but Sizergh Estate, the Medieval castle and grounds near Kendal, managed to stay open and avoid the worst of the elements.

A photo of a man in waterproof clothing canoeing through a flooded tea room

Staff circumnavigate the metre-deep flood in the tea room at the Park

"We have had hundreds of people volunteering their services, many of whom live well beyond sight of our lakes and fells," added Darlington.

"We have received so much support and it makes such a big difference to know that people care."

An appeal has been set up to help fund the repair works. To donate, visit the For Ever, For Everyone page.

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