Sykehouse Cottage

A beautiful C17th Holiday Cottage in the Lake District

Wordsworth’s The Westmorland Girl

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In 1845, Wordsworth aged 75  wrote a poem to his grandchildren about a free spirited orphan girl who rescued a lamb from drowning:

“And the bleating mother’s Young-one, / Struggled with the flood in vain; / But, as chanced, a Cottage-maiden / (Ten years scarcely had she told) / Seeing, plunged into the torrent, / Clasped the Lamb and kept her hold.”

And, taking this one incident, the old man then inflated her brave and dramatic gesture to more lofty and inspiring heights for the younger members of his family:

“Watchful as a wheeling eagle, / Constant as a soaring lark, / Should the country need a heroine, / She might prove our Maid of Arc.”

This “Maid of Arc”, Sarah Davies, came to live in Broughton-in-Furness and was buried in an unmarked grave on 4th September 1872 aged 37, a week after giving birth to a baby boy.

According to HV Koop who wrote a history of the town, a wreath was laid on her grave at the Wordsworth Centenary in 1950 and our local historian, Wal Greenhalgh, did much sleuthing to verify the facts.  A Sarah Mackereth was born in Grasmere in 1834 (or 5) and she married Samuel Davies in 1867.  The family moved to Broughton after the census of 1871 and in a town directory of 1876 there’s an entry for Samuel Davis as the farm bailiff at Eccleriggs.

When I contacted the staff at Wordworth Trust, they were delighted with this nugget of Wordsworthalia and Rebecca Turner, the Assistant Curator, added a little extra information from their collections:  in a letter of 1834, Wordsworth writes: “The little Poem which I ventured to send you lately I thought might interest you on account of the fact as exhibiting what sort of characters our mountains breed. It is truth to the Letter”.  Fabulous! … what sort of characters our mountains breed”.

How did they know where to lay the wreath?

According to Wal Greenhalgh, the Vicar of the time wrote in the margin of the Parish Register: “Wordsworth’s Westmorland Girl” next to her name and, with great good fortune, the Barrow Record Office holds the Sexton’s notebook which details: “interred between Hancock’s tombstone of Myreside and William Fleming’s tombstone.”westmorland girl

If you would like to go and pay your respects in St Mary Magdalene’s churchyard, follow these instructions: from the South east corner of the church walk, at right angles to the church, into the graves (minding the crocuses and snowdrops!).  As you walk, keep looking to you right, soon as you come parallel to a sundial monument some graves away and half hidden by a tree, you’re at the spot. Find Jacob Knight’s tombstone (pictured), which is between Hancock’s and Fleming’s grave, and her unmarked grave is there, roughly under Jacob Knight’s.

If you would read another post about Wordsworth : Dorothy’s Daffodils :  click here.

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