The Museum at Wordsworth Grasmere, the second phase of work at the former Lake District home of the great English Romantic poet William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy, is now complete and open to the public, with all gallery, exhibition design and interpretative overviews by Nissen Richards Studio and the building’s remodelling and extension by Purcell.
The first phase of re-design work by Nissen Richards Studio at Wordsworth Grasmere opened in summer 2020 and encompassed the conservation and reinterpretation of Dove Cottage itself, where William and Dorothy once lived, plus the design of a new identity for Wordsworth Grasmere and all signage and wayfinding for the scheme, which makes use of locally-sourced Lakeland slate, fulfilling the client’s request to work with local materials and tradespeople.
The main entrance to Wordsworth Grasmere leads visitors to a shop and ticketing area, before entering the new, double-height Museum orientation space. Here, quotations by Wordsworth are set within a dramatic, full-height light wall. Visitors then make their way to a former stable space that houses an immersive introductory film, before stepping over the threshold into Dove Cottage. Visitors return to The Museum via Dove Cottage’s Garden-Orchard, entering an expanded first floor space, which has been loosely arranged into four new galleries.
Gallery One centres on nature and a historic timeline and allows visitors to get to know Wordsworth better and understand the impact nature made on him. A number of stand-out literary pieces are highlighted in this gallery, including ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’. Objects are integrated alongside the manuscripts, such as Wordsworth’s own ice-skates, which link an actual incident in Wordsworth’s life to the manuscript nearby.
Gallery Two is an AV space, serving to immerse visitors in Wordsworth’s poetry. The gallery features two screens giving a 50-minute-long looped recitation of poetry, so that visitors can listen to a single poem, several or the entire run.
Gallery Three ramps up the literary intensity and tells the story of how The Prelude came about over a 50-year period. The Prelude was Wordsworth’s major life work and the gallery tells the story of the creation of one of the greatest works in English literature through its manuscripts, with 23 of the 24 in the possession of Wordsworth Grasmere and highlights on display here, allowing visitors to see how the poem develops and the collaboration of the people involved.
Gallery Four takes the form of a homage to the Lake District and in particular to Grasmere, showing how Wordsworth was very much a poet of the Lake District and how he and his family were rooted here – whether walking, writing or reading. The gallery narrates the highs and lows of family life, from love letters and children to grief and loss. Full-height cases create mini roomsets to emulate a domestic feel, whilst the gallery’s colour treatment ranges from slate to rust, inspired by the ironstone of nearby Easedale.
The pause area between the galleries is in white, left blank for thought, with a creative writing table and integrated dichroic quotes coming alive through colour.