Literary Penrith

After a week with a miserable cold, we felt that some fresh air was definitely called for. We've had plans to explore Penrith for some time, especially the various literary connections. So, after lunch at Up Front Gallery in Unthank, we popped into Penrith to explore the lovely area around St Andrew's Church. I love the sandstone of this market town, it makes it feel so warm and welcoming. It seems that many of the early tourists to the area felt the same.

Celia Fiennes visited Penrith on her Great Journey of 1698 and noted "the stones and slate about Penrith looks so red that at my entrance into the town thought its buildings were all of brick, but after found it to be the colour of the stone which I is a pretty large town, a good market..."

Thomas Gray also visited Penrith in 1769 and stayed at Mrs Buchanan's, who apparently kept an inn and was also visited by Ann Radcliffe on her 1794 tour. Gray wrote that he "dined at 3 o'clock with Mrs Buchanan ....on trout and partridge. In the afternoon walked up Beacon-Hill, a mile to the top, and could see Ullswater through an opening in the bosom of that cluster of broken mountains...and the craggy tops of a number of nameless hills". 

Ann Radcliffe, almost thirty years later, wrote "the town consisting chiefly of old houses, straggles along two sides of the high north road and is built upon the side of a mountain, that towers to a great height above it”. Despite its obvious antiquity Ann Radcliffe concedes that Penrith is "not deficient of neatness. The houses are chiefly white, with door and window cases of the red stone found in the neighbourhood. Some of the smaller houses have over their doors dates of the latter end of the sixteenth century".

Penrith was clearly an important stopping-off point in the tours of this time. It's so interesting to think that William and Dorothy Wordsworth also had close links with the town. After the death of their mother in 1778 William lived with his maternal grandparents above the Drapers on the Market Square. Dorothy also lived here in adolescence (1787-88). Both siblings detested this time they spent in Penrith, although the friendship forged with the Hutchinson sisters lasted a lifetime. The Wordsworth siblings' grandparents owned and ran the drapers which is now the impressive Arnison's.

Our final literary destination in Penrith was 49a Wordsworth Street. This is a lovely street of fairly substantial red sandstone terraced and semi-detached houses. 49a was home to Michael Roberts (poet and editor of The Faber Book of Modern Verse) and his wife Janet Adam-Smith (biographer, critic and mountaineer). They lived here in the early years of the second world war, together with the poet Kathleen Raine.

We had a lovely time exploring St Andrews Church, as well as picking up some treats in James and John Graham on the Market Square. This is such a delightfully old fashioned delicatessen and grocers.