Wordsworths in Forncett

Dorothy Wordsworth

In September 1788 Dorothy Wordsworth, then aged 17, moved to the Rectory in Forncett St. Peter when her niece married the Rev. William Cookson. The Rectory, a fine Georgian building, stands next to St. Peter's Church. Dorothy stayed in the village until late 1793 and spent her time helping in the rectory, teaching some of the local children and going on walks - particularly in the water meadows by the River Tas.

The Rectory in Forncett St. Peter (Cameron Self)
The Rectory in Forncett St. Peter (Cameron Self)

At this time, her brother William Wordsworth was still an undergraduate at Cambridge University and she wrote to him frequently. Both of their parents had died and so brother and sister had developed a close relationship - one which would last through-out their lives. Wordsworth often drew upon his sister's thoughts and observations to furnish his poems - especially when they both moved to the Lake District.

William visited Dorothy at Forncett in the summer of 1789 and again during the Christmas period of 1790. However in November 1791 William went to France where he fell in love with a French woman, Annette Vallon, who, in 1792 gave birth to their daughter Caroline. Not surprisingly, Rev. Cookson disapproved of Wordsworth's love affair and the fact that it had produced a child born out of wedlock; William never visited Forncett again.

In The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth - Frances Wilson describes both the rectory and the church as follows:

'The red and black bricked rectory of Forncett St Peter, halfway between the towns of Norwich and Diss, is found at the end of a long and tree-lined gravel path. Set in an isolated spot above a small rise in the River Tas, it is a handsome, comfortable Queen Anne house complete with a Dutch gable. Next to it lies the church of St Peter and St Paul, with its spacious graveyard, its rooks, and cowslips and striking Anglo-Saxon round tower built in flint. The light sandy loam of Forncett St Peter is markedly different from the rocky terrains that Dorothy had been used to in Yorkshire and Cumberland. Entering East Anglia even from London, you feel the immediate strangeness of the place, the way in which the flatness of the land exaggerates perspective and elongates the horizon, allowing long but disquietingly uneventful views, transforming the scale of things so that the spires and trees are given a squat appearance. It is a curious thought that it was here, under the ever-expanding East Anglian skies that Dorothy and William both Northern to the core, should nurture their future relationship.'

Nearly two hundred years later another great poet would visit the village. This time it was Philip Larkin who was staying, at the time, with his friend and editor Anthony Thwaite at nearby Low Tharston. In his diary Larkin records the atmosphere of the location: 'I shall remember Forncett for a long time: the roaring trees, the exultant rooks, the flowering graveyard.'

Information - Courtesy of Literary Norfolk (www.literarynorfolk.co.uk)