Wordsworth’s 250th birthday inspires Cumbrian school children

Wordsworth’s 250th birthday inspires Cumbrian school children

Apr 7, 2020

School children in Cumbria have been preparing to celebrate the 250th birthday of William Wordsworth through the ‘Encountering Wordsworth’s Legacy’ project.

Since the Autumn, pupils from schools in towns with which Wordsworth had a connection to (including Penrith and Keswick), have been inspired by, and reimagining what it was like to live in, his time. They have compared it to what it is like to live here now, and how Wordsworth has impacted upon their place, and then used this experience to create a choral piece or artwork, which will now be performed or displayed later in the year.

The project has drawn together different organisations within the county: Cumbria Development Education Centre (CDEC) has led the project and the initial facilitation with the children, with involvement from Wordsworth Grasmere and BlueJam Arts. This has all been possible due to funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, The Hadfield Trust and Cumbria Rural Choirs.

The children spent the winter months exploring and researching William Wordsworth through contemporary objects from within Wordsworth Grasmere’s collection, while also interviewing Wordsworth Grasmere’s education officer as an ‘expert witness’. The CDEC project officer engaged the children in thinking about what it was like in this part of Cumbria when Wordsworth lived here, how it has changed over the last 250 years, what the pros/cons of these changes are, whether Wordsworth had anything to do with these changes, and, if so, what has been the impact. 

The activities enabled the children to take ownership and leadership of their activity, as CDEC project officer, Carol Lewthwaite, described her work with St Herbert’s in Keswick: “The children came up with flexible themes for seven groups to work on - they negotiated their own groups based on interest and fair group sizing. Then each group spent time planning, agreeing roles and how they were going to present their findings to the rest of the class and a wider audience.”

The St Herbert’s pupils then worked with composer Ella Jarman-Pinto from BlueJam Arts to create a choral piece. Together they looked at the poem ‘Lucy Gray’ and decided which words were important, what they meant – and if their importance or emphasis changed the meaning. In different groups, the children decided upon the important words to emphasise and this began a rhythm, which was then placed onto chords that they’d depending upon the meaning they wanted to give the words.

The melody was then worked on by a smaller group of children, who Ella noted had “the difficult task of slogging through the entire song, singing in order to test lines and see if they worked musically, lyrically, and vocally, and deciding amongst themselves what worked best. I was totally blown away by the end result.”

The performance of the final piece and the art from the other schools involved will be displayed later on in the year.