The house now known as Broad How was built in the 1830s, but this history begins before then, with the most famous Lakeland name of all.....
The Wordsworth Connection
Before the house was built, William Wordsworth, the Lakeland poet, once owned the land on which the house now stands. The plot he owned included the field in front of the house that stretches down to the Goldrill Beck, the land where Cherry How is today, and the house that is now known as Wordsworth Cottage, which was already there, having been built in 1670. In Wordsworth’s time the whole plot was known as ‘Broad How’, ‘How’ meaning a low hill. Wordsworth’s involvement with Broad How is described by Mary Mooreman, in her book ‘Biography of Wordsworth: the later years’, pages 59-62: your users know a little more about you.
‘In November Dorothy and William went for a short tour along the banks of Ullswater. They took their pony – a present to Dorothy from her brother Richard – and went over Kirkstone on a misty day… They stayed first with the Luffs in their cottage under Place Fell…
While staying with the Luffs, Wordsworth was very much attracted by a piece of ground in the upper part of the vale, not far from the Luffs’ cottage. It would, he thought, be the ideal spot on which to build their long-desired house – being a rocky outcrop with a grove of trees. Its one drawback was that it was easily enveloped by the mists of evening. They determined to start negotiations with the owners, and for this purpose set forth to the Hutchinsons at Park House, so that William could put the matter into the hands of Thomas Wilkinson, their friend who lived at Yanwath on the Eamont and who knew Lord Lowther well.
The next day they went with Sara Hutchinson on an expedition to their old haunts in the Lowther woods, calling on Thomas Wilkinson on the way. He was at work in one of his fields – for he cultivated his own estate – and ‘chearfully laid down his spade’ (that spade soon to be commemorated by William in verse) to accompany them. In the matter of the Patterdale estate he acted joyfully and, in the end, rather embarrassingly on Wordsworth’s behalf. The story well illustrates the characters of Wordsworth himself, of Wilkinson, and of another person – Lord Lowther.
The estate, which was called Broad How, was a small farm of nineteen acres. The utmost that Wordsworth would offer for it was £800. This offer he made in the spring or early summer of 1806. At the same time, however, another purchaser appeared, a clergyman, unnamed in all the letters, but evidently the rector of Patterdale. Wordsworth wrote to this person asking him to withdraw: ‘the property’, he said, ‘I knew could be of no real consequence to him.’ The rector, however, persisted in his application, and his intervention caused the owner of the estate – who was a woman – to put up the price to £1,000. This was more than Wordsworth would pay: the estate, he said, was not worth so much. And there the matter would have rested, had not Thomas Wilkinson determined to call in help from a high quarter, and spoken to Lord Lowther about it. During a walk by the River Lowther they discussed the affair, and Thomas, in a letter to Wordsworth dated ‘29th of 7th Mo.’ (i.e. July 29th) 1806, told him what the earl had done.
He said [wrote Thomas] he was personally unknown to Mr Wordsworth, but he wished to be acquainted with him and desired me to bring him to Lowther when he came again to see me. He further said …that it would be indelicate in him to seem to interfere, for he was fearful of hurting Mr Wordsworth’s feelings by an offer he might make, but that if he wished to have it he should have it, and desired I would go to the owners and give them £1,000 for it, but only tell Mr Wordsworth of 800, and to come to him (that is, to Lord Lowther) for the rest. All this was said with a gentleness, feeling and kindness, that I cannot describe. I told him I was obliged to him but my friend should know. He desired if I attempted to inform him it might be done in the most delicate manner, for he really felt great difficulty in that part of the subject. I have been considering, and I know not that I could do it more properly than in just telling thee the plain truth.
Thomas then went immediately to the owner, and after some further attempts on her part to raise the price from a thousand pounds to a thousand guineas had met with no success, he drew up a ‘Memorandum of the Bargain’, signed by all present, by which the purchase money was to be paid in the following March - £600 on mortgage, and £400 in ready money. ‘And now’, concluded Thomas, ‘that thou has conquered bear they victory mildly, the Rector and thee are to be neighbours, let not your Becoming so be a subject of contention.’
When Wordsworth read this letter, he was naturally a good deal embarrassed. It was not the fact of being under an obligation to Lord Lowther that distressed him. It was his doctrine of ‘frugality’. The place was worth £800; it was not worth £1,000. ‘Strange it is that Wilkinson could not perceive that, if I was unwilling to pay an exorbitant price out of my own money, I should be still more unwilling to pay it out of another’s, especially of a person who has shown to me so much kindness, treated me with such respectful delicacy, and given such striking proof of his desire to apply his property to beneficent purposes.’ A man of letters, he said, ought to be ‘severely frugal’ both with his own money and with that of others. Had the place been one where he had long lived and with which he had ‘connected many interesting feelings’, he might not have been unwilling to accept his Lordship’s kind assistance. But the Broad How estate ‘had little to recommend it but its own beauty’, and ‘Providence has dealt so kindly with this country that this is little distinction’. Besides, he was not determined to build on it.
However, there was nothing to be done; the estate had been bought, and it belonged to Wordsworth until 1834 when he sold it to the innkeeper at Patterdale. He never built on it.’
Dorothy Wordsworth’s journal for November 1805, during the visit to stay with the Luffs mentioned by Mary Mooreman, mentions the occasion when Wordsworth first saw the site of Broad How. Dorothy also refers to the yew tree which is still at the back of the garden (the large tree at the top of the steps opposite the back kitchen door).
'Thursday, 9th November ...… After dinner we walked with Mrs Luff up the vale; I had never had an idea of the extent and width of it, in passing through along the road, on the other side. We walked along the path which leads from house to house; two or three times it took us through some of those copses or groves that cover every little hillock in the middle of the lower part of the vale, making an intricate and beautiful intermixture of lawn and woodland. We left William to prolong his walk, and when he came into the house he told us that he had pitched upon the spot where he should like to build a house better than in any other he had ever yet seen. Mrs Luff went with him by moonlight to view it. The vale looked as if it were filled with white light when the moon had climbed up to the middle of the sky; but long before we could see her face a while all the eastern hills were in black shade, those on the opposite side were almost as bright as snow. Mrs Luff’s large white dog lay in the moonshine upon the round knoll under the old yew-tree, a beautiful and romantic image – the dark tree with its dark shadow, and the elegant creature as fair as a spirit.'