‘Come forth into the light of things
Let Nature be your teacher.’
Jeff Cowton, curator Wordsworth Museum, Rob and Harriet, and Charlie Whinney, the hut's creator, with his son Casper
This is the story of a beautiful circular wooden hut, open to the elements: a 'Moss Hut' that now sits in the sensory garden at Dove Cottage, in Grasmere, where William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy once lived.
In autumn 1804, William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy built a little shelter at the top of the Garden Orchard at Dove Cottage, their home in Grasmere, inspired by rustic ‘fog houses’ they’d seen during their travels in Scotland. They called this shelter a ‘Moss Hut’. Dorothy described it as a ‘little circular hut lined with moss like a wren’s nest’.
No one today knows exactly what this original Moss Hut looked like - but from letters written by the Wordsworth siblings, it’s clear that it was a space for contemplation and peaceful reflection. The Moss Hut was William’s escape from the busy world, a place where he could write, reflect, talk with friends and enjoy the view over Grasmere to the Lakeland fells. For Dorothy, the Moss Hut was ‘the sweetest place on Earth’, a study out-of-doors for creative and sociable pursuits.
Completed Moss Hut outside Charlie's Witherslack studio before starting its journey to Grasmere
When the Wordsworth Trust put out a call for artists to design a new Moss Hut as part of their 2020 Reimagining Wordsworth programme, marking 250 years since the poet’s birth, we jumped at the chance. We spent several hours chatting with Charlie Whinney, whose extraordinary steam-bending skills would allow the creation of something really special, and together we brewed up an idea.
Our ambition was to create a beautiful and enticing structure, something that instantly offers a space for reverie and wonder. All three of us are inspired by the way the Lake District and the natural world conjure poetry and art and feed the soul: we wanted the hut to be a space for creativity, personal nourishment, relaxation, conversation, and wellbeing, and a space from which to connect to the natural world. We also wanted the hut to reflect the precious relationship between William and Dorothy and the way that Dorothy’s journal writing and their many conversations seeped into many of the poems William wrote.
The concept of a nest inspired the shape of the hut - a cosy intimate embrace of natural materials - while a wide opening offers a sense of being inside while being outside and also offers a beautiful framing of the view beyond the hut. The structure is made of oak sourced from woodlands in Rusland, south Cumbria, which have been coppiced and maintained for centuries. Two interlocking spirals offer the basic frame, and represent the intertwined lives of William and Dorothy: Charlie created these using the process of steaming the oak and bending it into shape. He then clad this frame in light-weight oak shingles to create the shell, with two circular openings to give a view of sky and trees. Inside the hut, excerpts from William’s poetry hide among the shingles. There's a blog here about the early stages of the hut's construction. A film tracking its development will be available soon.
Before Lockdown children from Grange Primary School got the chance to help out with the first phase of the hut's contsruction
In August 2020 the Moss Hut arrived at Dove Cottage, and along the way made an appearance at Windermere Jetty Musuem, on the shores of the lake, and at Blackwell Arts and Crafts House. To mark its inaugural tour we invited cellist Sarah Smout to play on the shores of Windermere lake; and poet Matt Sowerby to perform at Blackwell. The sun shone and the hut echoed music and words. When it arrived in Grasmere it settled into the mossy garden, its oak scent blending with the aroma of buddleia flowers. The butterflies and birds in the garden seemed very curious, flitting to and from the hut. Grasmere poet Polly Atkin helped us to mark the arrival of the Moss Hut, sharing her own and Wordsworth’s poetry, just before the heat of the day was broken by a rumbling thunderstorm.
Sarah Smout playing her cello at the Windermere Steamboat Museum and Jetty
Our original plans for a tour of the Moss Hut and interactive elements within the hut have been put on hold due to safety restrictions related to Covid-19. We’ll be reassessing these and make a decision in 2021 about touring. In the meantime, the Moss Hut is happily settled just around the corner from Dove Cottage, and it’s open for visits, with respect for social distancing.
Your Moss Hut experience
If you visit, please do share an image of yourself and if you’re inspired to pen a line or two of poetry, we’d love to read it and add it to the Moss Hut collection. If you’re can’t visit, but you’re inspired by the hut and find a place near you as your own virtual Moss Hut, we’d love to know. Please share images of yourself in the Grasmere Moss Hut, or in your own special place, and any words you’d like to share using the hashtag #MossHut. Thank you!
The Moss Hut is part of the Reimagining Wordsworth programme, 2020, marking 250 years since the birth of the poet, William Wordsworth.
‘Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.’
Moss Hutt arriving outside Dove Cottage in Grasmere