Photographer | Garath Gardner

Wordsworth Grasmere

Transforming a collection of buildings into a Wordsworth museum

North West
Wordsworth Trust

Purcell have transformed a collection of disparate buildings in the Lake District’s Grasmere into a fully operational museum dedicated to English Romantic poet William Wordsworth.

Our sensitive conservation of Dove Cottage – Wordsworth’s former home, where he created some of his best-known work – is an authentic representation of the poet’s 1800s residence, fully immersing visitors and allowing them to step back in time.

The newly configured Wordsworth Grasmere museum transforms the visitor experience of Town End, once described by the world-renowned poet as “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found.”

The £6.5 million transformation, supported by numerous funding bodies including The National Lottery Heritage Fund, has created new opportunities for the public to learn and connect with the poet’s work. The scheme has strengthened the connection between Wordsworth’s poetry and the luscious Cumbrian landscape, while celebrating Wordsworth’s significance in fresh new ways.

Visitors travel through Grasmere’s rugged landscape, arriving at Wordsworth Grasmere, where they are taken on a journey through Wordsworth’s life and literary world via immersive galleries designed to inspire new audiences.

Dove Cottage is Grasmere’s jewel in the crown and was William Wordsworth’s home from 1799 to 1808. He produced the best-loved poems in Dove Cottage — including Daffodils — whilst his sister, Dorothy, kept her famous Grasmere journals.

— Jane Roylance, Associate

As lead architects on the scheme, Purcell sensitively preserved and restored the buildings across the site (including Dove Cottage) creating an exciting visitor experience which connects the rural landscape with Wordsworth’s work.

The site has undergone significant redevelopment to transform it from a collection of disparate buildings, into a fully operational museum with new gallery spaces, cafe, and education centre. The renewed buildings are sensitively conserved around Town End including one of the Victorian terraces.

Purcell converted the site’s previous shop into a cafe, moving the shop to the museum and its new extension. In addition to a new cafe and bright new office, a bespoke learning space has been designed where presentations, discussion forums and refreshment will take place. The contemporary buildings complement the old and connect Dove Cottage back to the landscape that once inspired Wordsworth.

Space has been opened up across the site, to enable visitors to not only view the landscape, but also activity around the site. Although a challenge for our team was extending the museum in a tight landlocked plot, Purcell’s unified architectural approach not only creates new qualities of legibility and orientation at the heart of the site, but also brings a coherent approach as a whole.

A viewing platform allows visitors to look through the museum’s rooftop, and admire the landscape. In the education centre our team have designed fully accessible education spaces designed for interactive workshops. On the ground floor, there is a gallery dedicated to new exhibitions, and a shop and cloakroom.

Purcell have worked closely with Nissen Richards Studio on the interpretation for the site from the outset. Nissen Richards Studio, interpretation and exhibition designers, were also responsible for the Trust’s new ‘Wordsworth Grasmere’ branding, including the site’s signage, wayfinding and logo, branding which celebrates the intrinsic link between people, poetry and place.

The experience allows visitors to feel as though they are walking into Dove Cottage when Wordsworth was in residence. There is a soundscape — as though the buildings and landscape are occupied, just as it was. Visitors will step back in time, to Wordsworth’s 1800 world.

— Jane Roylance, Associate