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Forncett St. Peter

Forncett St. Peter is a small village in the Upper Tas valley which lies a few miles west of Long Stratton.

In 1788 Dorothy Wordsworth moved to the Rectory in Forncett St. Peter when her neice married the Rev. William Cookson. The Rectory, a fine Georgian building, stands next to St. Peter's Church.

Forncett St. Peter Rectory

Forncett St Peter Rectory

Forncett St Peter Church

Forncett Church

Dorothy stayed in the village for 6 years and spent her time doing parish work and going on walks - particularly in the water meadows by the River Tas.

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, Rev. Cookson disapproved of Wordsworth's recent love affair with Marie Anne Vallon (who he had met in France) and the fact that it had produced a child born out of wedlock; William never visited again.

William went on a number of walks while staying at Forncett and was inspired to write the following untitled sonnet:

Sweet was the walk along the narrow lane
At noon, the bank and hedge-rows all the way
Shagged with wild pale green tufts of fragrant hay,
Caught by the hawthorns from the loaded wain,
Which Age with many a slow stoop strove to gain;
And childhood, seeming still most busy, took
His little rake; with cunning side-long look,
Sauntering to pluck the strawberries wild, unseen.
Now, too, on melancholy's idle dreams
Musing, the lone spot with my soul agrees,
Quiet and dark; for through the thick wove trees
Scarce peeps the curious star till solemn gleams
The clouded moon, and calls me forth to stray
Thro' tall, green, silent woods and ruins gray.

Dorothy Wordsworth

Dorothy Wordsworth
(Detail of an oil painting by Samuel Crosthwaite, 1835)

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 it's spacious graveyard, it's 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.'




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