As part of Reimagining Wordsworth, the 2020 celebrations of the 250th anniversary of the birth of the great English Romantic poet, William Wordsworth, Wordsworth Grasmere has unveiled the first phase of a re-imagined visitor journey at Dove Cottage, Wordsworth’s former Lake District home. The newly-expanded Museum on the site, showcasing many of Wordsworth’s original manuscripts, will open in spring 2021 in a second phase of the project. Exhibition design and interpretative overview throughout is by Nissen Richards Studio whilst, in a separate commission, Nissen Richards Studio has also created a new Wordsworth Grasmere identity, encompassing all aspects of the site under the aegis of its governing charitable body, The Wordsworth Trust.
When Dove Cottage was originally purchased, the on-site museum was located within a single room of the cottage. More land and buildings were subsequently acquired and the site now encompasses Dove Cottage, the Museum and the Jerwood Centre, created at the turn of the millennium and housing a world-class collection of Wordsworth manuscripts - as well as a number of supporting buildings, gardens and a car park.
Nissen Richards Studio has created the interpretative approach that has shaped the site and the exhibition design throughout, as well as the wayfinding and signage, branding, graphics and the art-direction of most of the project’s AV elements, including films by renowned documentary-maker Nick Street and sound designs by specialist sound designer Carolyn Downing.
A number of changes had been made to Dove Cottage since Wordsworth’s time, incorporating both furniture from later in his life and a number of fitted fixtures from a later period. Part of the new project’s scope was to strip back any furniture that felt out of place in order to create a more honest treatment for the Grade-I-listed cottage.
‘Our approach to the design’, Nissen Richards Studio Director Pippa Nissen explained, ‘was not to replicate the original state, but to intimate and evoke its past history. New furniture, commissioned from local craftsmen with specialist historic knowledge, has been built in the style of the period and now sits alongside real, surviving furniture. An object-based treatment – including a wonderful resource from the period in the form of Dorothy Wordsworth’s Grasmere journal – has been combined with film and sound design commissions to suggest a lived-in and humble home, where extraordinary writing took place.’
Nissen Richards Studio’s interpretational approach was to create a film that visitors see first, in which the cottage is full of life, working with film-maker Nick Street. This kicks off the visitor journey in the old stables, just before entry to the cottage, and sets the stage. The film ensures that visitors’ minds are full of images already as they explore the cottage further and the film also influenced the approach to the refurbishment of the cottage, which represents moments from another time, but has also been designed in fragments to allow the visitors’ imagination to fill the gaps. As visitors move to the upstairs rooms, this changes further to allow for more discussion before they transition out into the garden.
‘The concept is for visitors to explore the cottage using all their senses’, Elin Simonsson, Head of Interpretation at Nissen Richards Studio explained. ‘The house doesn’t feel like a polished historic house setting, but rather a home that is lived in. All around are the traces of human life: a book left open on a table; an open journal; unfolded letters; a chair set at an angle; leftover crumbs on a plate – even dishes next to the sink. We really want visitors to feel a connection with the Wordsworths from the moment they enter Dove Cottage.’