already rang the Wordsworth Trust at Grasmere that morning,
to check if there were contingency plans should more people
attend Dr. Woof's funeral than anticipated. Yes, I was
told, a marquee was being set up close to the church of
St. Oswald's in Grasmere village.
A good thing it was they did.
On a cold day in late November people gathered from
all corners of the country and from all walks of life
to celebrate the life of Dr. Robert Woof. Local schoolchildren,
tiny dots in their blue uniforms, looking shy and proud
and glad to be part of it; people arriving on foot,
by car, in a helicopter. Television crews were there
and cameras flashed as we left the church.
Grasmere was filled yesterday with the presence of
Robert Woof; his personality, charisma, commitment,
stubbornness and verve was celebrated by the diverse
collection of humanity, all there to give thanks for
his life and work.
It was a day for tributes, paid from family and friends.
Retired MP's, Cecil Parkinson and Chris Smith, of Conservative
and Labour Parties respectively, read their touching,
heartfelt memories of their close friend.
It was a day for moving readings from Wordsworth's,
'The Prelude' from Joyce’s 'Finnegan's Wake’,
hymns sung with verve enough to shake the old rafters
of the small, whitewashed walls of St. Oswald's Church,
while outside the wind moaned round.
I imagined what it was like when Wordsworth was a lad
and how fitting a full circle it was that Robert Woof
- who has done so much for the Wordsworth Trust - be
buried in his beloved Grasmere, beneath Helm Crag, locally
know as 'The Lion and the Lamb' or 'The Old Lady playing
the Organ' depending from which direction you approach
As I walked to the cemetery, I could have been walking
in Wordsworth's footsteps.
Instead I was following other people's steps to pay
last respects to a man who, as Chris Smith, the Rt.
Hon. Lord Smith of Finsbury, PC, said, 'had done more
for the Wordsworth Trust's vision than anyone else had
in the last 150 years.'
Robert Woof was Museum Curator and Director of The
Wordsworth Trust who ‘lovingly developed Wordsworth's
legacy at Grasmere," noted Smith. He was born in
Lancaster, educated at the Royal Lancaster Grammar School
and, at the age of 18, in an echo of Wordsworth's own
discovery a century and a half before, first saw Dove
Cottage on a day out cycling. He later wrote: "By
the time I got back home, it was burned into my imagination
that there was such a place."
The aim of the founders of the Wordsworth Trust in
1890 was to secure Dove Cottage and its collection "for
the eternal possession of those who love English poetry
all over the world". Robert Woof did this and more.
As Chris Smith said, ‘No one but Robert could
have persuaded Michael Foot to open an exhibition on
Hazlitt, Philip Pullman to do the honours for Milton
and Blake, the Heritage Lottery Fund to help fund the
acquisition of one of the most important collections
of books from the Romantic period, Seamus Heaney to
cut the ribbon for the new Collections Centre, the Huntington
Library to lend a collection of Blake drawings not seen
in Britain for a century, some 70 poets and writers
to come and read their work, the Spooner collection
of remarkable watercolours to come to Grasmere, and
Sir Ian McKellen to make a recording of Wordsworth's
entire Prelude, to mark its 200th anniversary.’
It was Robert Woof who began the major series of poetry
readings and literary events that happen at Grasmere
every year and bring contemporary poets and artists
into residence at the Trust, linking the heritage of
the past with the contemporary. And I had met him at
the many poetry readings I've attended over these past
few years since returning to my native Cumbria.
As a local poet, to be able to sit and listen to some
of the greatest living poets today, poets such as Galway
Kinnell, Les Murray, Jack Mapanje, Kate Clanchy, Maurice
Riordan, Gillian Allnutt, C K Williams, was something
that Robert made possible for myself and others to do.
Talk with them. Sit next to them at dinner. Be a part
of that long heritage stretching back to Wordsworth
and his contemporaries, when what they were doing was
innovative and exciting, and seen to be daring; speaking
in the language of the 'common' people and not writing
and reading in the tongues of the ruling class.
As a published Cumbrian poet, the opportunity to mix
and mingle and share my art with colleagues in the region,
and with those who come from abroad, has been enhanced
and nourished through the insight, vision and belief
of Robert Woof.
Cumbria for me is the most stimulating and inspiring
place in which to live and write and learn and grow.
I can well understand why Wordsworth felt nature was
his nurse. There's a humility in being put into perspective
by the elements and the presence of the ever rushing
becks and high ranges of fells. And there's hidden talent
in all corners of Cumbria; from Morecambe Bay to the
Solway to the Eden Valley and tucked away in the forest
All this potential to explode into the world and to
be showcased both in the region and outside it! It is
like seeds growing in the dark, just waiting for the
optimum time to burst into flower. Like Antoine de St
Exupery's "seeds yearning for the sun."
In many ways, Robert Woof was that sun, in Cumbria.
He was our gardener, nurturing talent, encouraging writers
with his infectious optimism and determination.