Wonderful Walker and Wordsworth
William Wordsworth wrote about ‘Wonderful Walker’, a clergyman from the Duddon valley famous for his frugality
In 1820, William Wordsworth published a ‘Memoir of the Rev. Robert Walker’, having also included references to him in his long poem ‘The Excursion’ (1814) and the sonnet sequence ‘The River Duddon (1820), to which the memoir was appended.
Walker, born at Undercragg in 1710, was curate of Seathwaite in the Duddon valley until his death in 1802. The stipend was a mere £5 per annum, so Robert sought other sources of income to support himself and his growing family of ten children. He doubled as school teacher, as did many clergymen, and he also provided a local service as a scrivener to those who could not read and write – but he added to his income by spending many hours every day spinning wool and flax for sale. He was appointed steward of the manor of Dunnerdale, and held the post from 1754 to 1799. He also, most unusually for a clergyman, set up in the business of selling ale – whilst ensuring ‘no late hours, no tippling, no immorality or indecency of any kind’.
Wordsworth may never have met him, but was inspired by the accounts he heard of his hard work and frugality. In his sonnet about ‘Seathwaite Chapel’, he wrote about how
‘.. in those days/When this low Pile a Gospel Teacher knew,/Whose good works formed an endless retinue;/A Pastor such as Chaucer’s verse portrays;/Such as the heaven-taught skill of Herbert drew;/And tender Goldsmith crowned with deathless praise!’
And in his Memoir he concluded
‘At his decease he left behind him no less a sum than £2000; and such a sense of his various excellences was prevalent in the country, that the epithet of WONDERFUL is to this day attached to his name’
For a full account, see Felicity Hughes, William Wordsworth and Wonderful Walker, Duddon Valley Local History Group, Ulpha, (2004)
Photo and text Bill Shannon