Last year I contributed an article to Skircoat Green Directory about Dorothy Wordsworth and her childhood years in Halifax. This summer I was contacted by Dove Cottage, Grasmere, and asked to record a short video trail around Halifax locations Dorothy would have known, for use with an exhibition connecting with the 250th anniversary of her birth this December.
You may not have heard of her, but Dorothy’s closest childhood friend was Jane Pollard, who lived just along the street from her in Corn Market, Halifax during the 1770s and ’80s. Born on 2nd March 1771, and baptised at Northgate-end Unitarian Chapel a month later, Jane was the eldest daughter of William Pollard, a well-to-do Halifax textile merchant.
In 1786, Dorothy returned from Halifax to live with her grandparents in the Lake District, and then with an uncle. Finally, in 1794 she was reunited with her brother William. She would remain with him all her life, helping care for his children, but never marrying.
Dorothy’s regular correspondence with her childhood friend Jane Pollard began shortly after she left Halifax. Usually she addressed her friend as ‘Dear, dear Jane’, and her letters were full of personal concerns, and memories of Halifax days. There were lighter moments, for example: ‘So you have got high-heeled shoes, I do not think of having them yet’. Dorothy’s letters reflect her spontaneous, warm, sensitive personality. She kept Jane informed about her brother William’s progressively successful poetry writing, and would later tell her about their move to Dove Cottage, then on to Allen Bank, and Rydal Mount.
By 1793 the Pollards had moved into Ovenden Hall, where Jane was soon being courted by John Marshall, a flax mill owner from Leeds who had inherited a drapery business from his father. This firm he would build into a massive enterprise which would make him a millionaire. Marshall had been educated at Hipperholme, and Jane may well have known him from her youth: both families were Unitarian. Jane invited her childhood friend to her wedding at Halifax Parish Church in 1795, and Dorothy happily attended. Jane and John spent their honeymoon in the Lake District, then settled in Meadow Lane, Leeds. As their wealth increased, they rented New Grange mansion, Headingley; a while later buying nearby Headingley House, which they extended to accommodate their growing family – the Marshalls would have twelve children. A house in London was also purchased. Alongside her many pregnancies, Jane had to manage a large household.
She and Dorothy continued to correspond; the Wordsworths visited New Grange, and the Marshalls went to stay in the Lake District. They exchanged books, and John would advise William on landscape planting. In time, the Marshalls decided to look for an estate in the Lakes as their second home, but before they did so, they consulted Dorothy and William. Finally they bought Hallsteads, overlooking Ullswater. This house still stands, with magnificent views to the lake and mountains; it is now used as an Outward Bound centre.
Three of Jane’s Pollard sisters, Ann, Catherine and Eleanor, well known to Dorothy in her youth, never married. They lived latterly at ‘Old Church’ House near Hallsteads, purchased by John Marshall for them.
From the time that John Marshall withdrew from active involvement in his business in the 1830s, he and Jane spent most of their time at Hallsteads. Dorothy and Jane continued to correspond, and they could now visit each other regularly. Dorothy’s later years were plagued by some form of dementia, and the Marshalls appear to have contributed funds towards her care. John Marshall died in 1845, and Jane two years later; they lie buried close to the north door of pretty Watermillock Church, and Jane’s hometown of Halifax is mentioned on the memorial stone.
Dorothy Wordsworth died in 1854. She would write to many people over decades, but many consider her intimate letters to her childhood friend Jane Pollard of particular interest. Fortunately Jane kept that correspondence, and we are grateful. One of Jane’s great-grandsons was Sir Cecil Spring Rice, author of ‘I Vow to Thee, My Country.’
My thanks to many sources, including the Thoresby Society.
David C Glover November 2021