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History of Coleridge Cottage

A feather quill and an in pot on a table with a fireplace in the background, in the Second Parlour at Coleridge Cottage, Somerset
Writing desk in the Second Parlour at Coleridge Cottage | © National Trust Images / John Millar

On New Year’s Eve 1796, 24-year-old Samuel Taylor Coleridge moved his young family into a freezing, mouse-infested 'hovel' deep in the Somerset countryside. Find out how the three years that followed were the most productive, and destructive, of their lives.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Somerset

Since he was a child, Coleridge was able to captivate crowds with his charisma and power of speech. He had grown up to be a radical, supporting the ideas behind the French Revolution that was raging on the other side of the English Channel, and speaking out against slavery in Bristol, a city grown rich from the slave trade.

The people of rural Somerset were not ready for this eccentric young man who took long walks for fun along their trackways, lanes, and alongside their streams, at a time when walking recreationally was unheard of.

There was suspicion that Coleridge was helping the French find a way to invade Britain via the inlets of the Bristol Channel. In fact, he was finding inspiration from the beautiful landscape and its people for some of his most famous poetry.

Inspired by the landscape

The villages and countryside around Nether Stowey are peppered with connections to Coleridge’s poetry, and that of his friend William Wordsworth, who also briefly moved to the area.

Together, they began Lyrical Ballads, a collection of poetry which is considered by many to mark the beginning of the Romantic literary movement. With the freedom to walk, write and socialise, Coleridge had the perfect conditions to produce some incredible poetry that still inspires people today.

Two volunteer interpreters in 18th-century costumes walk down a path in the garden at Coleridge Cottage, Somerset
Exploring the garden at Coleridge Cottage | © National Trust Images / John Millar

Poems from Nether Stowey

Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the dark tale about a doomed sailor who shot an albatross and was cursed by demons, is believed to be inspired by nearby Watchet harbour.

Kubla Khan, the product of laudanum-soaked dreams, was famously interrupted by a 'person from Porlock'.

Frost at Midnight beautifully describes the interior of the cottage in Nether Stowey on a cold winter’s night, with frost creeping patterns over the window pane.

This Lime-tree Bower my Prison was written after Coleridge's foot was badly burnt by boiling milk and he was unable to join Wordsworth on countryside walks, instead only managing to hobble to a neighbour's lime-tree bower.

A new type of poetry

Coleridge’s poetry was different to anything that had been seen before. The rigid, structured poetry from the earlier period in the 1700s known as the Enlightenment, was worlds away from Coleridge’s fluid, imaginative, supernatural stories alive with exotic places and nightmarish events.

However, Coleridge’s doomed family life, revealed through the rooms of Coleridge Cottage, and an increasingly debilitating addiction to laudanum, meant he never regained the success of his time in Nether Stowey.

Those three extraordinary years, and the poems that came from them, inspired generations of poets, artists, filmmakers, musicians and even video game-makers. Coleridge Cottage is where it all began.

The cottage after Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his family left the cottage on 19 December 1799, to go and live in the Lake District.

A couple of tenants lived in the cottage immediately afterwards, including a ‘grave’ minister called Parson Cave, and an elderly lady, Miss Newton.

Not long after, still early in the 1800s, the cottage was refurbished. It was at this point the casement windows were removed, and the sash windows still in situ today were added.

The exterior of Coleridge Cottage on Lime Street, Somerset
Outside Coleridge Cottage | © National Trust Images / Andreas von Einsiedel

Moore’s Coleridge Cottage Inn

In 1861 the cottage became a carpenter’s workshop, lived in by John Moore, who later raised a mortgage to convert the cottage to an inn.

More rooms were added, the roof was raised, the thatch replaced with tiles, and the garden and orchard were divided and sold. John Moore called it ‘Moore’s Coleridge Cottage Inn’, clearly aware of the connection with Samuel Taylor Coleridge over 60 years before.  

Saved for the nation

In July 1893 a committee was formed by a group who wished to ‘save’ Coleridge Cottage from its fate as a public house. They raised money to lease the cottage for £15 a year, with an option to purchase it for £600 when the lease expired in 1908.

Led by Professor William Knight, the cottage was acquired by the National Trust in August 1909. For 100 years it was lived in by custodians, who managed the cottage and opened a limited number of rooms.

In 2011, a big restoration project took place, recovering the Georgian features in the original rooms and returning the cottage to what it may have looked like when Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived here.

The cottage today

Coleridge Cottage is a house of many faces. Bigger than it looks from the outside, its outer shell holds traces of its many lives as a 17th-century 'hovel', Victorian pub and 20th-century home.

Despite its many transformations, the restoration project in 2011 recovered the features of the cottage that Coleridge and his family would have recognised in the late 1700s. These include the original fireplace in front of which Coleridge wrote his poetry, and the 16-foot-deep well, from which the family would have drawn their water.

A close up of a notebook open on a table, full of hand written notes, at Coleridge Cottage, Somerset

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