Extract: A memorial to a Tryst of the Poets by Ian O. Brodie 

Behind and above the Museum at William Wordsworth’s Grasmere home Dove Cottage we find the celebrated, and perhaps infamous, Rock of Names. This reconstructed slab of a Lakeland volcanic outcrop used to be found, in situ, around half-way between the homes of the Wordsworths in Grasmere and that of Samuel Taylor Coleridge who at the time of the origin of the rock story lived in Keswick. Around the turn of the nineteenth century above the eastern lake shore of Thirlmere, alongside the old turnpike road, a small rocky outcrop marked a not infrequent meeting place for the friends. This trysting venue, originally referred to as Sara’s Rock became known as the Rock of Names. 

The Rock of Names was a carved roadside slab of native crag, named locally as Black Crag (12), which bore the following initials: 


  1. H. 
  2. W. 
  3. T. C.
  4. W.
  5. H.

The names are of course those of William Wordsworth, Mary Hutchinson, Dorothy Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Wordsworth, and Sara Hutchinson. The obvious omission is Coleridge’s wife also named Sara. 

A description of the original site, alongside the rough-surfaced turnpike road (now replaced on a partially new route by the A591) from Grasmere, over Dunmail Raise and near to the former lake of Thirlmere also called Leathes Water, can be found in a description by Alderman John J. Harwood, a former Chairman of Manchester City Council’s Waterworks Committee who effected the construction of the dam and reservoir. Harwood  wrote  

‘Leaving Wythburn and pursuing our journey along the road by the side of the Lake, we come to a projecting piece of dark-coloured rock, known as the “Rock of Names,” on the smooth surface of which, fronting the road, are cut the initials of distinguished poets and literary men who have visited the district - amongst others, “W.W.,” for William Wordsworth; “S. T. C.,” for Samuel Taylor Coleridge; and “I. W.,” for John Wordsworth. These initials are said to have been carved at a time when a pic-nic was held at Thirlmere, which the poets and their friends attended.’

All that remains on the original site, just above the A591 at Thirlmere, is a plaque placed close to where the Rock of Names and the ‘cairn’ used to stand. This is at Grid Reference NY320153. The plaque states: 

The Rock of Names 

Fragments of a rock on which William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and their friends had carved their initials 1801 - 1802 were preserved by Canon Rawnsley in a cairn at this spot 1886 - 1984. 

They were given by the North West Water Authority to the Dove Cottage Trust in 1984 and may be seen incorporated in a rock face behind the Grasmere and Wordsworth Museum. 

The original “Rock of Names” lay beside the lake and was blown up in constructing the much larger modern reservoir. 

We’ve made the full transcript of Ian O. Brodie’s ‘Sara’s Rock, The Rock of Names’ available on our website to read or to download at the link: