COMPOSED UPON WESTMINSTER BRIDGE, SEPTEMBER 3, 1802


Westminster Bridge is today one of the best-known bridges in London, leading from Southwark west across the River Thames to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, with views up-river towards Chelsea and down-river to St Paul's Cathedral. But the bridge and the buildings we see today from the south bank are fairly modern, and the bridge in 1802 was quite different. In the summer of that year the young poet William Wordsworth travelled with his sister Dorothy from their cottage in the Lake District in the north of England to France. 

Wordsworth was then at the height of his powers, having studied at John's College in Cambridge and then dedicated himself to his poetic talent for a decade with his sister's support. The cottage they shared in Grasmere is now a Wordsworth Museum.

On the way to France they spent a a night in London, somewhere in Westminster. On the morning of 31st July, they set off early, between 5.30am and 6am, on the stagecoach to Dover. Soon afterwards, they crossed Westminster Bridge, which was on one of the two major roads through London to the Old Kent Road which in turn led southeast to Dover. Dorothy described the scene in these words: 

"The city, St Paul's, with the river - a multitude of little boats, made a beautiful sight as we crossed Westminster Bridge; the houses not overhung by their clouds of smoke, and were spread out endlessly; yet the sun shone so brightly, with such a pure light, that there was something like the purity of one of Nature's own grand spectacles."

The poet transformed this simple scene into a powerful but apparently simple sonnet. 

                  Westminster Hall on fire, 1854

                 Westminster Hall on fire, 1854

But is was a perfection destined to last a short time, for the Industrial Revolution was in full swing. Also a catastrophic fire destroyed the old Westminster Hall in 1854. Here we see an image of the fire  with the same view that William and Dorothy  enjoyed as they looked back from the coach on reaching the south bank of the Thames. The buildings we know today, The houses of Parliament and that great symbol of London and England Big Ben rose from the ashes a few years later. 

Wordsworth himself railed against  industrialisation and the destruction of the environment. He led a campaign against bringing railways into the Lake District when everyone wanted railways. He saw a link between nature and ethics that is an important part of an environmental education. For him, solitary experiences in nature can engender a sense of fear and beauty that, properly remembered and analysed, can lead to a fuller awareness of the harmony and beauty of nature and ultimately to a reinforced moral sense. 

In simpler terms, Wordsworth believed that being aware of our environment and treating it with respect and care can make us better people. The second reading will bring the put clearly after the cultural background.


                   Wordsworth's rooms on the first floor of the first court of St John's College, Cambridge

                  Wordsworth's rooms on the first floor of the first court of St John's College, Cambridge