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By the 1840s there was a significant body of opinion (mainly among the upper classes) that nature and the countryside had an intrinsic value and should be protected. The poem was written on the opening of the railway in 1847 by one of the contracting engineers, George Heald. It is a riposte to William Wordsworth who opposed the extension of the railway from Kendal to Windemere. Wordsworth wrote to the Prime Minister, William Gladstone, in 1844 complaining that "We are in this neighbourhood all in consternation"... "that is, every man of taste and feeling, at the stir which is made for carrying a branch Railway from Kendal to the head of Windermere… When the subject comes before you officially, as I suppose it will, pray give it more attention than its apparent appearance might call for…" Wordsworth backed up his plea by enclosing a poem:

"Is there no nook of English ground secure from rash assault?
And is no nook of English ground secure
From rash assault? Schemes of retirement sown
In youth, and 'mid the busy world kept pure
As when their earliest flowers of hope were blown,
Must perish; - how can they this blight endure?
And must he too his old delights disown
Who scorns a false utilitarian lure
'Mid his paternal fields at random thrown?
Baffle the threat, bright scene, from Orrest head
Given to the pausing traveller's rapturous glance;
Plead for thy peace thou beautiful romance
Of nature; and, if human hearts be dead,
Speak, passing winds; ye torrents, with your strong
And constant voice, protest against the wrong!"

The poem was published the next day in the 'Morning Post'. Wordsworth must have thought his worst fears were being realised when there was wholesale gang warfare between English and Irish navvies. David Brookes [ref : Railway Navvy: That Despicable Race of Men] writes that in 1846 the fighting around Penrith involved 2,000 navvies and was so serious that the Westmorland and Cumberland Yeoman Cavalry were mobilised to quell the fighting. In February of 1846, Irish masons presented plaque to mayor of Kendal, it read: "United as we are throughout the kingdom, for the purpose of mutual assistance and of selling our labour at as high a rate as we can, we, from principle, never interfere with any other class of workmen, nor ever riotously assemble with the view of driving them from their work. We know of no difference in our society between Englishmen, Irishmen, or Scotchmen. But a number of us, many of whom have been induced by the contractors or their agents to come a distance of several hundreds of miles, and to bring our families with us, have lately, for no other reason than simply because we are Irishmen, been driven - actually driven from our work in this district, by a band of lawless excavators, or 'navvies'. Our houses have been ransacked, our furniture destroyed, our wives and families obliged to leave their homes, ourselves hunted and pursued as wild beasts…We are now in this town, without money, and prevented by this lawless set from returning to our employment. We consider it a very hard case to be thus treated, by men with whom we have nothing to do, and with whom we never interfere."

 

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