Jane Marshall, nee Pollard (1770-1847)
Dorothy Wordsworth’s friend

Jane Marshall, nee Pollard (1770-1847)Jane Pollard was the wife of one of Leeds’ most successful and wealthy millowners with an important place in society, mother of distinguished children who made their mark in the world, and mistress of the family’s several great houses. But beyond all that she holds a special place in the literary world as the childhood friend of Dorothy Wordsworth, William Wordsworth’s sister and chronicler of their shared life.

Jane was born in 1770 in Halifax, the fifth of the six daughters of William Pollard, a prosperous cloth merchant who lived in fine style at Ovenden Hall. When she was six she made friends at school with a newly-arrived girl of her own age, Dorothy Wordsworth. Dorothy’s mother had died suddenly a few months earlier; her father was often absent on business, and so Dorothy had been sent away from Cockermouth to live with her Halifax aunt, Elizabeth Threlkeld (later Mrs Rawson). After losing her mother, she was now separated from her four beloved brothers. While she settled happily enough with her aunt, she missed her family painfully, particularly her adored brother William. Jane’s affection and the warmth of her home were a consolation, and Dorothy was to remember her nine years in Halifax as among her happiest. She and Jane shared the special intimacy of growing up together.

Dorothy left Halifax when she was fifteen, after the death of her father who had left his affairs in chaos and debt. After living with her grandparents and then her uncle she was finally reunited with her brother William in 1794 when she was 23. She was to remain with him all her life, busy caring for his children, her nieces and nephews, but never marrying. She began to write to her ‘dear, dear Jane’ straight after her departure from Halifax, her letters full of her personal and family worries but with more youthful frivolous moments too – ‘So you have got high-heeled shoes, I do not think of having them yet’. Her letters reflect her personality – spontaneous, warm, sensitive and open. Alongside ‘the secrets of my heart’, she told Jane about her life with William, then winning a reputation as a poet, and asked her views on his poems. She described their move to Dove Cottage, and later to Allen Bank and Rydal Mount, and chatted about their circle of friends: Coleridge, de Quincey, Southey.

Jane’s life was very different. In 1795 she married John Marshall, a flax millowner from Leeds who inherited a drapery business from his father and built it into a massive enterprise which made him a millionaire. She had probably known him from youth: he went to school near Halifax, he shared her father’s business interests, and both families were Unitarians. She invited Dorothy to their wedding and the couple spent their honeymoon in the Lake District. Their first home in Leeds was in Meadow Lane; then in 1805 as their wealth increased they moved to Headingley, renting the splendid New Grange mansion (still there in Beckett Park). Finally they bought nearby Headingley House (demolished c1912) which they extended to house their growing family of twelve children, numerous visitors, and a retinue of servants.

Jane, alongside her many pregnancies, had to manage a vast household, with a house in London too. She and Dorothy continued to write; there were visits from Dorothy and William Wordsworth to New Grange and by the Marshalls to the Lakes. They exchanged books, and John advised William on landscape planting. When the Marshalls decided to look for an estate in the Lakes as their second home, they consulted Dorothy and William. They finally bought an estate called Hallsteads overlooking Ullswater. Their house still stands, with magnificent views over the lake and mountains, used now as an Outward Bound centre.

Three of Jane’s five sisters never married, and after their parents’ death lived with the family in Headingley. John Marshall later bought Church House for them near Hallsteads. He and several of his sons bought further large estates in the Lakes, much of which now belongs to the National Trust. There are many examples of their benefactions and patronage around the area. When John Marshall withdrew from active involvement in the business in the 1830s they spent most of their time at Hallsteads, not far from the Wordsworths – they wrote and visited each other regularly until John Marshall’s death in 1845 and Jane’s two years later.

Dorothy’s letters and journals have provided those who love Wordsworth’s poetry and the Lakes with a unique insight into the Wordsworths’ world, and her writing is a delight in itself, imbued with her particular spirit. She wrote to many people, but her letters to her childhood friend Jane give us an intimate view of her, particularly in youth. Jane kept them and thanks to her they survive today.

Eveleigh Bradford
January 2012