Publisher: J. Watterson, Photo, A Barker & Sons, Printers, Wirkworth
The novelist, George Eliot (1819-1890) used the town of Wirksworth as her inspiration for her book “Adam Bede”. Indeed there are number of associations with the town throughout her literary career, for instance the Haarlem Mill opposite has been suggested as the location for her novel “The Mill on the Floss”. The actual inspiration of “Adam Bede’s cottage” remains disputed with some scholars claiming the novels location is in fact the village of Ellastone on the Staffordshire/Derbyshire border where Eliot’s father lived.
This cottage is where Samuel Evans and his wife Elizabeth came to live around 1814. George Eliot, whose real name was Mary Ann Evans, and was their niece, came to stay with her aunt and uncle in 1826. Wirksworth made such an impression on Eliot that she wrote her novel renaming the town “Snowfield”. The origin of the plot came from Eliot’s aunt, who had visited a young girl in Nottingham Prison. This girl, Hetty Sorrel had been condemned to death for the murder of her child. Aunt Elizabeth stayed with Hetty the night before the execution and they prayed together.
Eliot’s novel “Adam Bede” was published in 1859. The story’s plot follows four characters’ rural lives in the fictional community of Hayslope – a rural, pastoral and close-knit community in 1799. The novel revolves around a love “rectangle” among beautiful but self-absorbed Hetty Sorrel; Captain Arthur Donnithorne, the young squire who seduces her; Adam Bede, her unacknowledged suitor; and Dinah Morris, Hetty’s cousin, a fervent, virtuous and beautiful Methodist lay preacher. Hetty after tryst with Donnithorne, agrees to marry Adam but shortly before their marriage, discovers she is pregnant.
Unwilling to return to the village on account of the shame and ostracism she would have to endure, she delivers her baby with the assistance of a friendly woman she encounters. She subsequently abandons the baby in a field but not being able to bear the child’s cries, she tries to retrieve the baby. However, she is too late, the child having already died of exposure. Hetty is caught and tried for child murder. She is found guilty and sentenced to hang…
More photographs of “Adam Bede’s Cottage are available on the Wirksworth Parish Records.