Mrs Unwin’s Bedroom

Find out about Mary Unwin, William’s companion, his friendships with Lady Ann Austen, William Hayley and the Rev. William Bull of Newport Pagnell through their portraits, stories and personal possessions.

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Mary Unwin, William’s lifelong companion

‘’That woman is a blessing to me, and I never see her without being the better for her company. I am treated in the family as if I was a near relation  …..’  ‘ , and her son and I are brothers.’

‘ My future expenses in the hosiery line will be small, for Mrs. Unwin knits all my stockings, and would knit my hats too, if that were possible.’

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Lady Ann Austen who inspired William to write John Gilpin and The Task

‘Lady Austen and we pass our days alternately at each other’s chateau. In the morning I  walk with one or other of the ladies, and in the afternoon wind thread. Thus did Hercules and Samson, and thus do I; and were both those heroes living, I should not fear to challenge them to a trial of skill in that business, or doubt to beat them both.’

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William Hayley, poet, essayist, dramatist, William’s friend and biographer

God grant that this friendship of ours may be a comfort to us all the rest of our days, in a world where true friendships are rarities, and especially where suddenly formed they are apt soon to terminate!’

In August 1792, Hayley was able to persuade William Cowper – accompanied by Mrs Unwin and John Johnson, Cowper’s young cousin  – to make the long journey to William Hayley’s house at Eartham, West Sussex.  Here the artist George Romney drew an informal portrait of Cowper in crayon (pastels) wearing his cap.

It was William Hayley who commissioned William Blake to paint this miniature taken from the Romney portrait from which an etching was then taken to use to illustrate Hayley’s  biography of Cowper ‘The life and letters of William Cowper, esq’.

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Miniature of William Cowper
painted by William Blake and commissioned by William Hayley

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Rev William Bull of Newport Pagnell

When John Newton left Olney,  he asked The Reverend Bull to visit Cowper.  A true friendship grew between them.

‘ a dissenter, but a liberal one; a man of letters and of genius; a master of a fine imagination, or rather not master of it—an imagination which, when he finds himself in the company he loves and can confide in, runs away with him into such fields of imagination as amuse and enliven every other imagination that has the happiness to be of the party.’

 ‘The smoke -inhaling Bull,
Always filling, never full.’

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Move on to the Olney History Room