The Brontë Parsonage

This week, I have a friend from home visiting.

We are both avid readers (in fact Laini has blogged for LBC in the past) and have a particular soft spot for the wild gothic stories drawn up by Charlotte, Emily and Anne.

Visiting the place that kindled their imaginations and provided the backdrop for their tales has been on the to-do list for at least the last five years (probably longer to be honest).

And for at least 5 years, that goal has been unfulfilled.

It’s become a bit of a joke, actually, between our nearest and dearest. When my mum bumped into my besties partner in town last week, they had a right old laugh at our restated ambition to make it to Brontë country.

Well – spurred on by their gentle mockery, – we’ve finally made it!

Haworth is a small village some ten miles odd west of Bradford. It is beautiful and remote and – aside from the Brontë connection – is famous for its steam train, steampunk festival and was the setting for the 1970’s The Railway Children (which Jess and I walked a few years ago).

We parked near the station (£2 for a full days parking – BARGAIN!) and walked up Butt Lane (attempting not to snigger and failing miserably) and through the park to find ourselves stepping into a street that felt paused in time.

We sauntered past tea rooms and shops full of beautiful scents and colourful couture; all with gorgeous older-era looking façade’s. The book shops we tended to stop into – what a shock – however, we had a fixed destination in mind and slowly but surely we creeped over the cobbles ever closer to the Parsonage.

While the children were born in nearby Thornton; the Brontë family moved to Haworth in 1820.

There was the fiery and determined educator Patrick, his wife Maria (theirs was a love at first sight situation) and their six children – Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, only son Branwell, Emily and Anne.

Please read this page for the full details of how and why they moved – it is completely mental. Here’s a quote to convince you it’s worthwhile

They later send a drunken chimney sweep on the back of a donkey to confront him, and then chase him out of the church with such threats of violence that he has to flee on horseback.

This is in relation to choosing their priest!

Sadly, there was essential wiring upgrades happening in the church, so we were unable to visit it – but we reckon that’s an excellent reason for coming back soon!

From Wikipedia

The Parsonage itself was bigger than Laini had expected – though for a family of 8, it would still have been a squish.

Similarly internet sourced – it was pouring!

We bought our tickets from the museum shop (absolutely lovely gentile chap who couldn’t hide his enthusiasm for the history of the area and mentioned their latest project – to bring one of Charlottes ‘little books’ home – HERE. Making the point that if returned to Haworth, it will be put on display, not hidden away).

And indeed, we were thrilled to see one of the surviving ‘ little books’ (5 of 6 are known to exist) on display.

A more detailed look

Anyway, by 1820, the family had moved in, with baby Anne only 3 months old. Shortly afterwards, tragedy struck and Maria nee Branwell (Mrs Brontë) had died. Her sister Aunt Elizabeth had moved in to assist with the brood.

According to the notes on the wall, Patrick made 3 attempts to remarry (in one case, he wrote to an old flame to check if she was still single. Sounds like his heart was really into it {sarcasm}) before giving it up as a bad job and the austere Aunt Elizabeth remained on permanently.

Patrick sent his two eldest girls to Cowan Bridge school, followed shortly afterwards by Charlotte and Emily. As the only boy, Branwell was to be educated by his father at home.

By 1824, Maria was withdrawn due to deteriorating health. She died of TB in mid-May. 15 days later, Elizabeth was similarly withdrawn. According to Wikipedia “Over the following six months, one girl was to die at school and twenty more, one third of the roll, were withdrawn ill, and six of them died soon afterwards.” Elizabeth died six weeks after her sister.

Charlotte heavily relied upon her memories of this unhappy, abusive place to create Lowood School in Jane Eyre.

I trust it goes without saying that we read Every Single Word in Every Single Room. We absorbed as much information as we possibly could and – I think – are bigger fans and more determined to read and re-read all their works than when we walked up. I shall attempt NOT to include every detail here…but really, everything was just fascinating!

The surviving siblings, including a scrubbed out Branwell. Which seems oddly prescient of him.

Due to his centenary in 2017, there was a heavy emphasis placed on the only boy and self professed family disappointment Branwell.

Simon Armitage has recreated his room, written poems based on his belongings and explored the devastating reality of being perceived as his families hope and then grotesquely failing to live up to that potential.

It paints a more sympathetic portrayal than I have come across before (as I was deeply resentful of attempts to elevate his importance at the expense of his sisters in the past).

Still, given he does an alcoholic, I felt the gift shop was being a bit harsh…

We had such a fantastic trip. The Parsonage has so many treasures and treats. Atmospherically, it was cold, wet, misty, slippery and bleak – just PERFECT for us.

All kidding aside, as we trekked up and down the stone streets, it was so easy to understand the importance of the geography to the sisters. Haworth and Yorkshire are embedded into the stories.

As a post script, when we popped into a small second hand book shop and gift shop, we met a lady who was filled with local knowledge as her great great great great grandfather ran the local post office, during the Brontë’s time.

She reckons that the sisters, determined to keep their writing identities secret, would have traveled to Keighley with their manuscripts, rather than posted them locally.

And told us that Patrick Brontë was very well respected as he genuinely wanted to better the lives of his parishioners – in one notable case, he recommended that they stop dressing their very young children in wool, while they were housebound as it was so flammable. He had buried over 100 bairns who died due to their clothing catching alight 😳😱

A hugely successful day trip and one we can finally tick off the trello board. Though now that we’ve been, I suspect we will go back (perhaps on a slightly less cold, wet and windy day) to explore further!