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Monday, 29 June 2015

Mad, bad and dangerous to know..

IMS writes:
Lady Caroline Lamb, wife of Prime Minister, the 2nd Viscount Melbourne, took the risk when she became acquainted with Lord Byron. The Caroline Lamb who I know is certainly not dangerous to know but she is, as well as being a writer and producer, artistic director with the Dangerous to Know Theatre Company based in Manchester.

Caroline Lamb
I first met Caroline in her native Sedbergh and during our conversation it was evident that she had a great admiration and enthusiasm for everything Brontë. I met Caroline again recently in the convivial surroundings of Cobbles and Clay in Haworth. Wearing a top with Emily Brontë’s famous words emblazoned on the front, and being on the last leg of a one hundred and thirty mile walk, Caroline certainly is not in possession, either, of a cowardly soul! She has written a play - The Dissolution of Percy - about the last years of Branwell Brontë - which deals with his failed love affair and it is a drama about double standards and gender politics. Percy was the family name of the Earl of Northangerland who featured in the Brontë children’s Angrian stories.

Caroline, on her walk, has followed in the steps of Branwell, starting in Broughton in Furness where he was for a very short time, in 1840, tutor in the Poslethwaite household. Her walk led her to Kendal from where Branwell may have written a letter to his friend John Brown and then on to Cowan Bridge where four of his sisters went to school. From there it was on to Gargrave, beside the banks of the River Aire, where Frances Mary Currer had lived at Eshton Hall and also Robert Storey who was known as the ‘Craven Poet’. Storey was published in the Yorkshire newspapers at the same time as Branwell Brontë was having success in that direction. Caroline had a long trek then to Halifax and then on to Leeds before arriving in Haworth via Thornton.

At every venue she had given readings from the Brontës’ poetry and prose and  also items from individuals who have been inspired by them- including  a piece of writing which fires the imagination with how a second novel by Emily may have begun.  The evening in Haworth ended with three Brontë poems- the first was Life by Charlotte which perhaps shows that the spirit can bounce back from adversity. The second poem was Farewell written by Anne after the death of the well regarded curate at Haworth, William Weightman. No Brontë readings would be complete without hearing Emily’s great poem No Coward Soul is Mine and this is how a very pleasant evening ended.

The appreciative audience wished Caroline, who will take the part of Emily Brontë, all the very best as the play gets nearer to its first performance.

To echo Charlotte’s words as Caroline prepares for her final stage of her journey walking over the bleak moors from Haworth to Sowerby Bridge-

Oft a little morning rain foretells a pleasant day. I hope so.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

June Weekend - excursion to Plymouth Grove

The journey to Manchester was a little hot and dusty- but otherwise pleasant enough - Charlotte Bronte July 1851.

Isobel Stirk writes:

Our journey on the Brontë Society’s excursion to Manchester was certainly pleasant. It took us through some beautiful Lancashire countryside with the brooding Pendle Hill lurking in the background and soon our driver was skilfully negotiating the busy traffic of Manchester and we arrived at our destination- Plymouth Grove.

Plymouth Grove
I had visited the home of Charlotte’s friend, Elizabeth Gaskell, a few years ago and as we disembarked, and made our way towards the front door, I did wonder if on that previous occasion I may have imbibed too much in the White Lion the night before as in my memory the house had been a bright pink. All was revealed as our very knowledgeable and charming guides gave us a tour of the house and explained how the house had had a complete refurbishment. I was relieved to hear that, when used as student accommodation for the university, it had indeed been painted pink!

I feel it is not surprising that Charlotte Brontë and Elizabeth Gaskell became good friends because listening to our guide I realised that there are quite a few similarities between them. Elizabeth Gaskell (Stevenson) was only a baby when her mother died and of course we know that Charlotte had very little recollection of her own mother. Both were taken care of by their mothers’ sisters and both were sent away to boarding schools run by maiden ladies. In Elizabeth’s case the Miss Byerleys in Warwickshire, for Charlotte the Woollers at Roe Head. Elizabeth would have empathised with Charlotte as she too had suffered the loss of loved ones in quick succession. Her brother disappeared on a sea voyage and then within a very short time her father died.

The Parsonage at Haworth was home to many animals wild and domestic - the famous Keeper and Flossy, the hawk Nero, a little black cat and two tame geese. At Plymouth Grove Mrs Gaskell was very keen to recreate a little of the   gentle town of Knutsford, where she spent her formative years, and in Manchester she created gardens for fresh produce and keptchickens. Plymouth Grove is very much set out like the Parsonage at Haworth and in the rooms we saw quite a few original items and things contemporary to the Gaskell’s time there. Just as at the Parsonage scrapings had been taken from walls, scraps of wallpaper discovered and then these papers were specially recreated by experts and now line the walls.

It was interesting to hear one or two stories about Charlotte’s time at Plymouth Grove:

I mounted into the window-seat: gathering up my feet, I sat cross-legged, like a Turk; and, having drawn the red moreen curtain nearly close, I was shrined in double retirement Jane Eyre. Chapter 1.

Maybe the bashful Charlotte took a lead from her heroine for, when on a visit to Plymouth Grove and unable to face a caller, she took refuge behind the curtains in the drawing room and did not reappear until they had left. In one of the rooms we were shown a facsimile of a manuscript of Wives and Daughters. We saw the last word Mrs Gaskell ever wrote - ‘shawl’ - for she died before the novel was finished. Here again is another Brontë connection for the work was completed by Frederick Greenwood. Greenwood was at one time joint editor of the Cornhill Magazine with G.H.Lewes, whom Charlotte met, and then he went on to be sole editor for four years. He was the first editor of the evening newspaper The Pall Mall Gazette which had been founded by George Murray Smith, Charlotte’s publisher and friend.

The house boasts a delightful tea room and we were offered tea or coffee and delicious cakes. We were told that when Charlotte was in residence there she asked, one evening, to be served only black tea as green tea made her very restless. Mrs Gaskell was in somewhat of a dilemma as the only tea they had was a mixture of both. She did not inform Charlotte of this but when asked next morning if she had slept well Charlotte answered very much in the affirmative. After partaking of this mouth- watering repast it was time to move on from this house which had been restored so well and sensitively- with not a touch of pink in sight!

I am not familiar with Manchester so as our coach took us back towards the city centre I did wonder if we would go anywhere near Boundary Street West which is about a mile from Plymouth Grove. In the District Ward of Hulme Boundary Street was formerly known as Mount Pleasant and this is where Charlotte and Patrick stayed when he was recovering from his cataract operation.

We had a very brief time in the city centre and then went on to Whitworth Art Gallery. This gallery was opened in 1889- a gallery within Whitworth Park, a delightful setting away from the hustle and bustle of the busy city. There were many paintings to gaze at and admire - from the Brontës' contemporary J.M. W Turner and works by John Ruskin and Holman Hunt to the more modern portraits by Francis Bacon and David Hockney. We passed through galleries resplendent with the photography of Johnnie Shand Kydd and a wallpaper installation by Sarah Lucas. It was interesting to read that Cornelia Parker had featured at the Whitworth : Brontë Society members may recall that this Turner prize nominated artist had an exhibition at the Parsonage in 2006.   It took a fascinating, detailed, look at Brontë items - blood on Anne’s handkerchief, blots on blotting paper, locks of hair.

It was time to re-board the coach and we were soon going from Red to White Rose country. Passing through the little village of Cowling I glanced to the left and saw Stone Gappe House basking in the early evening sunlight. During her brief sojourn there perhaps the unhappy Charlotte had looked out of one of the windows longing to be over the moors in Haworth. We were happy to be heading back there but perhaps a little sad that this would herald the end of a wonderful day out, and we would soon be parting from good friends. The Brontë weekend was over for another year.  

Sunday, 7 June 2015

June Weekend - Simon Armitage

Poetry today has many forms and styles, not always connected with the generation of the practitioner, though Simon Armitage is often described in words and sentiments similar to those employed by Melvyn Bragg in his New Statesman review of the recently-published Paper Aeroplane: Selected Poems 1989 - 2014 - "...he has established himself as the poet of his generation". Although most of us on Saturday evening in the West Lane Baptist Centre, Haworth's best and only intimate theatre space, could have been said to be of another generation, possibly that of Sir Geoffrey Hill at the other end of some kind of poetry spectrum, Armitage charmed, entertained and moved us with enormous success. He was accessible, utterly intelligible and above all funny. He must be the poet of our generation as well.

He introduced his new memoir Walking Away, revisited poems written a couple of decades ago, spoke about the differences between walking the Pennine Way, where mists can be a menace and where you need to carry a good map, and the coastal walk from Minehead to the tip of Cornwall, where you do not get lost unless you turn sharply to the right, about the town of Marsden, where he was brought up, his father, and about inspiration. We got it. We laughed. We loved him.

June Weekend - Emily Brontë and Beethoven

Ken Forrest       Photo by Richard Wilcocks
Current chair of the Brontë Society Alexandra Lesley sang a Lied (in English) and read selections from the work of Emily Brontë, and extracts from the music of Beethoven were played with great panache on the Parsonage piano by Isabelle Oehmichen on Friday 5 June.

This was followed by a fascinating talk on the potential influence of Beethoven on Emily's literary creativity by John Hennessy. Is there anything written on this topic in German? Gibt es etwas über dieses Thema in Deutsch geschrieben?

Two sonatas in particular - the Pathétique and the Appassionata - can provide parallels in terms of form and content to passages in Wuthering Heights. 

The rare cabinet piano in the Parsonage, which Emily would have played, was tuned before the recital by the man who restored it - the illustrious Ken Forrest.

June Weekend - Brontës and War

Emma Butcher                Photo by Richard Wilcocks
Emma Butcher, based at the University of Hull, is the co-curator of the current exhibition in the Parsonage, which is entitled The Brontës, War and Waterloo, and her lecture on Friday 5 June was complementary to it. At first sight, the topic might seem thin, but it was made very clear that there is a lot in there! As it says in the leaflet for the Museum's current  Contemporary Arts Programme: Ferocious battles and violent, military men dominate the landscape of Charlotte and Branwell's juvenilia...  Emma Butcher looks more closely at the military material the Brontës read...

The aftermath of the Napoleonic wars seems to have been much more drawn-out and traumatic than a glance at standard histories might convey: the young Brontës were developing when many returned soldiers were still at a loose end, on reduced pay - "it was no easy ride for them back in Yorkshire", we were told. French soldiers too - thousands of prisoners of war were turned out of their prisons, to wander about the country in a state of confusion, picking up small jobs where they could. And did Charlotte and Emily ever get to see that famous battlefield at Waterloo, not far from Brussels - possible, probable... highly likely? Certainly, Charlotte was given a fragment of Napoleon's coffin - it's in the exhibition. And the children and their Wellington-fixated father had plenty of access to military news and reminiscences in newspapers and magazines.

Terror by Branwell 1830

It was not just the  1829 gift of toy soldiers to Branwell: the children were surrounded by real, close-to-home conflicts and memories of recent atrocities - the Luddites, the deadly attack on civilians by sabre-equipped yeomanry at Peterloo. Their juvenile fantasies were well-fed.

"The violent, masculine landscapes of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre can be traced back to the Brontës' early engagement with militarism and warfare," we were told. A strong case was made.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

June Weekend 2015

Warmth and sunshine for the annual weekend in Haworth - a chance for old friends from all over the world to meet, for connections to be re-established and for decisions to be made.  This was the Parsonage yesterday - everything in the garden beginning to bud and bloom.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Virginia Rushton

Virginia Rushton, who died recently, was a well-known and very hard-working member of the Brontë Society who will be greatly missed. A singer, she was also well-known in the world of music, and was largely responsible for an extraordinary operatic project for schools in 2006 entitled The Wind on the Moor. It was featured on this blog and can be accessed here:

This obituary appeared a few days ago:

More to follow.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters

Sally Wainwright
Keep your eyes open for the BBC's new Brontë-based television drama by BAFTA Award-winning Sally Wainwright, well-known for Happy Valley and Last Tango in Halifax.  A few details can be found here.

The two-hour drama is currently entitled To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters. Charlotte Moore, controller of BBC One commented: “The Bronte sisters have always been enigmatic, but Sally Wainwright’s brilliantly authentic new BBC One drama brings the women behind some of our greatest literary masterpieces to life. It’s an extraordinary tale of family tragedy and their passion and determination, against the odds, to have their genius recognized in a male nineteenth century world.”

It will be produced by BBC Drama Wales, but filmed in Yorkshire. Of course.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Glasstown, Angria and War

Coming to listen to Emma Butcher from the University of Hull (pictured) on the first day of the June weekend?

She's on at 3pm Friday 5 June. You might like to read her fascinating, well-illustrated blog article (from last August) as a preview of her talk - just click here. It's entitled Making sense of war in Charlotte and Branwell Brontë's Juvenilia.

'What your favorite Brontë sister says about you'

Here's an interesting blog piece written by Deborah Lutz, sent by American member Paul Danigellis (US Region 3), which seems to assume that Brontë writings are just for women. Deborah Lutz is the author of The Brontë Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects . Contact her if you want to say which sister you identify with most. The blog can be accessed by clicking here.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Bad Boy Branwell

Click here if you want to stay at  Ponden Hall - a 'real-life Wuthering Heights'.

The Dissolution of Percy

Click here for the company's blog - see the rest of the production photos

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Haworth History Tour

Richard Wilcocks writes:
The text on the back cover of this useful little book of historic photographs seems at first sight to contradict that of the introduction inside: “Behind the tourist village of today lies a long history of people making a living from the uncompromising moorland of this area” and “It is a Pennine village that made its living from farming, stone quarrying and textile manufacture.” That is, until you remember that the village goes back a thousand years. Tourists, especially the Brontë enthusiasts amongst them, tend to bear the moorland in mind rather than the industry, perhaps for obvious reasons.

The book could easily be slipped into a coat pocket or handbag, and used by anyone who does not feel like toiling up to Top Withins or sipping tea in cafés but who does want to know something about local history which is not necessarily linked to the Parsonage. Sensible shoes are needed, and possibly a strong interest in the industrial revolution, because many of the places depicted in it are from the nineteenth century. Some of them no longer exist.

West End Quarry, for example, one of four on Penistone Hill, is now a series of grassy humps, and Well Street – so called from three large water troughs that used to be there – was “another casualty of clearance mania”, possibly not an unfortunate casualty, because the water was so foul that even the cattle refused to drink it.

Many buildings have hardly changed at all over the years, for example The Black Bull, and it is good to find little snippets of information connected with it like “Max Beerbohm took lunch here with Thomas Hardy’s widow in 1931.” It was also good to find so many interesting people mentioned, for example Manasseh Hollindrake, who ran a draper’s shop at number 111 Main Street from 1860 to 1897. One old photo which is likely to be familiar to Brontë Society members is that of the old church, most of which (except for the ancient tower) was built in 1755. The current one dates from 1881.

There is a useful map in the first few pages as well.

Haworth History Tour by Steven Wood and Ian Palmer
Amberley Publishing
ISBN 978 1 4456 4627 5 (print)

ISBN 978 1 4456 4628 2 (ebook)

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Juliet Barker at Headingley Library

Juliet Barker is well known and respected amongst Brontë Society members, a few of whom were in Headingley Library (Leeds) on Monday. She is on a promotional tour for her latest historical work England Arise - The People The King and The Great Revolt of 1381 and the event was the result of a partnership between Leeds Libraries and the Headingley LitFest, an annual feast of literature which is still in progress. Read about it on the LitFest's daily blog here -

Wuthering Heights at the Rondo Theatre, Larkhall

Butterfly Psyche Theatre
"This passionate and destructive relationship that transcends death is a true gothic success and makes for great theatre. The fine directing from Ian McGlynn captures the wit and fun of childhood antics, switching in a breath to the passionate love of two tortured souls. This is a fine piece of drama the casting is spot on, both performances complement each other well and talent is in abundance."

So writes Petra Schofield in her Bath Chronicle review of a production (the second in a trilogy) from Butterfly Psyche and Live Wire theatre. The adaptation is by Dougie Blaxland. Actors Alison Campbell and Jeremy Fowlds are a delight to watch "morphing in and out of the various cameo roles".

(Thanks to Rondo Theatre and Paul Daniggelis for alerting the blog)

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Wuthering Heights... a new musical?

Richard Wilcocks writes:
I am very impressed by what I have heard of a new musical adaptation of Wuthering Heights by Catherine McDonald. She is currently working with a UK producer to get the show into theatres, so good luck with that! What do readers of this blog think of the musical arrangement and a voice which I would describe as rich and forceful? I heard her singing in the Parsonage nearly five years ago (in June 2010) and was struck by her vocal skills. You can hear three sample songs on YouTube:

The theme song Wuthering Heights, sung by Nelly, Catherine Linton and Hareton (at the graves) and the entire company of ghosts.  
A love ballad, Face to the Rain between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff. 
And a big solo number Beyond the Garden Wall sung by the sixteen year old Catherine Linton.
Go to 

You could comment on YouTube - or here, by clicking on the word 'comments' underneath this post.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015


Jacob Wandel writes:
A typical label (early 20C)
Laudanum in the nineteenth century was the rough equivalent of the skunk marijuana smoked by so many people in the present day, but more dangerous. 

A recent article in the cooking supplement of last Saturday's Guardian (7 March) by Henry Jeffreys was about laudanum, not as an ingredient for your next pudding, I must add. 

Under a line which refers to the famous quotation by Karl Marx - 'In Britain, the opium of the people was not religion, it was simply laudanum', he gives evidence of what many Brontë Society members will probably know already: that the red-brown liquid, powdered opium (ten percent) dissolved in alcohol, its extreme bitterness offset by various spices and additives, could be purchased in most pharmacies during the nineteenth century, and that its use was widespread. Jeffreys makes it clear that it was everywhere. Branwell was just one of countless others who used it frequently.

Apparently, according to the article, it was not mainly in the big industrial slums where it was used. The Morning Chronicle in 1850 referred to the 'opium-eating city of Ely' and Thomas De Quincy (Confessions of an English Opium-Eater) described Lancashire towns 'loaded with little laudanum-vials, even to the hundreds, for the accommodation of customers retiring from the workshops on Saturday night". Gee's Linctus, a cough medicine which was available well into the twentieth century (older members may remember it) was made with opium, and that great household manager Isabella Beeton featured recipes for various remedies made with opium, in her famous book. Mary Shelley's character, Victor Frankenstein, used it to help him sleep.

I am now wondering how many others in nineteenth century Haworth would have bought laudanum to ease their pains, help them forget their woes or to finish themselves off.  Is there a scholar who has done the counting?

Monday, 9 March 2015

The Lost Child by Caryl Phillips

Thanks to US member Paul Daniggelis from Texas for sending us this link to a review of the new book from Caryl Phillips,  The Lost Child, a reweaving of the Wuthering Heights story.

Friday 1 May, 7pm West Lane Centre, Haworth
Novelist Caryl Phillips visits Haworth to discuss his new novel The Lost Child. Phillips boldly re-imagines Wuthering Heights in 1960s Leeds in a haunting novel about migration, social exclusion and the difficulties of family.
In association with the University of Central Lancashire.
Tickets £6 and should be booked in advance by clicking here or phoning 01535 640188.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

'The Dissolution of Percy' - in Salford

Caroline Lamb writes:
A rehearsed reading of a work entitled The Dissolution of Percy is planned for the Kings Arms Theatre in Salford, Manchester, for January next year. It is about the final three years of Branwell Brontë's life. The company producing it is hoping to take it on a tour which might include Haworth - it depends on the Arts Council funding.

Performance dates are Sunday 25 and Monday 26 January 2015, both at 7:30pm.
Tickets are free, and are currently available here
Here is the official media release:

Lydia has never been interested in searching for love, but, gnawed by loneliness and physical frustration, and immobilized by her station, companionship and release must be had, and soon. Branwell, a young tutor and amateur writer, is haunted by a history of creative and vocational failures. He struggles to fulfill his duties, pursue his ambitions and maintain a hold of his remaining good sense due to a growing attachment to alcohol and an intense, obsessive infatuation with his master’s wife: Lydia. Glowing ecstasy and violent sorrows, real and imagined, batter the mismatched individuals each in turn, but, all the while, something secretive and wonderful is happening back at Branwell’s family home. His three sisters have begun work of their own. But perhaps that’s of no importance.

The Dissolution of Percy tackles a notorious series of historical events reflecting the surprising lack of evolution in gender politics between the nineteenth century and the modern day. The pressure and emotional toll of high expectations dropped on young male shoulders, and the crippling effect of an unrealistic sense of entitlement on men in this “man’s world”, are exposed. Can a woman’s worth be measured by her relationships? Can a man’s be measured by any demonstrative display of masculinity? What is the definition of “success” or “failure” for a male versus a female? The Dissolution of Percy plunges its audience into a world balanced in stark counterpoint between high, violent passions, steady, grim pragmatism and gallows humour, to explore matters still fiercely debated today.

Donations will be invited, to be divided equally between venue and company, and the audience will be urged to linger (at the bar?) to discuss the play after the show.

Monday, 1 December 2014

President's Advisory Group

Brontë Society President Bonnie Greer is to form a new President's Advisory Group to discuss new ideas, refresh the work of the Society and create firmer links with Haworth residents. The group will include Helen Boaden, director of BBC Radio, and a former producer with Radio Leeds.

Read what she told Yorkshire Post reporter Andrew Robinson (and see her briefly on video) in today's issue.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

"I don't do snooty" - Bonnie Greer

Bonnie Greer, president of the Brontë Society, responding to a comment in the Yorkshire Post from a member that she might in some way be stand-offish or even 'snooty' - ironically a word often employed by Americans when describing a certain kind of English person, made the following statement to the newspaper:

“One of the reasons that I accepted the Presidency is not only because I love the work of the Brontës, but because both the members and the Council have been welcoming and supportive. And because of Yorkshire - the people and the region. I’ve been London-centered for all of my almost thirty years in this country. So to get away from the south east bubble to somewhere “real” - to me that’s great!
One of the reasons I love Yorkshire is because I, too, don’t do “snooty” and “snobby”. I never have, don’t now, and never will. And believe me, if I felt that there was an atmosphere like that around me, I’d be out of there.

I’m not the executive. I don’t manage the day to day running of the museum, but I am the President. I chair the AGM and in between spread the good news of these great literary sisters...especially to young people and diverse communities who may feel that the Brontës hold nothing for them. My first Brontë encounter at an event at the Museum was with a Bradford official, a Muslim man with daughters. We talked about Patrick Brontë and how he allowed his daughters to write. And the man I was talking to was also a father of daughters and was very moved by Patrick’s story - as I am. Next to Emily, he’s the Bronte I connect with the most. He promised to bring his daughters to the Museum.

It is these kind of synergies and interfaces which are crucial for all literary societies going forward in the twenty-first century, not just ours.

Almost all literary societies must become younger, more global, more outward-looking, more diverse, more in touch with the digital world, more able to find interesting “off-piste” connections with classic work. And this looking towards the future is just one of the things I find exciting and full of possibility as the Brontë Society heads toward the bicentenaries.

This going forward is the kind of thing – along with other initiatives , too - that most of us are doing, or trying to do. I love our present membership and curators and staff at the Museum are excellent. And my London-born husband has fallen in love with Haworth and the moors. We both have!”

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

I have just returned from a visit to Ponden Hall

IMS writes:
1801- I have just returned from a visit to my landlord.
Wuthering Heights is the name of Mr Heathcliff’s dwelling.

 2014- I have just returned from a visit to Ponden Hall. I had left my car at the bottom of the hill and as I approached the house a light shone from a small mullioned window. Mist was floating, as cotton wool, over the waters of Ponden Reservoir, the sky was black and a little rain had begun to fall. 

I thought of the three small Brontë children, Branwell, Emily and Anne, with their servant Sarah Garrs, hurrying from the high moors, in 1824, towards the safety of the porch at Ponden Hall, where the Heaton famly  lived, as a thunderstorm raged above whilst they were out walking. The Crow Hill Bog had burst which sent a great wall of stones, mud and debris more than a mile down the moors.

The lighting flasht, the thunderstorm crasht and its tremendous bowels burst. ( sic)  Words from a poem relating to the eruption by John Nicholson, ‘The Airedale Poet’.
I thought also of Patrick anxiously looking out of an upstairs window at the Parsonage awaiting their return. As he heard a deep distant explosion, something different from thunder, and felt a tremor in the window from which he was looking, how thankful he would have felt when he heard that they had escaped the worst of the deluge and were all safe at Ponden. 

I reached the safety of the Hall before the rain really came down, passed a plaque above the porch which said the house, whose origins were in the 1500s and 1600s, had been refurbished in 1801 by Robert Heaton and remembered the words in Chapter One of Wuthering Heights:  above the principal door I detected the date ‘1500’ and the name ‘Hareton Earnshaw.’

Is it mere coincidence that Hareton is an anagram of R. Heaton?

I received a warm welcome from Julie and Steve who own the property and was thrilled to be inside the house with its many Bronte connections. I was there to ‘take tea with Mrs Bronte’- well not exactly but to hear expert Angela Crow speak about Maria Branwell who left Cornwall when she married the Reverend Patrick Bronte in 1812. A few people sat in front of the fireplace, a fireplace which Branwell is said to have sketched, others sat around a long table. 

Angela gave an informative talk about the Brontës ( Pruntys) who had humble beginnings in Ireland and also about the Branwells. The Branwells were a respected family who were merchants in Penzance and Angela gave everyone a flavour of what it was like in a Cornish fishing town at the time and gave an insight into Mrs Brontë’s early life there.

Seated at the table eating an absolutely delicious afternoon tea, provided by Julie, I recalled the story of Emily taking tea at Ponden and how, much to the embarrassment of her host, a dog was giving birth to puppies under the very table at which they were sitting. I am sure Emily would not have cared a jot about that! Very much replete – the veritable feast had included ham sandwiches with lavender cheese, pound cake with raspberries, plum cake, almond pancakes- we were then given a tour of the house.
Upstairs we were led into a large beamed room.

I fastened the door and glanced round for the bed. The whole furniture consisted of a chair, a clothes-press and a large oak case with squares cut out near the top- resembling coach windows. I looked inside and perceived it to be a singular sort of old fashioned couch. It fact it formed a little closet and the ledge of a window which it enclosed served as a table.

Julie explained that they had commissioned a box bed to be made for this room and its position and style were exactly the same as the one described by Mr Lockwood which he had found in the room Zillah allocated to him at Wuthering Heights.

I imagined how it would be very warm and cosy on a cold winter’s night, with the wind howling down the chimney, enclosed in that bed. In this room, also, was a window which Emily had drawn when she was about ten which portrays a broken pane of glass with a hand. Thoughts of the story of Wuthering Heights forming in her mind even at such a young age?

 We then moved on to the room which had been the library in the Bronte’s time and which was supposed to be the finest library in the West Riding and included a Shakespeare’s First Folio. Julie pointed out the actual shelves from which the Brontës could have selected books.  She told us that when the last Heaton died, a bachelor in 1898, the books, which would all have a Ponden Hall plate inside, were sold in the market in Keighley and those unpurchased were used to wrap vegetables.

 Another large upstairs room illustrated how the house had altered down the centuries, for it was quite easy to see what had once been outside walls. In the 1600s a two storey peat loft had been built. In the upper storey the peat was dried from the heat rising from the cattle which were housed below. In 1801 when the dwelling was refurbished a new section of house was built between the main one and the peat loft. It has long been thought that Ponden Hall was the setting for Thrushcross Grange in Emily Brontë’s masterpiece but it was remarked upon that there are certainly many similarities  to the Earnshaw’s old home- Wuthering Heights- within the house. What a really superb afternoon- Julie and Steve were wonderful hosts and Angela had given an interesting picture of the family and place of birth Maria left behind to marry the man she loved We had heard about lives and cultures in three differing places- Ireland, Cornwall and Yorkshire but places all drawn together by writers who produced some of the greatest novels in the English Language. 

Monday, 6 October 2014

Tea with Mrs Brontë

Here is the leaflet for this event. Brontë Society members who have not yet seen Ponden Hall will get a conducted tour. There is now a box bed there - as in Wuthering Heights - built in one of the bedrooms, where the original one was situated until the 1920s. Four rooms are available for Bed and Breakfast. Just a handful of tickets left!

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Branwell at Luddendenfoot

Poet Simon Zonenblick (pictured) showed a preview of his new forty-five minute video about Branwell Brontë this afternoon, in Thornton. The upstairs room of the chic little vegetarian café in South Square was full of people who turned out to be terrifyingly knowledgeable about the young man who is often seen simply as a boozer who was fond of opium, but Zonenblick was not in any way daunted when he answered their questions afterwards. According to the video, which is mainly about his time as a railway clerk at Luddendenfoot, just up from recently-industrialised Sowerby Bridge, Branwell wrote plenty of tolerable verse when he was not busy with account books, and produced a number of  reasonably good paintings. We saw some of these - a Jacob's ladder with angels, reminiscent of Blake, a landscape in which it was not clear whether the sun was rising or setting, a moonlit scene with a bridge over a canal, a figure which could be from a dream or nightmare entitled The Lamplighter... according to one of the people interviewed by Zonenblick, Branwell's landscapes are ethereal, all about "the spaces between places". The poets of today who meet regularly in Calderdale pubs consider themselves to be Branwell's descendants, to some extent, and some of his poems were read by them with great respect, especially the ones dealing with death and burial.

Daphne du Maurier was mentioned (The Infernal World of Branwell Brontë) in relation to his fascination for the wild bargemen, and there is an amusing sequence where people in a pub attempt to write their name on a piece of paper with right and left hands simultaneously. None of them did very well, but Branwell earned drinks in The Black Bull when he wrote words down like that - Greek with the left and Latin with the right.

But enough! The video has yet to receive its final additions and subtractions, and what we saw was really work in progress. It will be more widely available in the new year. The event was organised by Angela Crow-Woods, who marshalled the audience to another café - Emily's. This is situated two hundred yards away in the house where Branwell was born, and it sells excellent coffee and Italian-style snacks. All the well-known portraits of the Brontës are there, and the customers sit at tables made from used school desks.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

The Rathfriland area breathes Brontë

Marina Saegerman (member of the Brussels Brontë Group) writes about her visit to Patrick Brontë's homeland:
Over the years I have been able to visit many places related to the Brontës, both in the UK and in Ireland, but there was one place that I had not yet visited and which is essential to the Brontë history: the place where Rev. Patrick Brontë was born and where he grew up. This was my missing link in the Brontë story. So this year’s mission on our holidays in Ireland was to be a visit to the area where Patrick Brontë was born and lived until he moved to Cambridge, the area around Rathfriland in County Down, Northern Ireland. I have always been fascinated by the Brontës’ Irish ancestry and have read all that I could find on this topic. So you can imagine that I was very excited to see the area where Patrick Brontë spent his early years and to visit the places related to his family.

The day of the visit was to be Saturday 26 July 2014. On our way back home from Boyle to Dun Laoghaire (Co. Dublin) a small detour was planned to Northern Ireland, where I booked us into a B&B in Rathfriland for one night. In preparation of this visit I had been rereading some books on the Brontës’ Irish background. My main guidebook for the trip was to be The Road to Haworth – the Story of the Brontës’ Irish Ancestry by John Cannon. It reads like a Brontë novel. 

The Schoolhouse
We set off in the morning and planned to arrive in the  Rathfriland area around noon. A few days before our departure I had phoned the secretary of the Irish section of the Brontë Society, Miss Margaret K Livingston, to see whether we could meet her when we were in the area. We decided to meet up at 1pm for a picnic lunch at Drumballyroney where the Brontë Homeland Interpretative Centre is situated. The Drumballyroney Schoolhouse and Church are also the start of the Brontë Homeland drive.

The Rathfriland area breathes Brontë: a lot of houses or institutions have a Brontë-related name: Brontë manor, the Brontë primary school, a Brontë nursery unit, there was even a house called 'Villette'. We arrived at 12 o’clock on the dot, the time that the interpretative centre opened its doors. No need to say that we were the first visitors of the day. Since we were well before the time set to meet Margaret, I had some time to browse around in the Schoolhouse to see the video on the Brontë family and read all the information panels, giving information on the various members of the Brontë family, including Patrick Brontë’s parents and their unusual 'country courtship'. The small schoolroom also contained some exhibits related to Patrick Brontë and the Brontë sisters, amongst others a replica of Charlotte Brontë’s wedding dress.

Margaret arrived well on time and was accompanied by another member of the Irish section, Mr Finny O’ Sullivan. The weather gods were not on our side that day, it was pouring outside. But a  picnic was planned, and a picnic we would have! Margaret decided to have a picnic in the schoolroom: since we were the only visitors at that moment, this was not a problem. We were treated to a real picnic feast: lovely fresh sandwiches, biscuits, cake, strawberries and cream, tea, coffee and juice… too much for our poor bellies!
Finny, Margaret and Marina

During lunch we received all the information about the Irish section of the Brontë Society, the Irish ancestry and the Drumballyroney site - schoolhouse, church and Brontë burial plot.

The schoolhouse at Drumballyroney was the place where Patrick, at the age of twenty-one, taught for four years, before going to Cambridge. Next to the schoolhouse is the Anglican Church where Patrick and his brother William were christened and where Patrick gave his first sermon after graduating from Cambridge University.  We also visited the graveyard at the back of the schoolhouse and church, where the Brontë family burial plot is situated and where Patrick’s parents and other family members are buried.

Margaret and Finny had planned to drive us around the Brontë homeland sites, so we set off in Margaret’s car. In the meantime the weather had cleared up and the sun was shining again. The drive was very well sign-posted , we just had to follow the brown signposts with the book symbol. Next stop on the homeland drive was the Brontë Homeland picnic site at Knockiveagh where we had wonderful views over the Mourne Mountains and the area where Patrick grew up. The picnic site contains the ruins of an old shebeen - an illicit drinking house.
We continued to follow the 'Brontë road'. We passed the two-storey house near Lisnacreevy where Hugh and Alice brought up their family of ten children, we passed the 'dancing glen' where they secretly met according to local legend, and arrived at the next stop on the drive,  Alice McClory’s cottage in Ballynaskeagh. This cottage was the childhood home of Patrick’s mother, and is still owned by the McClory family. The cottage was very overgrown with bushes and ivy, and it was very difficult to see how it would have looked like. Nothing has been done to keep it in a reasonable condition, and it is in a very bad state at the moment. What a shame!     

The highlight of the homeland drive was of course the Birthplace Cottage at Emdale, a small two-roomed cottage where Patrick Brontë was born on St. Patrick’s Day 1777.  Or to describe it in Patrick’s own words, from the poem 'The Irish cabin':

“A neat Irish cabin, snow proof
Well thatched, had a good earthen floor,
One chimney in midst of the roof,
One window, and one latched door.

Little remains now of the original thatched cottage, but it gives a clear impression of how an Irish family must have lived in those days.  However, to modern standards, it is difficult to imagine that a family with two children could actually live in such a small space. A lot of work has been done  to restore the walls, the site is now protected and in 1956 a commemorative plaque was unveiled at the site.
Glascar Church
We continued the homeland drive to its final stop , Glascar Church and Schoolhouse, where Patrick had his first teaching post in the 1790s. He was said to have used creative teaching methods in order to bring out the best in his pupils. He was dismissed from this post because he had formed a romantic attachment with one of his pupils. After this incident he took up the teaching post at Drumballyroney schoolhouse and so the Brontë homeland circle is  complete.

In the Glascar Church graveyard we could see many headstones with the Brontë name. Descendants of the Irish Brontës are still being buried here.

We returned to the Drumballyroney Schoolhouse, still enjoying the wonderful views and the countryside that Patrick Brontë knew as a child and a young man. It had been a very interesting and  informative afternoon with Margaret and Finny. One can learn a lot about the Irish Brontë story from books on the subject but having actually seen and visited the sites and having received the information from Margaret and Finny who had so much more to tell about the Irish Brontës and the stories behind the sites, made the Brontë homeland drive so much more interesting to me and gave another dimension to my knowledge on the Irish ancestry.

I was really glad that we had the opportunity of doing the drive with people like Margaret and Finny who knew the places so well. I’m convinced that if we would have had to do the drive on our own, although it is signposted, we would have had great difficulty in finding some of the spots eg Alice McClory’s cottage well hidden behind bushes and ivy. We took our leave from Margaret and Finny, thanking them for the time they had spent with us  and the information we had received.

On our way to the B&B in Rathfriland, very close to the Drumballyroney site, I  reflected on the afternoon and enjoyed the satisfaction that I had finally completed my own Brontë circle.

For further reading, the following books can be recommended:
The Road to Haworth – the story of the Brontës’ Irish ancestry (John Cannon)
The Brontës of Ballynaskeagh ( W. Haughton Crowe)
The Brontës in Ireland (Dr. William Wright)

“The Brontës’ Irish background” (Edward Chitham)