When we heard about people in Derbyshire being snowed into their cars, we were in two minds as to whether to go ahead with the northern trip we’d booked for the period between Christmas and New Year. I’m very glad we did, though, as the snow, rather than hampering our plans, actually made them all the more magical. Our first port of call was the Yorkshire village of Haworth, right in the heart of ‘Brontë Country’. As a long-term Brontë fan, a visit to the Brontë Parsonage Museum has long been on my bucket list, and, as Lee pointed out on the drive up, it felt as though we were on a personal pilgrimage to the home of these literary sisters. To give you an idea of the landscape through which we drove to get to Haworth, here was a snowy scene we stopped to capture not far from Haworth.
It was treacherous under foot, but the snow added enormously to the atmosphere of the place.
It felt quite amazing to be laying eyes on a house changed little since the Brontë sisters lived there.
The view from the front door.
As you can see, it was a beautiful blue sky day with plenty of snow on the ground. The Brontë family moved here in 1820, when Patrick Brontë became vicar of the neighbouring church.
This was the poignant inscription on a stone at the end of the garden. Death seemed ever-present, not just in the presence of the graveyard that borders the Parsonage on two sides, but in the lingering sadness of the fate of the Brontë sisters. There were many deaths in the Brontë family; of the six children, two died in childhood, and Emily, Anne and Branwell all died around the age of 30. Charlotte lived longest, dying in early pregnancy shortly after her marriage, three weeks before her 39th birthday (having carried out a number of alterations to the Parsonage). Their mother had died within a year of their moving to the Parsonage, and their aunt came to live with them and managed the house until her death in 1842. Poor Patrick Brontë, their father, outlived all his children and died in 1861, aged 84. The church seen here today is not the one the Brontës would have seen; that was pulled down on account of its being deemed unsafe and unsanitary, and replaced by this one in 1879.
We weren’t permitted to take photographs inside the Parsonage, which was a shame. I’ve found some images of the inside here if you’re interested. It was incredible to be in the very rooms in which Charlotte, Emily and Anne used to discuss their writing, to see their writing implements, to see the couch upon which Emily died… Indeed, several of the rooms were highlighted as being places in which one member or another of the family had died. It was very sad. But there was also a tremendous sense of how talented they all were, Branwell included. As well as some of their beautifully written letters and early handwritten manuscripts – such as the miniature books they wrote about their imaginary world – we also saw many of their paintings and drawings, which were most accomplished.
I learned things I hadn’t known about them, too, such as the fact that they went to Brussels (for some reason, I’d imagined that they never left Haworth). Charlotte went to the Great Exhibition in London several times, and we saw an invitation for her to attend a dinner held by the Mayor of Oxford (along with a fascinating old map of Oxford, which included my college, St John’s, in the days when it only had two quads – it has six now!). They were also great dog lovers, and we saw their paintings of their faithful hounds, and their brass collars. Anne’s was a spaniel called Flossy, and we (or rather I!) immediately decided that this is what our future spaniel will be called!
I bought several books in the excellent bookshop on the way out, including Elizabeth Gaskell’s biography of Charlotte, Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Charlotte’s Shirley, another previously unpublished work of Charlotte’s called Stancliffe’s Hotel, a book about interpreting their novels, and a book about Top Withins, the remote farmhouse said to have been the inspiration for Wuthering Heights. I got them all stamped to say I’d bought them at the Brontë Parsonage. That lot will keep me busy!
These are the fields immediately behind the Parsonage. One feels very aware of the surrounding landscape; it’s little wonder that the sisters were so inspired by the stunning Yorkshire moors.
You wouldn’t think it now, looking at these delightful scenes, but Haworth was once an extremely unhealthy place to live, with an open sewer running down the main street and drinking water passing through the graveyard. It’s little wonder that tuberculosis was such a prevalent disease; if I recall correctly, life expectancy in Haworth in the Brontës’ day was a mere 25 years. Patrick Brontë campaigned for something to be done about this, and there was a survey carried out in the 1850s to determine the problems and a course of action.
This shot, looking through the graveyard towards the Parsonage, gives you a sense of the atmosphere. The Brontës were surrounded by death, and, though the graveyard today was more peaceful than creepy, it did make me think about the bit in Wuthering Heights when Heathcliff digs up Cathy’s grave. One of the things highlighted in that 1850s survey was the perceived unhealthiness of the practice of putting slaps horizontally over graves.
The low winter sun shining through the trees onto the snowy gravestones was incredibly atmospheric.
From there we walked into the village, which also looked as though it had changed little since the Brontës lived there. Though thankfully it’s rather healthier now!
I’m annoyed now that we didn’t think to go inside the church, but we’ll save that for our next visit. The tickets to the Brontë Parsonage Museum are valid for a year, so we’ll try to go back sometime this coming year.
This is the top of Main Street. Apart from the cars spoiling the view, it was so picturesque with the snowy moorland on the horizon.
Another view of the church, looking very festive. Patrick Brontë was vicar of the church (in its previous incarnation) for 41 years, the longest-serving in the history of the church. As he got older, his curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls – who would marry Charlotte Brontë – took over many of his duties.
The views of the surrounding moorland from Main Street were stunning, and one felt a sense of what had inspired the Brontë sisters in their writing. It was so magical in the snow, but I’d imagine that in a howling gale and rain it would be quite bleak.
The Christmas decorations added to the beauty of the place on such a lovely snowy day.
Historically, the street was cobbled to help horses to get a better grip, and this horse and rider in bright garments were keeping this purpose alive.
A little further down the hill, even more of the surrounding moorland is visible. It must be fantastic to live in a house with a view like that, even with that wind turbine.
After walking round the village, and stopping for some lovely warming curried parsnip soup at a cafe, we went down to the station. This was also like stepping back in time.
There was a steam train going back and forth between a few local stations, and the ticket office was splendidly decorated with this excellent Christmas tree. I loved the departures written in chalk.
Some sidings, including coal bunkers, dusted with snow.
We went onto the bridge to await the arrival of a train. Sadly the photo of it approaching wasn’t the best, as the locomotive was attached to the carriages backwards, so I’ve not included it here.
This was my favourite photo of the station. The old-fashioned guard, retreating steam train, bright red signs and brightly coloured lights make for a perfect festive railway scene.
We had our final view of Haworth from the opposite side of the valley, after the most precarious of hill starts on the way up the other side. With the sun beginning to set, it was a beautiful view with which to end a wonderful day’s exploring.
The next stop on our northern tour was Ripon, which I’ll write about very soon.