Visiting the Brontes .

Hilly howarth,York,U.K.
Hilly Howarth, York.U.K

 

Exactly one year ago we were on the road to Haworth, the Yorkshire village that was the home of the  Bronte family from 1820. The place where the famous novels  Wuthering Heights,Jane Eyre, Shirley and Villette were written.

My  journey was a pilgrimage that  fulfilled a cherished dream to visit places connected to history and literature. On this occasion it was also the lure of the moors, hoping  to experience that wildness and elation, as well as to discover if there was a way to connect to and better understand the period that the Bronte sisters so vividly described .

Howarth with jubilee decorations in 2013
Howarth with jubilee bunting in 2013

What an impact this place has had! One that  lingers still. However, in spite of the picturesque scenery, the historic buildings, or even the fame and talent of the Bronte siblings, what impacted on me most was the  shadow of death.

The village straggles up a very steep hill, as it is located high  on the moors.  Haworth, with its cobbled street and old style shop fronts,  has that “stepping back into time” effect. Most businesses attempt to keep the Bronte connection and period ongoing. Their home, the Parsonage, is now an excellent and interesting museum. The district pays homage  to  the Brontes  using their fame to attract tourism.

Looking back to the Parsonage from a lane that leads to the moors
Looking back to the Parsonage from a lane that leads to the moors

Yet in spite of the tourist styled themes and entertainments it is not hard to imagine how hard life was then.  How cruel and arduous it must have been for the horses to pull carriages and wagons up those cobbled  inclines, as well as a challenging climb for the villagers who were largely very poor, malnourished and sick labourers and textile workers.

Mill and Steam railway
Steam Railway as it passes one of the Mills at Howarth.

You can almost hear the endless clacking of looms, the whir of the wheels as you go past the houses where the cottage industry families once eked out their lives. At the end of the eighteenth century  the big mills powered by water wheels began to replace cottage industry so that the the poor became more wretched, life more of a struggle. It would have been a bleak, noisy and smelly place. Wafting through the streets the stench of poor sanitation, disease and death. Many people had short lives succumbing to illnesses such as  typhus, pneumonia, malnutrition,  and especially  tuberculosis which also claimed  the Bronte siblings.

Children had to work from an early age . The information provided by the Parsonage museum states that around 41% of children who lived here died before their sixth birthday. If they were able to reach adulthood life expectancy was not much beyond forty.

We romanticize about the olden days but in actuality life here in the good old days was one of hardship and struggle. That sense of disempowerment, fear, desolation and despair is so well recounted in the novels.

The Bronte’s  parsonage home backed onto the  cemetery  of the church of St. Michael and All Angels, where their father, Patrick, was parson and where most of the family are interred. Opposite the home and cemetery is the school where Charlotte taught at one time.

School close to the parsonage where charlotte taught
School at Howarth where Charlotte taught

As evening fell the rooks clustered in the yew trees creating an eery cackling and flapping . This  graveyard is said to hold over forty thousand bodies. The grave stones are a rather spooky and stark reminder of too many tragic and short lives .

Graveyard at Howarth
Graveyard at Howarth

The Bronte family must have been ever reminded of sorrow and loss.  Daily the sobs and moans of  mourners would penetrate the house and laneways, worse still the stench of death would have permeated everything. The grave yard was not properly managed so that liquids and slime oozed  up into the floor of the church.Towards the end of the nineteenth century Queen Victoria ordered that burials cease  as the conditions were so appalling and dangerous.

That Bramwell Bronte frequented the inns, supposedly favouring The Black Bull,  and became addicted to opium and alcohol is not altogether surprising. It must have been a  bleak and confined life for such creative minds; a life that the Brontes as children attempted to escape by inventing stories and fantasy games.

Black Bull Inn, Howarth
Black Bull Inn, Howarth

Seeing their home, seeing the location was a moving experience. Life then was bleak, and one wonders if  we have really advanced. It seems the class divide is once again being imposed in our own country, as it is in many others. The schism widening between rich and poor, education and health is creating barriers that favours one group over the other and  fills up graveyards with lost dreams and aspirations  turning hopes into mourning ghosts.

The anticipation of awe and excitement became rather a deep sadness locked in the stones and that  haunts still.

Stone fence howarth
If stones could talk…
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4 thoughts on “Visiting the Brontes .

  1. Yes,all to easy to romanticise the ‘good old days’!I am very grateful for the wonderful stories though.

    • The Bronte girls keep that time alive and the memory of hardship and class division- yet we seem not to have taken heed and going back in time . the stories are such an important record , a great learning if heeded.It was great to see and expeieince and to get a little more insight .

      On Mon, Jun 2, 2014 at 8:19 PM, Fruits of Heart wrote:

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    • Thankyou- this place andits energy has sat in thoughts for sometime and needed a release. it was very powerful

      On Sat, Jun 21, 2014 at 3:00 AM, Fruits of Heart wrote:

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