Sunday 19 August 2012

Haworth and the Bronte thing.

The Moors just outside of  Haworth.

“ I  struck straight into  the  heath; I  held on to a hollow I saw deeply furrowing the brown moorside; I wade knee deep in it’s dark growth; I turned with it’s turnings, and finding a moss blackened  granite crag in a hidden angle, I  sat  down  under it. High banks of moor were about me; the crag protected my head; the sky was over that. Some time passed before I felt tranquil even  here;  I had  a  vague  dread  that wild cattle might be  near, or that some sportsman or poacher might  discover me. If a gust of wind swept the waste,  I looked  up, fearing it was the rush of a bull; if a plover whistled, I imagined it a man. Finding my apprehensions unfounded, however, and calmed by the deep silence  that  reigned as  evening declined  at nightfall, I took confidence.  As yet I had not thought; I had only listened, watched, dreaded; now I gained  the faculty of reflection. What was I to do? Where was I to go?”
(Jane Eyre,  Chapter XVIII, by  Charlotte  Bronte. First published 1847)
This passage comes straight after Jane has  left  Mr Rochester, in great consternation. The presence of his mad, sick  wife, watched and guarded in her  garret room  has been revealed to Jane, and  she has had to spurn Mr  Rochester’s approach to  her. For all  his powerful reasoning  she  has cast herself out into a wilderness. In this passage Jane expresses her fear of meeting anybody. She knows  she will  be judged. She has left her home for a “no mans land.”   Jane has cast herself out into a world of wind, rain, storms and barrenness and fearful imaginings.  All is left to chance. This scene portrays the mental and physical situation Jane  is in. She descends into deep despair and wishes for death. A human being could go no lower. Charlotte Bronte challenges us to experience this with her character. She shakes us up and makes us consider things we would not do normally.

 Charlotte Bronte  explores  societies values about relationships  and marriage. The long argument between Mr Rochester and Jane and this moorland scene give us an inkling into the writing process that she went through and the purpose for writing she believed in.

 Emily, Charlotte and Anne

Recently, Clive, an old school  mate of mine and Paul , also an old school friend from our Liverpool days, and I visited Haworth Parsonage in the village of Haworth on The Pennine Moors. It was the home of the Bronte family that included the three sisters, Emily,  Anne and Charlotte who wrote some of the most amazing stories of the  English language. We always think of the Brontes, sitting  in that  stone parsonage miles away from all civilisation conjuring up  brutal  and emotional  stories through their imaginations brought on by  wild winds, rocky promontories and windswept moors..  This is partly true.  There  are  the  moors and the windswept promontories  at the back  of the  parsonage and reaching far off to the horizon, but the  parsonage is situated on the edge of  Haworth, which is  an extensive community. They were not alone. The sisters were the daughters of, Patrick  Bronte, the vicar  of Haworth, and this might have created a social  distance between them and the rest of the village.

 The Haworth parsonage where the Bronte sisters lived.

When we entered the parsonage, the first room we saw, to the left of  the entrance was  the parlour. Much of the furniture is the same as when The Brontes lived there. There is a large dining table and it was around this table the three sisters would conjure up their stories.  It was interesting to hear that they would often walk around the room and around the table talking about their ideas, verbalising their stories, exchanging ideas. This brings me back to the above passage from Jane Eyre. I can imagine the Bronte sisters challenging societies perceived values. Exploring the authenticity of accepted codes. I can imagine Emily or Anne playing devil’s advocate to Charlotte's Jane Eyre and arguing  Mr Rochester's view. I can imagine Charlotte pouring out the  emotions of Jane  expressing despair and the anguish Jane felt cast out on the moors.  That room and that table must have been witness to some  dramatic scenes. It is also interesting to discover that the Bronte sisters drew and sketched. By using, acting,  speakiing out, sketching and dramatising scenes they crafted  and formed  their stories. They discussed, in their writing, Christian morals, social conventions, such  as   marriage and challenged these perceived conventions, questioning and reasoning every aspect.  The moors had an emotional and physical presence which infiltrated their writing.  The weather and the landscape  were all put into the mix to create the conflicts and arguments. This is what makes them great writers. A great writer should  challenge the  reader.  

Being human  never changes. The process the Brontes went through to  write their stories is as valid today as  it was  then.  Jane Austen’s process took a similar path. She was more  discrete and private but  she read her writing out loud to Cassandra and Martha Lloyd. She mulled over sentences and phrases with them. She loved going to the theatre and loved to see stories acted out.  Her brothers had been a big influence on her in this process. Cassandra we know loved drawing and sketching and so did Jane. We can see these similar creative process between the Brontes and Austen. They each did it in their own way and with their own emphasis  but the process of thinking, writing, editing having somebody to listen to  their compositions,reading out loud, dramatizing and drawing  was very similar.  Charlotte, Anne, Emily Bronte, along with Jane Austen, loved language and words.

The Bronte sisters  in that parlour in the parsonage in Haworth, pacing  round  the  room, taking character parts,  reading out loud, trying new phrases, challenging each other, were in short , as  Pie  Corbett says in describing, “Talk  for  Writing,” making  their ,”prose flow…and bite and sting.”

 The Brontës lived in the Haworth Parsonage, from 1820 to 1861.Charlotte; Emily and Anne Brontë were the authors of some of the best-loved books in the English language. Charlotte's novel Jane Eyre (1847), Emily's Wuthering Heights (1847), and Anne's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848) were written in this house over a hundred and fifty years ago. Both their father, the Revd. Patrick Brontë, and brother Branwell also saw their own works in print.

Looking down Haworth High  Street.

Haworth is a rugged little village with all the buildings constructed from local limestones and millstone grit. The village perches on the side of a steep hill.  The parsonage, where the Brontes lived, is at the top of the village and then beneath the parsonage is the graveyard followed by the church and then houses and shops sloping downhill towards the railway  station in the valley below. I should think the heart of Haworth, all  the buildings that comprise  the high street  and some of the houses just off  the high  street down small  alleyways, are the same structures that were there in the time of the Brontes.. The Black  Bull  pub at the top  of  the high street is the very  establishment that Branwell  Bronte  used to  frequent and  get drunk  in. He was an alcoholic and a womaniser. He was thrown out of one job as a tutor to a young boy in a wealthy household in nearby Halifax because he had a relationship with the mother. What was embarrassing for Charlotte was that she was tutor to the daughter of the same household and had got Branwell the job with the family. She had left her employment with the family shortly before the fiasco with Branwell, fortunately.
A shop in  Haworth High  Street.

The High Street is full of quaint shops who unashamedly are using the Brontes to bring customers through their doors. Lovely, very good quality  tea  shops proliferate, Ye Olde Bronte Tea Rooms where Paul bought us an excellent lunch, Villette Coffee  House and  The Souk and lots more to choose from .  There are also  many good  quality artefact shops, woollens, books, antiques, art galleries, home made  sweet shops, clothing shops; Mrs Beightons Sweet  Shop, Silverland, Firths, The  Steam Brewing Company, Catkins of Haworth, Ice Shop and Gifts  , The  Stirrup, and so on .    Surprisingly few actually use a blatant Bronte connection but they all benefit and owe their existence to the tourist pull of The Brontes. It would be easy to criticise this but Haworth is situated in an area of poor employment and little investment  to create new industries and new wealth.  Tourism, sheep farming and  sports such as walking camping, pot holing and climbing are some of the main sources of income in the area and so the good people  of  Haworth use tourism to make a living. The stories written by Emily, Catherine  and Anne  help a lot. 
The  shop attached to  the Haworth Parsonage stocks all  the Brontes books including the biographies.  There are good quality guide  books and OS maps of  the area for  walkers  and those who want to  explore the moors. There are also pencils and book marks and a beautiful selection of cards. 

Clive and a gentleman singing Dylan numbers.

As Clive, Paul and I walked downhill along the High Street of Haworth a busker strummed his guitar and sang Bob Dylan songs.  Clive being a  proficient guitarist and singer himself joined in and accompanied the busker. They were a great duet. We walked on down to the bottom of the High street to the nearby station. Haworth station is a very important station.  It is run by the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway and Haworth station is it’s headquarters. They renovate and use old steam trains to run on the line. Haworth station itself has been used as a film set for The  Railway Children. It is used for period films when steam trains are required. We are lucky to  have steam train enthusiasts in different parts of  Britain who  have  taken on old disused stretches of  railway lines and renovated them. A few miles south of where I live in the beautiful Hampshire countryside  is the Watercress Line, a similar  organisation to the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway. It passes near Chawton, the home of Jane  Austen.

As we walked back up the hill to Haworth Parsonage, a large group  of Morris Dancers had arrived in the village.  They were dressed in their colourful regalia and carried sticks for the type of dance they were going to perform. They were dressed in costumes comprising strips of multi-coloured rags. Their faces were painted with mauves, blues and reds, similar to ancient Celtic tradition.  In the South of  England , Morris Dancers tend to  wear  white trousers and white shirts with bells and ribbons hanging off them. 

A  Wikipedia article describes Morris dancing thus::
“Morris dance is a form of English folk dance usually accompanied by music. It is based on rhythmic stepping and the execution of choreographed figures by a group of dancers, usually wearing bell pads on their shins. Implements such as sticks, swords and handkerchiefs may also be wielded by the dancers. In a small number of dances for one or two men, steps are performed near and across a pair of clay tobacco pipes laid across each other on the floor.
Claims that English records dating back to 1448 mention the morris dance are open to dispute. There is no mention of "morris" dancing earlier than the late 15th century, although early records such as Bishops' "Visitation Articles" mention sword dancing, guising and other dancing activities as well as mumming plays. Furthermore, the earliest records invariably mention "Morys" in a court setting, and both men and women are mentioned as dancing, and a little later in the Lord Mayors' Processions in London. It is only later that it begins to be mentioned as something performed in the parishes. There is certainly no evidence that it is a pre-Christian ritual, as is often claimed.”

 Morris men and ladies in Haworth.

Morris dancers and Mummers, create an old  way of story telling passed from one generation to the next. They are are an exciting spectacle. 

We left Haworth driving north towards the motorway and passed through some of  the  desolate moorland beloved by the Brontes  before reaching the old mill  town of Halifax.  I  had not  been to  Halifax before and I was  amazed at the site of many of the old Victorian cotton mills . They are enormous stone buildings that encapsulate the growth of industrialisation in the Victorian period.

Paul, a very good mate of mine from Liverpool standing in Haworth's  churchyard.

This link is an attachment to the Haworth Parsonage and will provide you with lots of information about the Brontes  and the parsonage.

POST SCRIPT; Pie Corbett has written two books to help teachers develop children’s writing. “Jumpstart to Literacy,” and “Jumpstart to Storymaking.”

They are full of games and strategies to help develop character, setting and to help a story move along. 


  1. Tony, as always you have outdone yourself. I felt that I visited Haworth with you, plus received a literature lesson. Divine.

  2. Thanks Vic. It's not me giving the literacy lesson, it's Emily, Charlotte and Anne who are teaching us.

    I'm trying to be a good writer, trying, being the operative word. Since you read the article, Vic, I have already pared and adjusted some sentences, removed a lot of the sentences that I felt served no purpose and made it a leaner and fitter piece of writing. Come back next week and there will be nothing left. Ha! Ha!

  3. Tony, I was so excited to see your current post featuring Haworth. We were there ages ago. It was on my must-see list ever since Jane Eyre became my favourite book when I was 7. All through the summer before 3rd grade, I read it aloud to my mother while she was cooking. It was that summer when I developed my lifelong love for the dictionary as well as Jane Eyre. My mother made me look up every word I did not know. We did the B&B thing there in a lovely home in West Lane and enjoyed walking the moors and the High Street. I was rather disappointed in the weather though - every day was bright and clear and I had hoped for dark, dreary and wet. In the queue I spotted Vanessa Redgrave well ahead of us. I did not want to draw attention to her in the crowd, so said nothing. Then later we spotted her, and a woman I believe was her mother, standing alone outside admiring a yellow azalea or rhododendron. I spoke to her then, chatting about flowers. She was appreciative that I had not blown her cover earlier.

  4. Thanks to your photos I can see the Brontes trudging up the hill on Haworth High St. as in Elizabeth Gaskell's biography.

  5. Thanks for all the lovely comments. Each one of you would love a visit to Haworth of course combined with a long three mile walk on the wild and windy moors to High Withens. Heathcliffe would be at the door to greet you I am sure.

    All the best,

  6. Hi, delighted you enjoyed your trip to the Bronte Parsonage. Why don't you follow us on Twitter for lots more news and interesting things about the Parsonage and the Brontes? We're @BronteParsonage.

  7. This is a link to the , BRONTE FESTIVAL OF WOMEN'S WRITING, staring on Saturday 1st September.

  8. Wonderful post. I'm sorry I never got to Haworth. I particularly like this: "The moors had an emotional and physical presence which infiltrated their writing. The weather and the landscape were all put into the mix to create the conflicts and arguments." Whenever I think of landscape as being a character in a book, I think of the Brontes.


  9. Thank you for sharing your captivating journey to Haworth and your reflections on the Brontë sisters' writing process. It's fascinating to consider the influence of the landscape and the dynamic discussions that may have taken place within the walls of the parsonage. Your descriptions of the village and its connection to the Brontës, as well as the presence of Morris dancers, add an extra layer of charm to your account. It's clear that the legacy of the Brontës continues to captivate visitors and inspire exploration.shops clothing