I’ll be posting a little update to explain my recent absence and bring you up to speed with everything. Look out for that soon. Until then, here’s a post about my trip to Haworth, the former home of the Brontë sisters.
One of my favourite places in the world is Haworth, a village in West Yorkshire. That may sound a little random to some people, but, to the bookworms out there, it will sound quite familiar. Haworth is best known for being home to the Brontë family, and for being where Charlotte, Anne, and Emily wrote the majority of their works. I’ve always been a fan of their writing (if you don’t know, I’m a Victorianist through and through), but when I first visited Haworth in 2006, I realised that I now understood their books on a whole different level and could appreciate them in a new way. Seeing the rooms they lived and wrote in, which have been beautifully preserved by the Brontë Society, brings their stories to life.
Haworth is about two hours away from where I live, but still within the county of Yorkshire. I had hoped I would get to visit there before I move down to London in September, especially as I haven’t been since 2013. And what a trip that was! In my role as president of the English Society at my university, I took a minibus full of students up to Haworth on a very cold and wet November day. Two days before, I had surgery on my left shoulder, so I led a tour around the village in driving rain whilst wearing a sling. Anyway! I doubted very much that I’d find time to get up to Haworth before moving; so much packing and organising to be done. It was quite a surprise when the opportunity presented itself. Yesterday (Monday 22nd August) I took my mum over to Haworth for the day.
The drive to Haworth is really lovely. After leaving the motorway, you have getting on for an hour of driving through small villages on a road that twists and turns through hilly moorland. Just to explain: where I grew up is incredibly flat compared to West Yorkshire, and the hills in that part of the world never cease to amaze me as a result! Most buildings in the area are made of a beautiful sandstone. It’s a beautiful place. But it is also very atmospheric. The clouds hang low. Yesterday morning was pretty grey and dull. I’ve only ever visited in winter before now. It’s impressive to see the hills and stony moorland covered in snow, but I loved seeing the greenery and wild heather yesterday.
Visiting Haworth is like stepping back in time. In many ways, it feels more like a living museum than a village. When you walk down the main street, it’s easy to imagine the bustling petticoats of the women in the Brontës’ day. Not only are the buildings well preserved, a good deal of the atmosphere is. It’s quite inexplicable. Maybe it’s the narrow streets and cobbles, but you really feel the energy of days gone by, even when avoiding the crowds of tourists. Most of the village shops and cafes either have a Brontë theme or connection. Haworth is Brontë country through and through. The whole village revolves around them.
We arrived just after ten o’clock, a time when it’s still fairly quiet. It’s the height of summer, so we wanted to beat the coach trips that would be inevitably visiting. After a quick tea break at the ‘Villette’ cafe, and a quick look around some of the village shops, we headed up to the Parsonage, stopping off at the graveyard.
I’ve always loved looking around graveyards because of the snapshot of social history they offer. Haworth’s is no exception. For such a small settlement (the population is around 6,000 today but was significantly larger in the nineteenth century), the graveyard is unusually large and full. There are an estimated 40,000 people buried there, including plots that contain whole families. I always like to visit one particular monument. It has a beautiful sculpture of a sleeping cherub, and contains the remains of 6 children belonging to the same family. It’s a reminder of how tragically short life could be in the Victorian period. As it says on the Brontë Society website:
The Pennine village where the Bronte sisters grew up was then a crowded industrial town, polluted, smelly and wretchedly unhygienic. Although perched on the edge of open country, high up on the edge of Haworth Moor, the death rate was as high as anything in London or Bradford, with 41 per cent of children failing even to reach their sixth birthday. The average age of death was just 24.
Next, we went to the Parsonage itself. It’s fairly reasonably priced, just £8.50 for adults. I am a member of the Brontë Society and so get free entry year-round. The Parsonage was home to the family from 1820, when their father was appointed curate of the church. The Parsonage is separated from the church by the graveyard, and it sits slightly above the rest of the village. Behind it lies the open moors of West Yorkshire; it’s easy to see how Emily got her inspiration for Wuthering Heights! The house is really wonderful. As a fan of literature and history, it’s just amazing to see it in such an original state. I always find it a bit chilling to see the sofa (where poor Emily died), and somewhat uplifting to look at the table where it’s thought the family sat and wrote together.
The gift shop is brilliant. They have a great collection of books too. I always come away with at least one or two. This time, my favourite buy was a stunning copy of Wuthering Heights, my favourite Brontë book. On the way out of the shop, I stopped for a few minutes to look out across the moors. I’m a proud Yorkshireman and I’m glad I got to revisit this beautiful part of the county before I move away. We stopped off for a drink in the Black Bull pub. Local legend dictates that Branwell Brontë began his spiral into alcoholism in that very pub. It’s wonderful and cosy, if a little dark inside!
After a bit of shopping, we had lunch in The Kings Arms, another one of the old pubs. My favourite fact about The Kings Arms is that their cellars were used as overflow storage space when the mortuary was full during the tuberculosis epidemic of the nineteenth century (Branwell, Anne, Emily, and their two youngest siblings, all died from the disease). It’s terribly morbid, but everyone loves a good spooky pub!
I always like to visit the church. St Michael and All Angels church was where Patrick Brontë preached, and his role as curate was the reason that the family were ever in Haworth. Charlotte Brontë got married in the church, and all of the family (except for Anne) are buried in a tomb under the church.
We finished our visit at the old apothecary. Now a shop, it has many original features, and is supposedly where Branwell fed his opium addiction (conveniently for him, it’s adjacent to the Black Bull). If, like me, you love old chemist shops with all those fascinating jars and bottle of pharmaceutical magic, it’s worth a visit.
I’ve always loved the Brontë sisters’ books. I love how well they capture the Yorkshire spirit and environment. I’ve never connected with Dickens in the same way. Maybe, after I’ve spent some time living in London, I will understand him in the way I do the Brontës, and then I’ll appreciate his works more. Regardless, Haworth will always be one of my favourite places, and somewhere I really recommend visiting. It’s a stunning part of the world, so full of history. It’s a must-see for any bookworm.
Have you visited Haworth?
Have you made a ‘pilgrimage’ to any literary sites like the Brontë Parsonage?
Do you think visiting these places helps you to understand the writer better?
– CK –