Monday, 14 September 2015

CRADLE OF A LITERARY PHENOMENON: HAWORTH



The village of Haworth in West Yorkshire owes its place on the literary map to Patrick Brontë (originally Brunty, from County Down in Northern Ireland).  In 1820 Patrick moved his family to the village from their birthplace in Thornton near Bradford to take up the role of Church of England perpetual curate of the parish of Haworth.  Patrick himself was an author as well as a priest, but it was his three daughters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne who really sealed Haworth's fate as a literary mecca.  The sisters wrote a number of novels based around locations in the area including Jane Eyre (Charlotte), Wuthering Heights (Emily) and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Anne).  Patrick also had a son, Branwell, a painter, writer and poet, but tragically also an alcoholic, a condition made worse by a failed relationship, which led to his early death.  Incredibly, Patrick outlived all of his offspring as well as his wife Maria.

The main focal point for visitors to Haworth is the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Church Street.  The Parsonage, dating from 1778, was home to the Brontë family and it became a museum in 1928.  Visitors can view the rooms where the family lived their lives, and the museum hosts a range of events relating to the family.  Among the many visitors to Haworth, there is a particularly large Japanese contingent due to the country's love affair with the Brontës.  A few years ago some local teenagers studying AS level Japanese were invited to contribute to a website describing the area's attractions in Japanese. 

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Haworth Main Street. Photo by Jon Farman, via Wikimedia Commons
However, Brontë fans should not just limit themselves to Haworth itself, as there are a number of locations in the surrounding area of interest to readers of the Brontës' works.  There is a ruined farmhouse near Haworth called Top Withens which is believed to have been the inspiration for Wuthering Heights, the home of the Earnshaw family featured in the novel of the same name.  Walking enthusiasts might be interested to know that the farmhouse can be reached via the Pennine Way, being located east of Withins Height, below Delf Hill.  Some of the footpath signs are in Japanese for the benefit of the many Japanese tourists who visit the site.

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Top Withens. Photo by Tim Green, via Wikimedia Commons

PondenHall near Stanbury to the west of Haworth is reputedly the inspiration for Thrushcross Grange, the home of the Linton family in Wuthering Heights (although it should be noted that the property does not actually match the description of Thrushcross Grange in the book).  The present day property offers bed and breakfast accommodation for those who want to immerse themselves in the Brontë experience.  Oakwell Hall is an Elizabethan manor house in the village of Birstall to the south-west of Leeds which was visited by Charlotte Brontë.  Charlotte was moved by her visits to make the house the inspiration for Fieldhead in her novel Shirley.  Nearby Gomersal is another location which provided inspiration for Charlotte, with Red House as inspiration for Briarmains in Shirley.  Red House is a former cloth merchant's home which is now a museum with period interiors and gardens on view to visitors.

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Oakwell Hall. Photo by Nigel Homer, via Wikimedia Commons
There are guided walks available for those who want to make the most of their visit to Haworth.  

Map of Haworth.

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