In Brontë Country

On a grey dismal day, my husband and I walked in to Haworth. The Yorkshire town which was once home to the three Brontë sisters and their brother Branwell Brontë.

There is an upside to the overcast English skies. It lends credence to the imagination. On that dreary noon, I could imagine the polluted and wretched industrial town that Charlotte, Emily and Anne must have lived in. Where the average Haworth resident did not make it beyond the age of 24 and an early grave was the norm – as it was in the rest of the country.

Though when we walked up a steep hill, through rows of charming antique shops, cupcake-only bakeries, cafés and atmospheric pubs that make up the town of Haworth, it was anything but dull. It made me wonder – how would the sisters have reacted if they would have seen their Haworth right here in the middle of the 21st century, prettified beyond what they would have known then in the mid-1800s. And what expressions would have lined their faces when they passed by stores that promised ‘Brontes Burritos’?

When we got to the top of the road and turned back, beyond the town lay the vast Yorkshire moors. Haworth is enviably perched upon the moors.

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The Haworth railway station is part of a heritage railway line in West Yorkhire – the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway that served mills and villages in the Worth Valley.

 

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The sight of these vats of coal by the railway tracks gave Haworth an industrial touch. As it must have been when the Brontës arrived, though it would have invariably worse.
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The 18th and 19th centuries mills in the Worth Valley revolved around the woollen industry and the railway served their needs.
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Charming Haworth

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Cupcakes and all things good.

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The Old School Room built by Patrick Brontë for the children of Haworth. Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell all taught at the school and the school room was also where Charlotte had her wedding reception.

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I was not making it up.

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Born near Bradford (which is just very Pakistani in character with people in brocade suits and skullcaps frequenting the streets) in a Pennine village called Thornton, the Brontë family arrived in Haworth in 1821. Patrick Brontë was appointed the parson at the Church of St. Michael and All Angels and the six children and their mother moved in along with him to the double-fronted Georgian house adjoining the church. Their graves, with the exception of Anne (who was buried in Scarborough), are in the cemetery that lies between the church and the parsonage.

Here is how I found the parsonage which is a museum maintained by the Brontë Society.

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Charlotte’s writing desk and the trunk which she got from Brussels. It is little known but Charlotte and Emily had spent time in the Belgian city, honing their writing skills and learning French.
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When they were children, the Brontës would gather round the kitchen fire and soak in the dark stories of the Yorkshire moors narrated by their servant Tabby. The kitchen played a vital role in their various accounts of life at the parsonage and after their aunt’s death, Emily took over the kitchen and baked bread. “One night about the time when the cold sleet and dreary fogs of November were succeeded by the snow storms & high piercing night winds of confirmed winter, we were all sitting round the warm blazing kitchen fire having just concluded a quarrel with Taby concerning the propriety of lighting a candle…’ Charlotte Brontë, Tales of the Islanders.
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A printed muslin dress from Charlotte’s wardrobe. Charlotte Bronte loved talking about fashion. In her letters she wrote about bonnets and gowns. After her death, her publisher George Smith had observed: “‘… my first impression of Charlotte Brontë’s personal appearance was that it was interesting rather than attractive. She was very small, and had a quaint old-fashioned look. Her head seemed too large for her body. She had fine eyes, but her face was marred by the shape of the mouth and by the complexion. There was but little feminine charm about her.”
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The dining room. It is where the sisters wrote mostly and where Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and Agnes Grey were penned. The three sisters had a habit of pacing around around the table on evenings while thinking about their novels. That is a pencil portrait of Charlotte above the fireplace.
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Patrick Brontë’s bedroom from the windows of which he apparently used to discharge his guns into the graveyard every morning. Workers’ unrest was common at the time and it meant that he kept a loaded pistol by his bed at night.
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The tablet of stone marks the path connecting the parsonage to the adjoining church which Patrick Brontë was in charge of. All the Brontës are buried in the cemetery here but for Anne who was buried in Scarborough.

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When Charlotte’s friend and novelist Elizabeth Gaskell visited the parsonage 1853, the landscape was quite different. The parsonage is on the left of this shot and the church across it with its cemetary.

 

We walked into the moors from the cottage following a trail through fields and other cottages. Only the clouds mushrooming in the horizon made us do a turn around. Disappointed that we did not get to walk on the upper moors described by Emily Brontë with such dark overtones in Wuthering Heights, we sat down for a leisurely lunch at the Black Bull. At this old pub, their brother Branwell Brontë, drank his days away and then hopped across to the apothecary across for doses of opium.

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Shammi kebabs at The Black Bull
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A historic pub

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Fish and chips at The Black Bull
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Which he was wondering if he would ever get to dig into.

The Black Bull, contrary to expectations, serves up mean shammi kebabs that would make you want to return to it, irrespective of all the haunted stories it has accumulated within its 300-year-old walls.

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Haworth parks
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The stile gate that must have been used by the sisters when they went on their walks to the moors. In the distance, you can spot the chimneys of the parsonage.
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Uphill walks to the moors which the Brontës frequented.

As we left Haworth, I felt more than a twinge of sadness for Charlotte Brontë who outlived all her siblings and died a few weeks short of her 39th birthday. And I could see the bleakness that must have made her observe: “No mockery in this world ever sounds to me so hollow as that of being told to cultivate happiness. What does such advice mean? Happiness is not a potato, to be planted in mould, and tilled with manure. Happiness is a glory shining far down upon us out of Heaven. She is a divine dew which the soul, on certain of its summer mornings, feels dropping upon it from the amaranth bloom and golden fruitage of Paradise.”

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