by Karen J Mossman
In the 1990s, I visited the Bronte museum in Howarth, Yorkshire. This is the article I wrote about it back then.
It was late afternoon on a dark cold November day. Leaden clouds filled the sky and a damp mist settled over the streets. I was visiting relatives in Keighley and took time out to visit The Bronte Museum.
A flock of crows gathered in the trees squawking noisily making me shiver. Pausing, I glanced along the cobbled street towards the church with its silent and damp graveyard. The headstones were lopsided and some were flat as I wandered amongst them reading inscriptions. Many of them had faded with age.
I pulled my coat further around me and turned back to The Parsonage, the name of the house the Bronte family had lived. It was a splendid Georgian house built from local stone in 1778.
The Reverend Patrick BRONTE arrived in Haworth, Yorkshire in 1820. He brought his wife, his only son, Branwell, and his five daughters, Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne. The two eldest girls died in childhood, not long after their mother had also passed away. The four remaining children had vivid imaginations and from an early age wrote stories together.
As a writer, it was easy to see where they drew their inspiration. The ride through Haworth left me with a lonely feeling. The large dark stone of cottages bore witness to how life once was. The damp atmosphere and the smell of moss only added to the bleak but beautiful landscape. It was certainly an ideal setting for the imagination to take hold.
Branwell found moderate success as a painter and some of his painting and drawings are hung in the museum. Charlotte’s most famous novel was Jane Eyre and Emily wrote the equally famous Wuthering Heights. The lesser known Anne penned Agnes Grey.
The museum has hundreds of visitors every year and is as atmospheric as the village itself. On this cold November day, there were just one or two people venturing into the house.
I was handed a leaflet, which guided me through the rooms numerically. The smell of beeswax and wood gave it an immediate warm feeling. Mr Bronte’s study, where he did much of his parish work, looked as if he had nipped out and return any minute to pick up his pen.
Having visited the dining room, the kitchen and a further study, I ventured up to the first floor. I had been instructed to look for the clock on the stairs, which was regularly serviced by the neighbour of my relatives.
The clock was a long cased grandfather clock set in a recess on the stairwell. It had a highly polished case, Roman numerals and a picture above the face. “A fine clock,” the neighbour had said. “Be sure to stop and look at it.” Apparently, Mr Bronte wound each evening as he made his way to bed.
Unfortunately, the museum was closing at 4.30 and I found myself a little hurried to look at everything. I did manage to see the clothes the sisters wore and amazed at how petite they were. I also saw the little books they put together as children and gazed at Branwell’s paintings with fascination.
By complete contrast, I visited again one summer’s day in June 2017. So much had changed, not least the atmosphere. Sometime after my original visit, the museum had a lottery donation and built a large annex which acted as gift shop and entrance. Upstairs the museum had also been extended to show more works of the family, paintings, and furniture.
Admittance was £8.25 per person and that gave you free entry over 12 months, although it was unlikely we would make use of it.
The hundreds of visitors each year I mentioned in the first article or seemed to have descended on the same day. I jostled to get into the rooms and up the stairs. I didn’t smell the beeswax this time. The rooms I could get into were very interesting, although I didn’t get a chance to read the information boards.
I enjoyed Bramwell’s bedroom as there was so much to look at. The bed had been arranged as if he was still there and the drawings over the hearth were really good.
The gift shop was full of everything you can imagine Bronte related, – even items that were just printed with the Bronte name, including tea bags and shortbread. There were books galore. Most places have these of shops and it is probably where they make the most money, which will go to its upkeep. I couldn’t help but feel the place had lost some of its initial charms, but I suppose everything has to move forward.
Afterward, we strolled into the village of Howarth and this had all the charm it ever had. A pretty place with his dark stone buildings and cobbled streets.
The old churchyard was lovely, although I didn’t venture through it his time.
Here are a few of the photographs I took as we walked through the village. I hope you enjoy them.