I can still remember the day I discovered the Bronte’s. I had heard of them before of course, but had never visited the Parsonage in Haworth where they spent so much of their short lives. The reason why I had never been before? Well I only live twenty minutes or so from Haworth so in my mind I could visit them anytime. And to be honest I wasn’t that interested in them at the time!
It was a warm and sunny day in late September and a friend of mine had a special birthday coming up, so knowing he likes whisky I decided to visit a shop I know in Haworth that sells some lovely single malts. Upon arriving at Haworth I found a car park and to my horror I didn’t have the right change for the meter. It was £1.60 for two hours parking and the smallest change I had was £2. Applying true Yorkshire logic I decided to spend £3 on four hours car parking rather than lose 40p on two hours car parking! Trouble was this meant I got four hours parking instead of two.
Getting a bottle of whisky took me nearly an hour, there was such a great selection to choose from and I’m very indecisive when it comes to choosing anything at the best of times. However after much dithering I had managed to buy a bottle of single malt whisky for my friend and discovered I still had around three hours left on my car parking so decided to have a wander round Haworth something I had not done for a very long time.
Haworth as many people know is a lovely rural Yorkshire village well known for its links with the Bronte’s and much more. However once you’ve been up and down the cobbled Main Street, you’ve pretty much done all you can unless you want to start walking short distances. At this time I wasn’t familiar with the surrounding countryside so I was unaware of where I could walk to. And it was this lack of local knowledge and being a traditional tight Yorkshireman that led me to the Bronte Parsonage. I wanted to use as much of my car parking time as I could.
I had heard of the Parsonage of course but I had never been in there. To get to the Parsonage you go past the church and the graveyard and then you are at the Parsonage itself. You enter through a large wooden door into the nicely kept gardens that are a place of tranquillity looking out over the church and the graveyard. They are set up high from the path but level with the house. You could easily imagine the Bronte’s relaxing there on a warm summer’s day or taking in the nip of a cold, frosty morning in winter. And I turned and entered the Parsonage for the very first time.
And there I was stood in the actual hallway that the Bronte’s used to frequent so often going about their daily business, discussing village gossip and thinking of stories to write. I turned left and I was in the dining room where Emily Bronte died looking at the actual settee she was lying on when she died. The sense of history got to me immediately and I began to feel overcome with emotion at the thought of what had happened in this very room. The atmosphere was one of awe and wonder, of inspiration and reverence of being in a very special place where so much happened in such a short space of time.
And the opposite room was the study where the Revd Patrick Bronte would spend a lot of his time at his desk. And there on the desk where some of his possessions including the largest magnifying glass I have ever seen! And onwards to the kitchen and then to Mr Nicholls’ study taking my time to look the exhibits and read the information about them.
Up the stairs I went pausing at the Grandfather clock and touching it ever so gently. I felt a tingle run up my arm as I touched it and imagined the Revd Bronte winding it up every night at the same time precisely. Upstairs and more rooms to see inside. I felt like a kid in a sweet shop, looking at tiny shoes, dresses, gloves, everything seemed to be in miniature. It felt as if I was in a large dolls house which was only missing the dolls.
And I discovered Branwell Bronte. Up until this point I never knew that the Bronte’s had a brother who was more famous for his addictions to alcohol and opium than for his work. But even for his lack of being as famous as his sisters or maybe because of it I found him a fascinating character and one that has more depth to him than many people realise. Branwell was and still is for me an integral part of the Bronte’s history. Would the three sisters have had quite the same lives if Branwell had not been alive? Quite possibly but it is important to remember that Branwell played a massive part in the early lives of his sisters playing with the toy soldiers and making up stories of fantasy lands.
Into the exhibition room and the hairs on the back of my arms stood up as a shiver went down my spine. It was as if a spirit from the past had walked through me. And it was in this room I finally discovered the extent of the Bronte’s writing. From books written so small it was impossible to read to poetry so powerful it brought a tear to your eye. And the novels were all there too. The novels that made the Bronte’s famous the world over, the novels that everybody knows them by.
The exhibition room is very special, very impressive for the shear amount of history it holds within its walls. Here are original manuscripts of the Bronte’s stories written in their own handwriting by their own hands. In this one room there is so much of the lives of the Bronte’s that you expect one of them to appear at any moment and start telling you about the inspiration behind their poems and novels. Seeing exhibits and reading letters and stories written by such famous writers is something very special for me I was in awe and felt I was in the presence of greatness, of legends of people who will live forever, who will always be immortal and who will never die because their books and their lives will always be read and spoken about.
And then I was out of there. Back into reality, back into the 21st century. I felt a little bit deflated going down the stairs towards the shop and back out into the real world but I also felt elated too.
I had done something I had always promised myself I would do one day but never got round to. And reflecting on the experience it was something I wished I had done many years before but I was glad I did it in the end. The Parsonage, Haworth and the history of the Bronte’s exceeded all my expectations and made me realise how important and valuable history is to us as human beings?
The Parsonage itself is a combination of remaining true and authentic to how the Bronte’s lived there in their time with many of the rooms being furnished and decorated as they were in the Bronte’s time. A nod to the modern is with the exhibition room displaying some of the important artefacts for people to view. The Parsonage conveys a feeling of history, of a time gone by reflecting the history of the most important literary families in history. But more than that you get a lesson in the wider history of the Bronte’s and the culture of the time that shaped their personalities and in turn shaped their writing too. It is this that gave this first trip and every subsequent trip real meaning for me because there is depth here behind the novels and you get a real glimpse into the lives of the family and what made them the people we all love and know now.