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Wednesday, 22 March 2006

The Brontës in Lahore

Wali Aslam spoke to Richard Wilcocks:
"I fell in love with the Brontës when I was still in high school back in Lahore. It was Wuthering Heights which did it.

"I was fascinated by the novels of Thomas Hardy as well, so I was well motivated to go on to take a degree in English Literature at the University of Lahore.

"Currently I am a third-year postgraduate at the University of Leeds putting the finishing touches to my PhD in the Politics department. I was very excited when I found I was coming to Leeds in Yorkshire because I knew I would be close to Haworth and the moors.

"I have done plenty of walking in the area, but I have not yet managed to get up as far as Top Withins. I intend to put that right soon. I am fascinated by the connections between human emotions and physical surroundings, by the special atmosphere around the Parsonage.

"I was photographed and interviewed by the BBC recently. There was a kind of advertisement on the university website for volunteers with a knowledge of Urdu, which of course I have. It was my suggestion that we did something on the Brontës, so now my voice will be heard on the World Service talking about them in Pakistan.

"The Brontës are popular in Pakistan, I think. They are loved there, partly because we live in a 'Victorian' society there, in which women have limited opportunities, where health care is poor and where social status matters a lot. So we relate to the world of the Brontës.

"I am now going to become more involved with the Brontë Society. I have already offered to translate the Parsonage guide into Urdu, which should be helpful because it is a language spoken by many people of Pakistani origin in Keighley and Bradford.

"I am going to speak in more depth about the Brontës in Pakistan and my opinions in the future, in Brontë Society Gazette."

Tuesday, 14 March 2006

Parsonage People: Ann Dinsdale

Ann Dinsdale spoke to Richard Wilcocks:

I think I have to be classed as one of the longest-serving members of staff because I started in 1989, as a part-time museum assistant. I did a few hours in the library then became a full-timer there, assistant to Kathryn White.

At the moment I am librarian. I am at work on the catalogue project, but usually my work involves sourcing and cataloguing materials, running the picture library, looking after readers, dealing with hundreds of enquiries every year and working on the exhibitions.

The collections assistant, Linda Proctor-Mackley, is dealing with the bulk of the enquiries at the moment. Email has made things much faster and easier and we are receiving more and more of them each year because of it.

Pictures from the library for publications are now sent as jpgs by email to people who always want them right now!

Although I have lived most of my life in the Haworth area, I was born just over the border in Colne, Lancashire. The Brontës first cast their spell over me when I came to the Parsonage as a child on a school visit in the late 1960s. Haworth and the Parsonage quickly became special places for me. Little did I know that one day I would be lucky enough to work there.

If I had to name one favourite author apart from the Brontës I would choose Daphne du Maurier, but I read books by many different authors. I spend a lot of my time reading.

My leisure time is often taken up with visiting other museums and stately homes because I can concentrate on the exhibits rather than looking with a professional eye all the time. I like old towns too - like Whitby.

Our leads for the missing film of Wuthering Heights which was featured on the front page of the last Brontë Society Gazette seem to have dried up. It generated so much interest: if it does turn up, a man from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra would be interested in writing a score for it. A BBC documentary team and someone from the Culture Show rang me about the search, too.

One of my ambitions is to visit Italy again, because of its association with the Fine Arts. Perhaps I will be able to learn some Italian for the occasion. I have been to Venice fairly recently. Perhaps it will be Siena next time.

Whilst working at the Parsonage I have met many interesting people, for example Sally Wainwright, who wrote the play about Emily's supposed lover which was on the radio. She's terrific, a very down-to-earth person. Then there's Simon Warner the photographer. I am working with him at the moment on a book to be called The Brontës at Haworth, to be published in September by Frances Lincoln.

The spotlight will be on other members of staff at the Parsonage in future postings.

Thursday, 9 March 2006

Barker v Fermi

Check that you have RealPlayer (if you haven't, download it free from, then go to to find an interesting conflict of opinions.

Wherever you are, you should be able to listen to this, broadcast earlier today on BBC Radio 4. Sarah Fermi explains why she thinks it possible that Emily could have had a dangerous liaison with a weaver's son on the moors, with references to her research and her belief in the power of the circumstantial evidence.

Juliet Barker faces her across the studio, with her belief that Fermi has got it all wrong. For Barker, Wuthering Heights is not so much about love as about power, control and revenge : "I find it extraordinary that in this day and age we can't accept that a woman had the ability, intelligence and the imagination to write a book like Wuthering Heights without having to find a real-life lover!"

Your comments are welcome.

Saturday Play

If you can receive BBC Radio 4, stand by to record this on Saturday afternoon. If you can't, go to Listen Again on

This is from the BBC website:

Saturday Play
Cold in the Earth and Fifteen Wild Decembers

By Sally Wainwright, based on a theory by Sarah Fermi.

Why did Emily Jane Brontë write Wuthering Heights? And how was she able to do it? In spite of the massive amount of material published about the Brontë sisters over the last 150 years, these two questions still remain unanswered. Yet given the large amount of autobiographical material in the novels of Charlotte and Anne Brontë, it is almost unthinkable that Emily would not have also used her own experience in the creation of her great book. How could she write so vividly about love, grief and hatred without having known these emotions in her own life?

This is a compelling drama about the story of Emily Brontë's socially transgressive love affair with a weaver's son.

This is a media release from Diane Benn:

A member of the Brontë Society who researched and wrote several papers on the life of Emily Brontë will have her work broadcast on Radio 4’s Saturday Play on Saturday 11 March 2006 at 2.30 pm until 3.30 pm

Sarah Fermi, who is in the process of writing a speculative biography entitled ‘Emily’s Journal’ has been working with writer Sally Wainwright who created and wrote TV programmes such as ‘Canterbury Tales’ and ‘At Home with the Braithwaites’. Sally has taken Sarah Fermi’s research and constructed a play about Emily Brontë’s romance with a weaver’s son.

Sarah’s research focused on the theory that Emily Brontë probably had a tragic romantic relationship with a young working-class lad, Robert Clayton, who died when they were both 18 years old. Questions were asked as to how Emily Brontë was able to write such a powerful love story which turned into the classic ‘Wuthering Heights’ novel without experiencing such strong emotions herself.

Sarah Fermi says “I learned all I could about Emily, and carefully examined the chronological development of her poetry. There are quite a few aspects of her life which present interesting questions. Why did Emily change from a charming and outgoing child to a solitary and reserved young woman? Why was she sent away to Roe Head School in 1835 and what was the real reason for Emily’s near-fatal illness there?�

Parsonage Guide in Chinese

Chinese visitors to the Parsonage in Haworth can now "read all about it" quite literally with the publication of a Museum guide translated into Chinese by bilingual University of Leeds students.

The guides, already published in 9 different languages, are increasingly in demand by overseas visitors who make up around 20% of the overall visitor figures at the Museum. Plans are underway to introduce a broader range of translated guides to include Russian, Arabic and Polish versions.

Alan Bentley, the Director of the Brontë Parsonage Museum said, "We are receiving ever increasing numbers of visitors from China and Eastern Europe and we feel it is important to respond to the demand for information in visitors' native languages. The production of the guides by University of Leeds students will go a long way to ensuring our visitors receive the information that they need, in a format they can understand".

With foreign school children, tourists and intellectuals all eager to see the home of one of the most famous literary families in the world, the guides are a welcome resource to assist foreign travellers in their quest for in-depth knowledge about the Brontë family, their surroundings and conditions in Haworth in the Nineteenth Century.

A Chinese film crew recently spent days filming in and around the Parsonage to give the Chinese people a flavour of the home and surrounding countryside where the Brontës lived. The results will be included in a 100-part TV series to be broadcast in China in December 2006. The crew have spent 5 years filming the documentary which is entitled A History of the World.

Monday, 6 March 2006

Milan meeting

Here is the official notice of the meeting in Milan. Greetings to all friends and members in Italy!

Three Quartets

Richard Wilcocks writes:
"It's strange to be talking about the Mendelssohns and the Rossettis in the cellar of the Brontë Parsonage Museum," said artist and poet Ian Emberson (pictured) at the beginning of his talk Three Quartets on 3 November. "I am going to take a wider look at three gifted families, look at their lives, then compare them. Each family was close-knit and each had within it four children who were gifted in various ways."

For the next hour, we were treated to the results of Ian's extensive research, our attention was drawn to some illuminating and sometimes startling coincidences, and many interesting parallels were made.

All three of the significant ancestors of the families were exiles in some way, for example. Moses Mendelssohn, grandfather of Felix, was a partner in a silk firm and a writer on the theme of the Immortality of the Soul, who achieved the status of "protected Jew", which made an enormous difference at a time when Jews were subject to frequent restrictions and humiliations. Gabriel Rossetti was a political agitator and a museum curator who sought asylum in England, where he taught Italian at London University, and of course Patrick Brontë escaped a life of poverty in Ireland to go to Cambridge. All three brought something beautiful, fresh and new from the outside to their country of settlement.

In all three families, formal schooling played little part in the nurture of young talent. The privileged Mendelssohn children - Fanny, Felix, Rebecca and Paul - were accustomed to mingling with distinguished artists and scientists (Goethe included) in their sumptuous residence in Berlin, and private tutors (drawing, painting and languages as well as music) were no problem for their banker father. Felix became an outstanding fencer, gymnast and mathematician as well as a pianist and composer.

The bilingual Rossettis were another self-contained family, not mixing much with the locals, their house packed with Italian visitors (like Paganini), emigres and asylum-seekers. The children were constantly writing, producing their own newspaper (The Hotch Potch), printed on a press conveniently situated in their back garden. Ian picked out the fact that the Brontës were interested in all branches of the arts, that Emily's piano playing was much admired by Ellen Nussey and that Branwell played the flute, the church organ and the piano.

Ian compared the differing expectations of males and females in the three families. Fanny Mendelssohn was possibly as talented as her brother, but her father Abraham wrote to her in a letter that "only what is truly feminine is an ornament to your sex", with music being the ornament, not the career, of course. It was rather like saying that literature can not be the business of a woman's life.

The talk reminded me that it is not just the Brontës who must always be kept in our hearts and minds. After all, Christina Rossetti did write one of the most memorable Christmas Carols, and Felix Mendelssohn has for too long been wrongly associated with the odour of mildewed hymn books.

Meeting in Milan

The Brontë and the Rosetti families have been compared and contrasted before, not least by Ian Emberson, who grouped them with the Mendelssohns in a lecture in the Parsonage cellar in November 2004. This could be a good moment to acquaint readers with some of his main points, because Rafaella Pazzaia from the Brontë Society Italian Section has sent this notice of a meeting in Milan, together with the cover of the new translation of Elizabeth Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Brontë:

Lirica e misticismo nella poesia di Anne Brontë, Christina Rosetti

relatore Silvio Raffo

Milano 25 marzo 2006
via Manzoni 38 - ore 15.30 - tel 02 77222202

Saturday, 4 March 2006

Tabitha Aykroyd

Thanks for your many enquiries. If you are researching Tabitha Aykroyd, we would love to hear from you, however briefly. Leave a comment below, or email us at

Many visitors find the graveyard as fascinating as the Parsonage itself. Buried there are two of the domestic servants of the Brontës - Tabitha Aykroyd and Martha Brown.

Here is a focus on "Tabby", who died on 17th February 1855 aged 85, two and a half weeks after Charlotte Brontë was examined by Doctor McTurk and found to be pregnant, and six weeks before Charlotte's death at the age of 38.

The main Parsonage website carries the following information:

Tabitha Aykroyd

Domestic servant in the Brontë household.

Born Haworth c.1771. Died Haworth 17th February 1855.

Almost nothing is known of Tabitha's life before she entered the Parsonage in 1824 aged 53. She was almost certainly a native of Haworth, and we know of two sisters; Rose, who married a Bingley man called Bower, and Susannah, who married a Haworth man called Wood. Tabitha never married, and while there is no record of her life before she entered the Parsonage, it is thought that she had worked in domestic service and on farms.

Living at the Parsonage 'Tabby' was the Cook/Housekeeper and for the first 15 of her 31 years at the Parsonage, she was the only servant living in, although the Brontë sisters themselves also cooked, cleaned and washed clothes. In December 1836 Tabby slipped on ice in Haworth's main street, badly breaking her leg. Aunt Branwell suggested that she leave the Parsonage to be nursed by her sister Susannah, but the Brontë children objected, even going on hunger strike, and Tabby stayed in the Parsonage nursed by the children. The leg never fully healed however, and over the next 3 years many of Tabby's duties were taken up by Emily.

In 1839 Tabby seems to have retired temporarily, moving into a house in Newell Hill that she had bought with her now-widowed sister Susannah. Mr. Brontë engaged Martha Brown, the 11 year old daughter of his Sexton, John Brown, but the greater part of the skilled and the heavy work fell upon the Brontë girls, with Emily becoming Housekeeper. In 1842, Tabby moved back into the Parsonage where she stayed, sharing the little servants' bedroom with young Martha, for the next 13 years. Tabby died in February 1855 and she is buried with her sister Susannah, and a George Aykroyd who may be a brother, just over the wall from the Parsonage garden.

Personality; Influence
According to Mrs. Gaskell, Tabby "abounded in strong practical sense and shrewdness. Her words were far from flattery; but she would spare no deeds in the cause of those whom she kindly regarded"(The Life of Charlotte Brontë 1857). Mrs. Brontë had been dead for 3 years when Tabby came to the Parsonage and the children were looked after by their mother's sister, Elizabeth Branwell. A year after Tabby's arrival, the two eldest children, Maria and Elizabeth, died of consumption. Charlotte and Emily were only nine and seven years old at the time, and as they at least had only a formal relationship with their Aunt Branwell, they found physical and emotional warmth in the kitchen. Tabby was fond of her "childers" and they were fond of her. As Charlotte later wrote, "she was like one of our own family". Tabby took the girls for their walks on the moors, and, with her old-fashioned ways and broad Haworth accent, she was sometimes the butt of their boisterous games.

Tabby was a great storyteller. She knew all the local families, all their complex inter-relationships and disputes, and, despite her belief in the Christian teachings of divine reward and retribution, she held also to the ancient anthropomorphic traditions of the countryside, claiming (according to Mrs. Gaskell) to have known people who had seen the fairies. Emily, who spent more time working in the kitchen than either of her sisters, was particularly close to Tabby, and Tabby's influence permeates the landscape of Wuthering Heights. Tabby has also been identified as the model for Nelly Dean in Wuthering Heights, and for the housekeeper Martha in Charlotte's novel Shirley.

Read about a dramatic version of Tabby in Blake Morrison's play We Are Three Sisters by clicking on;postID=8814422635659652113

Tabby's Haworth dialect

Thanks to American member Randall Grimsley for sending the following. Brenda Scott did the translation and added the dialect notes.

Tabby: Aye up, childer - is yon cat deard?

Chorus of children: Nay, Tabby, 'e's just restin'

Translation: Hello! Is that cat dead, kids?
No, Tabby, he's just resting

Dialect note:
'deard' rhymes with 'beard'

Tabby: Nah sithee, me barns, tha's nur 'aving a candle, so tha mun do wi'art. If I can see ter fettle this 'ere pair o' Branwell's britches, tha can all see well enough to mek up thi daft tales. If tha wants more leet, shuv yon cat on't' fireback, 'e's fat enou' to gi' a reight gradely blaze!

Translation: Now look here, my children, you're not having a candle, so you must do without. If I can see to mend this here pair of Branwell's breeches, you can all see well enough to make up your silly tales. If you want more light, shove that cat on the back of the fire, he's fat enough to give a right good blaze!

Dialect note: 'bairns' is pronounced as written in Scotland, to rhyme with 'cairns' but in Yorkshire the pron. is usually 'barns'. Sithee is pron. 'sitha' ( singular ) or sithi  (plural ) this case, sithi. on't' ( on the ) is usually pron. with the glottal stop for which the county is noted! The 't' is not so much enunciated as swallowed! reight is pron 'reyt', and frequently 'reet'

Remember - your comments and contributions are welcome!

Thursday, 2 March 2006

The Wind on the Moor

Diane Benn writes:
Primary school children from four Bradford schools are gearing up for the performance of a lifetime when they perform their very own Brontë Opera at Haworth church on Thursday 30 March 2006 at 1.30 p.m. and 6.30 p.m. in front of an invited audience.

The opera, entitled The Wind on the Moor is the result of a nine month project managed by the Parsonage in partnership with Operahouse, an organisation comprising a team of established professionals who offer music based creative projects for primary schools across the country.

The opera project, which has been made possible with funding from the Arts Council, Yorkshire Museums Libraries and Archives Council and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, is based on the early lives of the Brontës, in particular their childhoods. Children have taken part in various activities focusing on the Parsonage, its collection, the village of Haworth and the surrounding landscape. They were encouraged to explore the Brontë story and respond to it, imaginatively, emotionally, and creatively through musical composition, writing and singing, dance, drama and mime.

Taking part in the project are Frizinghall Primary School in Bradford, Myrtle Park Primary School in Bingley, Lees Primary School in Haworth and Margaret McMillan Primary School in Bradford.  

Virginia Rushton, Project Director and Operahouse Artistic Director, said the process had been "...exhilarating and exhausting! The journey from blank page to performance is always exciting for a composer, but on this project we have had 120 young composer-performers and their teachers so we are off the scale in terms of excitement!"

She added, "As the journey has progressed, it has gathered pace and is now racing towards the premiere. Harnessing all the energy and ideas, keeping the creative process on track, supporting the class teachers as they came to grips with techniques for writing songs, and simply managing such a large group of children has been a challenge. But we knew what we were aiming for, and I think we have achieved something unique for each of us and for our audience"

Andrew McCarthy, Audience Development Manager at the Parsonage, said, "We have focused on the Brontë experience of childhood in Haworth and the contrast between this industrial village in which they grew up and the extraordinary imaginary worlds they created in their early writing... The children and teachers involved have enjoyed themselves immensely and have totally engaged with the project. They are looking forward to the final performance on 30 March with much anticipation!"

The team of professionals who have guided the children throughout the project with Andrew McCarthy are:

Alison Prince - renowned author who created Trumpton and The Sherwood Hero and who has won many children's literary awards for her work on over 40 books

Virginia Rushton -  Project Director and the founder of the Operahouse organisation in London

Mark Robinson - Musical Director who has worked extensively with the Northern Sinfonia, London Festival Orchestra and is a Fellow in Music at the University of Bradford

Andrew Keeling - composer who has worked with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, the Metropole Orchestra of Amsterdam and whose work has been performed and broadcast throughout the world.

Final rehearsals for the performance were held at West Lane Baptist Chapel in Haworth on Wednesday 1 March 2006 where pupils perfected their new found skills and put the finishing touches to their production.