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Wednesday, 31 May 2006

Can you see them?

Several people have been in contact recently saying that they can see only the articles and pictures on their screens - not the links and the archive which should be displayed on the right hand side. The same people then reveal that their only browser is a version of Internet Explorer.

The right hand side appears to be shown on some versions of Explorer though. The blog is set up on a Mac using either Safari or Firefox. Safari is standard on many Macs, but Firefox is available for PCs.

It is possible to update your older version of Explorer, but be careful: it is sometimes described as a 'Swiss cheese' of a browser which has in the past let in viruses and hackers with ease and which is still vulnerable in spite of all the latest spin from Microsoft. Why not switch to something else (for free) like Mozilla-Firefox?

Please feel free to discuss your technical problems by emailing You won't be able to see this contact address if you can't see the right hand side.

Saturday, 20 May 2006

Shirley Country Guide

Richard Wilcocks writes:
On Friday 19 May Kirklees Community History and Kirklees Tourism launched the Shirley Country Guide. To be strictly accurate, they relaunched it in a splendid new colour version, because it has appeared in a shorter form before.

Shirley Country is the name generally accepted by both the Brontë Society and Kirklees Metropolitan Council as the name for the area of West Yorkshire crossed by the River Spen and the manically busy M62 motorway which contains such havens of leafy tranquillity as the Red House in Gomersal, Oakwell Hall in Birstall and St Peter's Church in Hartshead, an area well known to Charlotte Brontë, Ellen Nussey, Mary Taylor and many of the real-life characters who appeared with fictional names in Shirley.

Published in 1849, the novel caused quite a sensation. The local literate, gossiping classes had only just discovered that the quiet parson's daughter from Haworth was secretly the famous Currer Bell, the author of Jane Eyre. Now they found themselves and their neighbours appearing in her latest work.

Charlotte knew the area well from her schooldays in Mirfield and was a frequent visitor. When Charlottë's parents were first married they lived in Hightown, and her father was minister at Hartshead at the time of the Luddite riots of 1812.

The guide features information, directions to and a map of fourteen places which Charlotte knew. Visitors are invited to create their own literary trail.

Some locations have actually disappeared - Rawfold's Mill, for example, which once held out against hundreds of armed and masked Luddites - most of them skilled workers intent on smashing up the new machinery inside which had taken away their livelihoods. It is now a corner of a modern industrial estate.

Oakwell Hall, on the other hand, is thriving in its hundred acres of idyllic parkland rolling down to the edge of the M62, an Elizabethan manor house which contains many of the features of Fieldhead, as described by Charlotte in Shirley, with a visitors' centre nearby geared to the needs of school parties.

The launch started here. Several dozen guests - including representatives of the Brontë Society - watched Charlotte (played by Tania Gillmartin) and Ellen (Bridgid Harbour) arrive by horse-drawn carriage, to be met by the Mayor of Kirklees, Councillor Margaret Fearnley. Joanne Catlow as Shirley Keeldar confronted Chris Yates as the Curate Mr Donne as part of a dramatised extract from the novel performed in the dark-panelled main hall inside.

Charlotte and Ellen later travelled by horse-drawn carriage to Briarmains - Red House. The guests went by a more modern coach.

At Briarmains, Mary Taylor (Julie O'Connell) did the greeting, and snifters of madeira wine were available, to be consumed during the watching of more dramatisations: the three friends conversed, Ellen regaling the other two with a shocking story of bigamy involving a gentleman who secretly kept a lunatic wife in an upstairs room.

Then Robert Moore (John Bunker) walked through the front door - based on William Cartwright, whose mill at Rawfolds received the attention of the rioters. He talked with Hiram Yorke (Phil Knight) who was based on Mary's father Joshua Taylor.

The guests boarded the coach after this for a tour of some of the sites included in the guide - down Spen Lane to St Mary's Church where Mary Taylor is buried, on to the Gomersal Lodge Hotel (formerly High Royd, Mary Taylor's home up to her death in 1893), past the site of Rawfold's Mill, on to Healds Hall, Liversedge (now a sumptuous hotel), past Ellen Nussey's early home Rydings (now situated next to a paint factory), past St Peter's Church in Birstall and back to Oakwell Hall.

Later, at the Gomersal Park Hotel, which is a greatly extended version of Ellen Nussey's Moor Lane House, some of the costumed characters welcomed guests to a literary lunch. The speaker was the well-known Yorkshire Television presenter Ian Clayton, who talked about language change in Yorkshire, his own background as a miner's son who went to grammar school and an occasion when he was shaking hands with the Archbishop of York when his mobile phone suddenly rang with the tune of 'Popeye the Sailor Man'. He read short extracts from several books including, of course, Shirley.

You can visit Kirklees Tourism by clicking on the link on the right. If you want a copy of the guide, contact Joanne Catlow at 01484 223803 (add +44, delete the initial 0 if you are not in the UK) or email her:

Say you heard about it from this blog.

Photocredits: Richard Wilcocks

Thursday, 18 May 2006

Clare Boylan

This obituary is from The Times online for 18 May:

Clare Boylan
April 21, 1948 - May 16, 2006
Irish author who achieved wide acclaim with Emma Brown, the completion of a two-chapter fragment by Charlotte Brontë

Clare Boylan never saw herself as purely an “Irish� writer, although she set several of her books in Dublin past and present. A sense of place is powerfully conveyed in all of them.

In one, Home Rule (1992), she convincingly portrayed the city in the turmoil of the 1890s and beyond as it came to grips with historic national and political issues. But her last novel, Emma Brown, published in 2003, was set mainly in London, and was Boylan’s interpretation and completion of a two-chapter fragment left behind by Charlotte Brontë.

This was perhaps her best book, as well as her most successful. It involved a huge amount of research, which included walking around the streets of London with a guide, until her feet blistered and bled.

She was no stranger to this kind of painstaking research: it was the backbone of her award-winning journalism. She had won the 1974 Journalist of the Year title in Dublin as a young feature writer on the Evening Press. Her memorable series on homeless women involved spending many nights on the streets with them.


Boylan was always going to be a writer. In her contribution to A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl, a collection of childhood memories by nine Irish women writers, she recalled how her mother wrote children’s stories for herself and her two sisters, Ann and Patricia, as well as essays and short stories. It was the job of the seven-year-old Boylan to type out the articles with two fingers, as a reward for which she was taken to the cinema.Three decades later, a short film, Making Waves, based on her short story Some Ladies on a Tour, was nominated for an Oscar in 1988.


Boylan wrote seven novels: Holy Pictures (1983); Last Resorts (1984); Black Baby (1988); Home Rule (1992); Room for a Single Lady (1997), which won the Spirit of Life award; Beloved Stranger (1999) and Emma Brown (2003). There were also three collections of short stories and two anthologies, The Agony and The Ego, The Art and Strategy of Fiction Writing Explained (1993) and The Literary Companion to Cats (1994).

She also wrote a great deal of literary criticism and a radio dramatisation of Molly Keane’s novel, Good Behaviour (2004).

Boylan was an able hostess. She never lost her interest in good food, and one of the joys of her later years was the house she kept in Brittany where the daily ritual of buying and cooking was taken as seriously by the locals as by Boylan. One of her favourite cities was Venice, which she visited many times, often out of season, glorying in the winter light and the emptiness of St Mark’s Square in January.

Boylan was a member of Aosdána, the affiliation of artists established by the Arts Council of Ireland to honour those who had made an outstanding contribution to the arts.

She was a compassionate, but not an overly sentimental, animal lover, with an interest in promoting more humane farming and husbandry techniques.

Students on her creative writing course thought her a brilliant and generous teacher. As a writer she was never content to stand still or produce work that was as only as good as her previous output. Culminating in the extraordinary Emma Brown, each of her books was arguably better than the one before it, as well as significantly different.

Boylan had battled cancer for some time. One friend, upon learning of her final illness, said: “Part of the tragedy is that there will be no more wonderful books.�

Clare Boylan is survived by her husband, Alan Wilkes.

Clare Boylan, author, was born on April 21, 1948. She died on May 16, 2006, aged 58.

Monday, 15 May 2006

Bronte Society Spring Walk

It happened on Sunday 14 May.

It started at St Peter's Church in Birstall and ended at Rydings, once the home of Ellen Nussey. Margaret Berry, the walk leader, explained just about everything that needed to be explained, and participants went home tired, happy and slightly damp.

The weather was of the Pennine variety - grey and showery. Nobody minded.

The full itinerary can be found in the blog archive for February. A longer account will appear in the next Gazette, which comes out in September.

Meanwhile, here are some pictures:

Miss Wooler's grave, St Peter's churchyard, Birstall

Outside Oakwell Hall



One of the displays inside.

Vote for the little book

One of the earliest known books written by one of the Brontë sisters will feature in a BBC2 programme which has gathered together some of the most quirky and unusual museum items from across the UK to create an online 'People’s Museum' voted for by the general public.

The programme, designed to coincide with Museums and Galleries Month, will feature Charlotte Brontë’s ‘little book’ of writings which makes up part of the Museum collection at the Parsonage. The People’s Museum programme will invite viewers to vote on their favourite museum artefact featured in the twenty-part series which will go out on BBC2 at 3.30pm five days a week - commencing on 15 May 2006.

Charlotte's little book will be featured on 30 May. The object with the most votes will be proclaimed the winner on 9 June 2006, although featured objects will have a place in a virtual museum on the BBC’s history website.

Competition was fierce for inclusion in the programme as the producers, Reef TV, struggled through the enormous pile of entries from around Britain. The Parsonage is delighted to have been chosen and hopes that Brontë fans across the UK and from overseas will register their affection for the Brontës by voting on the day.

The tiny book, no bigger than the palm of a hand and measuring 42 x 64 mm, was believed to have been written by Charlotte between 1826 and 1829 when she was aged between 10 and 13, for her sister Anne. The book, bound in leather at a later date, is in immaculate condition and includes beautiful watercolour pictures and the original covers, which were made from tiny pieces of grey-flowered wallpaper.

Filming took place at the Parsonage earlier in the year with presenter Jules Hudson interviewing Librarian Ann Dinsdale, who explained to viewers the origin of the tiny book: how it was made, what it was made of and more importantly how Charlotte’s early writings influenced her most famous works:

"This little book is the earliest surviving manuscript by Charlotte Brontë and marks the beginning of her long apprenticeship in literature. It was an apprenticeship that would culminate twenty years later with the writing of Jane Eyre - one of the most popular books ever written.�

The presenter, Jules Hudson, is an historian and archaeologist who has presented Channel 4’s Time Team and the BBC’s Horizon programmes. He was fascinated by the little book whose writing is hardly readable. It is now rather fragile and delicate. Visitors to the Museum will be able to see the book on display at the Parsonage from June 2006.

This post is by Diane Benn

Further notes about the 'little book':

The Brontë sisters are famous for their literary works, including Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights; however their interest in writing had begun many years before during their childhood.

The siblings conjured up plays and imaginative stories, inspired by a set of toy soldiers given to Branwell by Mr Brontë in 1826. The children each named the soldiers after famous heroes of the time such as the Duke of Wellington and Napoleon, and from these toys they created their imaginary worlds and stories about Gondal and Angria now known as Brontë Juvenilia. From this period onwards the Brontë children produced ‘little books,’ written in tiny writing and supposedly created small enough for the toy soldiers to read.

It is also believed that many years of writing these ‘little books’ could have contributed to Charlotte’s degenerative eyesight. The minuscule script can be seen as part of a secret imaginary world that was shared between the siblings and hidden from prying adult eyes.

This ‘little book’ originally belonged to Arthur Bell Nicholls, the husband of Charlotte Brontë. After his death most of his Brontë collection was sold in an auction in 1907. Unfortunately for the Brontë Society at the time the ‘little book’ was sold to a private American collector called Henry H. Bonnell. It resided with him until his death in 1926, finally ‘returning home’ in 1927 when it was kindly donated by Henry Bonnell’s family to the Parsonage, the place where it was written.

Please see the Brontë website for further details - use the link on the right.

Sunday, 14 May 2006

Anna in Haworth

This is a reminder that Anna Calder-Marshall, Cathy with Timothy Dalton's Heathcliff in the much-loved 1970 version of Wuthering Heights, is to make an appearance on the Friday evening ( 2 June 2006) of the annual Brontë Society June weekend in Haworth.

She will be acting in Charlotte, Emily and Anne, a moving play by Douglas Verrall. Anna is part of an ensemble of five women who each play a family member and other parts. Other cast members are Helen Ayres, Yvonne Bonnamy, Christine King and Catherine Harvey.

The play is directed by Valerie Doulton, who launched her Live Literature Company in 2003.

Wednesday, 10 May 2006

Visiting Italy?

Member of the Brontë Society?

The Italian Section cordially invites you to get in touch before you go.


Monday, 8 May 2006

Bronte Boats

The Verdopolis leaves a lock in the picture above.

Tourists visiting the Parsonage can now sample the beauties of Yorkshire’s waterways thanks to a new initiative between the Museum and Brontë Boats based at the newly refurbished Hebden Bridge Marina.

The partnership will offer visitors the chance to take a one-hour canal trip with an all-inclusive ticket of £12.00. The price includes return canal cruise and entry to the Parsonage.

Brontë Parsonage Museum Director, Alan Bentley said, “We are delighted to announce the new initiative with Brontë Boats. The visitor experience will be greatly enhanced with the addition of the canal cruise which gives tourists the chance to relax on board whilst taking in some of the wonderful countryside that the Brontës wrote about and experienced for themselves."

Brontë Boats launched its new 53 passenger canal cruiser Verdopolis to cater for the increasing number of visitors to the area. Passengers also have the option to book private parties for their guests who can tuck into a three course carvery meal, Indian, Greek or buffet food and listen to music of their choice. The boat has a bar, conference facilities and toilets.

For further information about Brontë Boats canal cruises please telephone 01422 845557 or email The Brontë Boats website can be found at Address is - The Marina, New Road, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, HX7 8AD

For further information on events and exhibitions at the Brontë Parsonage Museum please telephone 01535 642323 or visit the link on the right.

Posted by Diane Benn