Monday, 9 July 2007

Brontë - the name

This is my report on the 'What's in a name?' campaign which began just before Easter. To illustrate it, thunder clouds, because Bronte means thunder in Greek.

The aim of the letter sent to named managing directors of about forty companies in March (and subsequent phone calls) when I was still Chairman of the Brontë Society was not just to obtain donations and sponsorship but to put the Parsonage in the public eye just before Easter. A media release was sent out on 19 March 2007 which resulted in substantial articles in the local and national press, ten minutes on the Radio 4 programme You and Yours and two sessions of a similar length on the Radio Leeds Breakfast Show.

John Roberts wrote an article which was prominently placed (page 2) in the Yorkshire Post of 20 March. An article by Louise Jury in the Independent on 21 March was well-informed and accompanied by three illustrations. There was also a 'third leader' about the letter by Charles Nevin on the editorial page. On the same day, a very good article by Clive White (who rang several companies in the local area) was published in the Bradford Telegraph and Argus. Other articles appeared in the Keighley News and on various blogs and websites.

The You and Yours interview (lunchtime 26 March) resulted in a number of phone calls and emails, all sympathetic. The programme had used no less than four researchers to phone around for reactions from companies found on the Internet, which made me jealous. One reaction, from a Mr Robert Bolton from Bronte Whirlpools Ltd of Silsden, turned out to be typical – “I chose the name because the company is in Bronte Country. Otherwise we would have been Aqua something.”

The Radio Leeds broadcasts resulted in phone calls to the station, one or two jokey but all of them sympathetic. The presenter mentioned that she had been impressed by the Parsonage Museum during visits there, and there was talk of the fact that it might be a good place to visit over Easter.

The companies which received the letters were sifted from a long list after a check (by a volunteer named Ruth Wilson at the Parsonage!) that they were still in business and that they were reasonably large. Many of them received follow-up phone calls from myself. Some replies were cautious or evasive (eg “I’ll ring back when I have discussed this with my partner/head office etc”), some were surprised (“What letter?”) and some were very friendly. Here is a selection:

Rita Marsden from Brontë Weaving Shed in Haworth (visited personally) said that she was sending the letter on to head office in Edinburgh but that she was “interested in collaboration”.

Miriam Spollen from Brontë Bridal in Dublin was very friendly, and would like to visit the Parsonage (she comes over to Harrogate frequently). She promised a cheque and said she would get back to me in the autumn.

Julie Eyre from Brontë Business Networks of Solihull said she chose Brontë because of her own name and because she used to live in Oakworth. She sent her best wishes but added that hers is a start-up company and unable to give donations at the moment. However, the company would be willing to give advice on websites.

Mrs Clare Pickles of Brontë Country Cottages “will ring back after I have discussed it with my husband”.

Mr H.S. Sohal of Brontë Countrywear Ltd (Manchester) “will ring back after I have discussed it with fellow directors”.

John Matthewman of Brontë Tweeds rang to invite me to tour his mill in Tingley, which I did. It has not changed much for a hundred years and produces mainly tartan blankets and lambswool scarves of high quality. Apparently the same products can be labelled 'Brontë' or 'Highland'.

“It’s to emphasise that they are British,” he explained. “We are one of the few working mills left around here. We have so much competition from India and China.” He is unable to donate money but told me about a deal he has with the National Trust. He can supply items like scarves “at cost price” for resale. This information has been relayed to Parsonage shop manager Sean Killian, who will pay a visit.

Stephen Leach from Brontë Engineering Technologies also invited me to visit his company in Bradford, which specialises in valves for desalination plants. He was very sympathetic, has visited the Parsonage, and spent much of the visit telling me about the uselessness of Bradford Council. He has asked for his company website (currently under construction) to be linked to the Parsonage website and the Parsonage Blog, and said that he will send a cheque.

Alan Hardie of Patterson Arran Ltd of Livingston, Scotland (Brontë Biscuits, Café Brontë) sent a letter saying that there were “opportunities to work with you” but claimed to have “limited funds”, so no donation.

Sir James Aykroyd Bt (of Birstwith Hall, Harrogate) sent a letter saying that he had bought Brontë Liqueur and related trademarks some time ago “but due to other interests have so far done nothing to commercialise the product”. He pointed out that Sir James Roberts was his grandmother’s father, and that he can do little to help us at the moment – but he attached a cheque for fifty pounds. He said that should Brontë Liqueur be reintroduced he would be happy to include in the selling price a small contribution to the Society for each bottle sold. He wished us good luck in our fund raising efforts. In a subsequent phone call he repeated what he had put in the letter. He was invited to visit the Parsonage.

Incidentally I did not stand for re-election as Chairman of the Brontë Society at the last meeting of Council. I can no longer spare the time because my small business (publications and design) is expanding.

Richard Wilcocks

Below, a reminder of the original letter:


Copy of the original letter below:

Dear (name of Managing Director)

I am writing to you for the simple reason that your company uses the name Brontë in its title. I am guessing that this was chosen because it confers a certain prestige upon you, associating you in the public’s imagination with the Brontë family and perhaps the Brontë Parsonage Museum as well. Bronte is both the name of a town in Sicily and the Greek word for thunder, and it was chosen by the Reverend Patrick Brontë (with the addition of the diaeresis) as a new version of his family name of Brunty early in the Nineteenth Century, mainly because of its associations with Lord Nelson, a national hero at the time.

I hope that «Company_Name» is currently prospering. I am wondering whether you have recently visited the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, which is run by the Brontë Society. If you have, you will know that the home of the Brontë family, the Georgian house where Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë wrote the books which made them world famous, is lovingly preserved by a dedicated staff in spite of a tight budget.

There is a programme of special events at the museum which runs throughout the year, which includes special exhibitions, talks, day-schools, courses, children’s holiday workshops, film, theatre and musical performances. Its education programme is ‘inspired’ according to the Judges’ Citation for winners of the prestigious Sandford Award.

The Brontë Society possesses one of the most important collections of Brontë items in the world, housed in the Parsonage, an invaluable resource for the many researchers seeking to shed further light on the Brontë writings, the Brontë family and the social, political and economic history of the Brontë times. Thus, there will always be a demand on the Society’s financial resources as newly-discovered and existing Brontëana come on to the market. There is also a considerable cost in the professional care, conservation, storage and management of the Society’s existing collection.

The Brontë Society gets no direct government assistance, so it is reliant on the generosity of its supporters and visitors to the museum. This is where you come in, because I believe that you could help. I am inviting you to make a donation to us, which would be gratefully received and publicly acknowledged.

Your company could sponsor an appropriate artefact, a special event, an exhibition, a children’s workshop…….the list is long. Or, you could contribute to our Acquisitions Fund, with a focus on a particular item. Your company’s name would feature in our publicity.

Please do not hesitate to get in touch with me by letter or email, or by ringing me directly on . I would be very happy to meet you personally to discuss how you could help us.

Best wishes,

Yours sincerely,

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