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Monday, 20 June 2011

Thanks for the donations

Isobel Stirk writes:
It gave me great pleasure to welcome members of the Brontë Society to St Andrew’s, Kildwick – a church I have been connected with since childhood.

I wish to thank, most sincerely, fellow members of the Society for the many very generous donations which were left in the church or have been forwarded on to me later. Each one is very gratefully received and will be put towards the upkeep of this Grade 1 listed building.

If anyone is in the area again please get in touch.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Behind the scenes at the Parsonage

News release:
The Parsonage will be opening its doors for a series of very special ‘behind the scenes’ tours on Wednesday 22 June and Tuesday 26 July, 7.00pm. Each evening will include a guided tour of the museum, a visit to the museum’s Library and a special opportunity to see some of the treasures of the museum’s collection at close quarters and new acquisitions. Wine and canapés will also be served.

The museum is not able to offer guided tours during normal opening hours due to limited space, and its Library, which was part of a Victorian extension added on to the Brontë house in the 1870s, is usually open only by special appointment for research purposes. The Parsonage Museum, which houses the world’s largest collection of Brontë manuscripts, letters and artefacts, is able to display only around ten percent of its collections and the special tours will provide an opportunity for people to see some of the rarely seen treasures of the collection. There will also be the chance to find out more about the history of the Museum’s collection and how it is cared for and to see some of the most recent acquisitions.

I’m sure these special evenings will be extremely popular. The guided tour will give people a wonderful insight into life at the Parsonage in the Brontës’ time and the chance to see the Museum’s unique Library and some of the wonderful Brontë treasures it contains. It’s a very special experience indeed. Along with wine and canapés, it will all make for a delightful evening.

Andrew McCarthy
Director, Brontë Parsonage Museum

Bookings will be taken on a first come, first served basis and can be made for Wednesday 22 June or Tuesday 26 July, 7.00pm. Tickets are £16 each. 
To book, please contact Sonia Boocock, Brontë Parsonage Museum, 01535 640192/

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Return to Haworth II

Helen MacEwan writes: 
There are many delights to sample over the annual Brontë Society weekend in Haworth apart from the hearty Yorkshire fare in its pubs.

There is the opportunity to meet other members. They come from all over the world but the Society’s heart is in Haworth and the Parsonage Museum. Members include local people with a stock of anecdotes from their years in one of Britain’s oldest literary society as well as encyclopaedic knowledge of every place in Yorkshire ever visited by a Brontë or used in one of their novels (over the weekend we had a private viewing of
Ponden Hall, supposedly the model for Wuthering Heights, and a visit to Gawthorpe Hall whose owner introduced Charlotte Brontë to Mrs Gaskell). Some of these Yorkshire members even have links to families who were associated with the Brontës. Thus they form a living link stretching right back to the Brontës themselves.

There are the local researchers like Keighley archivist Ian Dewhirst who spoke about the grimness of working-class life in Haworth in the 1840s with wit and passion, conveying to us the immediacy with which the period can be experienced through the mis-spelt letters of farmers and mill workers of the time. Again, a local enthusiast acting as a living link between us and the past.

There is traditional entertainment such as that provided by the Haworth light opera group, which included one of the monologues performed in 1930s music halls by the comedian Stanley Holloway, recited in a broad Lancashire accent challenging for members from outside the British Isles!

There are the traditional, time-honoured rites of the Brontë Society, such as the annual service for its members in the church where Patrick Brontë preached for over 40 years and the cream tea always partaken of outdoors unless it’s raining too hard.

But the Society isn’t just about the past and tradition. The Museum runs an arts programme with talks and exhibitions by contemporary writers and artists. This year we listened to novelist Sally Vickers (Miss Garnet’s Angel) talking about her work and how the Brontës have influenced it. At the prize-giving for the Society’s literary competition, the winners included many young writers. The winner of the poetry section has just published her first book of poems.

And from this year the Society has a new President. The writer Bonnie Greer is from Chicago, although she has lived in Britain for decades. This was her first AGM and she was delighted to be invited to lead the Society, mingled affably with members and gave us a stirring speech about the need to work to preserve literary societies and museums for future generations.

(This report also appears on the Brussels Brontë Blog)

Below, Gawthorpe Hall:

Return to Haworth I

Renate Hurtmanns writes:
After the outstanding AGM of 2010 (a first for me), I felt happily excited when the bus dropped me off in Haworth in the afternoon of 3 June.

Less focused on lectures this time, we had nevertheless a highly enjoyable weekend full of variety again and also extremely amusing in different ways: a great evening of light entertainment provided by Haworth’s Gilbert and Sullivan group (among others a funny and very special version of “Cinderella”), but above anything else the Brontë spoof Withering Looks by Britain’s most famous literary lunatics Maggie Fox and Sue Riding – extremely inventive and utterly hilarious!

We also had lots of fun around the usual dinner at the Old White Lion on Sunday evening - pitting our Brontë brains against everyone else while trying to find the correct answers to Judith Bland’s 60 questions out of the Brontë books and lives.

But the real highlight for me was our walk on Sunday morning to Ponden Hall, often cited as the model for the Lintons’ home Thrushcross Grange– although none of the sisters left evidence of making such a link themselves. In part this opinion is due to its location, on the way up to the moors, in part to the fact that there were so few larger houses in this area.

Actually, Ponden Hall corresponds in some measure to the description of Wuthering Heights given by Emily and seems thus far more identifiable with Heathcliff’s home - being less grand and more humble than Thrushcross Grange as described in the novel. The date plaque above the main entrance, by the way, identifies the rebuilt house as dating from 1801 - the date that begins the story in 
Wuthering Heights.

Emily Brontë’s association with the Heaton family at Ponden is well documented: one of the Heatons served as a churchwarden to Patrick and it is known that she used the library which was reputedly the finest in West Yorkshire. Branwell Brontë was also a frequent visitor to Ponden where he attended pre-hunting gatherings.

As soon as I entered the large hall - realising that this was Wuthering Heights as I had imagined it – I had a kind of vision, i.e. Heathcliff standing by the fireplace when Mr Lockwood came in and asked for shelter from the snow-storm outside … And a second one in the master bedroom overlooking the valley beyond, where a tiny single-paned window in the east gable - underneath which a box bed, as in 
Wuthering Heights, was once standing but has sadly disappeared - is said to be the one where Cathy’s ghost knocked at the glass. I closed my eyes one second and could nearly hear her voice pleading: “Let me in, let me in”….

I didn’t take photos – unfortunately for those who read these lines, but not for me because for me the best souvenirs are those that you keep in your heart. And this I will – forever !

Now that I am back home again I feel like Emily when she was away from Haworth – nostalgic and missing the Moors already, their stillness, their grandeur and beauty and I can’t wait to go back to them!

(This report also appears on the Brussels Brontë Blog)

Below, Ponden Hall: 

Friday, 10 June 2011

A memorable excursion

Chris Went writes:
Our annual excursion this year focused on places associated with two very different periods in Charlotte’s life.  In the morning we travelled to Lothersdale where, in the summer of 1839, Charlotte was a governess with the Sidgwick family of Stonegappe.  The house is not accessible and almost impossible to see from the road (the photograph below was taken from a public footpath), but we were able to appreciate its exceptionally beautiful setting which is probably little changed since the nineteenth century.  Christ Church,  Lothersdale, built in an attempt to counteract the influence of Methodism,  was consecrated late in 1838.  Although it was funded by the Sidgwicks, they attended Kildwick Church, and Charlotte would have accompanied them there.

In the church at Kildwick, we were welcomed by Isobel Stirk and the ladies of the parish who provided tea, coffee and biscuits. Isobel gave a short talk which dealt comprehensively with the history of the church, which was known as 'Lang Kirk', and she was followed by Angela Crow and Richard Wilcocks.  Angela read extracts from the letters Charlotte wrote during her employment with the Sidgwicks, alternating with a monologue written by Richard and performed by him in role as John Benson Sidgwick.  Drawing on original sources and research into the attitudes of the time, this was a cleverly constructed ‘recollection’ of a rather unsatisfactory governess.  We had plenty of time to explore the church and its surroundings, and were treated to a most sumptuous and memorable buffet lunch by the parish ladies. While we were eating, Michael Murphy, former organist at Kildwick, played music associated with the Brontës which included pieces by the Irish composer John Field, the originator of the piano nocturne.

The second half of the day’s programme consisted of a tour of Gawthorpe Hall near Burnley, the former home of Sir James Kay-Shuttleworth.  Sir James, something of a self-made man, collected celebrities.  Although Charlotte disliked him, and was quite scathing about his wife, Lady Janet, she was manoeuvred into visiting Gawthorpe Hall in the spring of 1850, and again in January, 1855 with her husband.  The house was subjected to major renovations by Sir James but, with a few exceptions, it is much as Charlotte knew it.  We were conducted around the house in three parties, and were also able to have a glimpse of the impressive textile exhibition mounted by Bolton Progressive Threads.

The weather was kinder to us than we might have expected, the day finishing in sunshine.  Charlotte may have disliked her time at Lothersdale, and may have found her visits to Gawthorpe Hall a trial, but we enjoyed ourselves very much and were greatly appreciative of all the people who went to so much trouble to make our day memorable. 

Below, Stonegappe:

A feast of music

Isobel Stirk writes about the concert in St Michael and All Angels Church, Haworth on 5 June:

Outside, a rather cold wind and black clouds - in a darkened sky way out towards Top Withins - did not encourage anyone to linger as they made their way to the church. Inside all was bright and cheerful as the audience perused their programmes and looked forward to a veritable feast of music.  

This included the first public performance of a setting by composer Robin Terry, whose music has been performed in many countries, of Ian Emberson’s Brontë-related poems - Mourning Ring. Michael Templeton, a baritone soloist with Steeton Male Voice Choir, accompanied by Robin, sang four songs very movingly. The theme of Jane Eyre was very much to the fore: one song featured the time when Jane realised she could not marry Edward Rochester, another when she wandered lost and alone over the moors, in another there was a reference to the shipwreck in Villette.

Someone who has delighted many a Brontë audience - Society member Alan Graham - showed, once again, what a talented pianist he is. He transported us back to the Warsaw of the early 1800s with the music of Maria Szymanowska. We heard pieces by Clara Schumann who had a galaxy of experience within her long life. Champion of her husband’s work, she outlived many of her children and, although carer of grandchildren and her dying husband, achieved so much. Alan played, with feeling, a Song for the Pianoforte by Fanny Mendelssohn, talented sister of Felix. A contemporary of the Brontës, Fanny shared her sibling’s passion for music. Like the sisters, she died at a young age in 1847.

Having managed to master only Greensleeves on the recorder, and not very well,  I had looked forward with anticipation to hearing solo pieces played on that instrument by Laura Justice and I was certainly not disappointed. It was a bonus to have Robin Walker, the composer of the first piece, explain a little about A Rune for St Mary’s. He asked us to think of a rune as something indescribable, a letter from an unknown alphabet.  Listening to the haunting sounds which Laura produced, it was easy to imagine being on the moors high above Todmorden , the setting for the piece, and it seemed as if the wind which always blows around the lonely place could actually be heard. 

I had been in the church earlier when a group of enthusiastic Japanese tourists were looking around. What a pity their visit was not a couple of hours later, because they may very well have been familiar with Ryohei Hirose, the composer of the modern Japanese piece. The sounds Laura produced in her interpretation were incredible. Closing my eyes at one point it almost seemed as if I was listening to a violin.

This wonderful concert had been meticulously planned by Ian and had, I am sure, been enjoyed by everyone present. It ended with a setting, by John Ireland, of Masefield’s great poem Sea-Fever. This was sung with great gusto by Michael Templeton.

Leaving the church the leaves on the trees lining Church Street were still showing their backs, the wind was still whistling among the gravestones and the black clouds were getting ominously nearer- but it did not matter. We had, for a short time, been taken to an almost magical place- for isn’t that where Ian’s poems and artwork always lead? However don’t take my word for that- go to his website and read his E book The Zig Zag Path. You have a treat in store.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Encyclopedic and entertaining

Richard Wilcocks writes:
The encyclopedic and extraordinarily entertaining Ian Dewhirst MBE gave the Saturday morning talk. He is far from being a romantic, and keen on facts, most of them the product of his own extensive research at a local level. Equipped with a well-thumbed collection of notes and extracts, he put the Brontës in the context of a Haworth which was often malodorous, where many were poverty-stricken in a way which is often nowadays linked to 'the developing world' and where people usually died long before before their three score years and ten arrived. Children were lucky to reach the age of five. The doctor (and what did he know anyway?) was called as a last resort, if at all, so perhaps Emily's refusal to see one as the consumption took a final hold of her on the couch was not that unusual or remarkable.

He covered well-trodden ground to some extent, but introduced a series of interesting anecdotes and snippets which made this talk more than a sociological excursion through dry statistics and cold statements. For example, in his search for original sources he has browsed through the record books and crumbling ledgers of old mills, the ones that remain that is, because many of them were pulped during the Second World War as part of a government plan to produce more paper, and found all those small things which connect us to real, 'ordinary' people.

He read from letters which were often full of misspellings and without any punctuation, and also from poems: apparently Haworth was packed with people writing in their spare time, and the Brontës must have read at least some of their efforts, the quality of which ranged from the extraordinary to the awful. He found one poem by a local man which was no less than three hundred pages long, but not up to Brontë standards: he got as far as page two.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Mingling on Friday

The first evening of the Annual Weekend. Warm and sunny.

After the talk by novelist Sally Vickers, members mingled. "Haven't see you for a while," was the commonest opening line, of course.  Bonnie Greer mingled too: "It's such a great honour to be President of the Brontë Society, something I could never have imagined when I was a child. I hope I can continue to be a part of the great work."

"It's fantastic to have Bonnie," said Society Chair Sally McDonald. "In fact it's quite extraordinary."
"I'm looking forward to presenting the prizes with Bonnie for the Brontë Society Literary Competion. We had over a hundred entries, and the quality was very good," said Sarah Fermi.
"I love just being here in Haworth. I arrived yesterday and was soon walking on the moors. All the tensions in my life disappear when I do that," said Judith Watkins from Toronto.
"I enjoyed the talk by Sally Vickers about her new novel, and now I'm enjoying meeting people with different opinions on the same theme," said Nigel Nicholl from Pontefract.
"Haworth is so beautiful. This is my first visit to the village and to the Parsonage. All the people are very nice," said Jorge de Britto from Brussels.
"I am looking forward to the poetry - my contribution - of course. The company is always good here!" said Ian Emberson.