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:

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