Bookmark this independent blog

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Bestselling novelist Victoria Hislop to visit Haworth

Bestselling novelist Victoria Hislop will be visiting Haworth next week to read from and discuss her work and latest novel, The Thread. The event takes place on the evening of Thursday 5 July at 7.30pm at the West Lane Baptist Centre in Haworth, and forms part of the Parsonage's contemporary arts programme.

Victoria Hislop’s first two novels, The Island and The Return, were Sunday Times number one bestsellers and have been translated into more than twenty languages. She won the Newcomer of the Year at the Galaxy British Book Awards 2007 and the Richard & Judy Summer Read competition. Her third novel, The Thread was published in November 2011. 

Victoria Hislop is a great admirer of the Brontës, especially Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights and she has written the introduction for the White’s edition of the novel. She has previously described Wuthering Heights as “the book that changed me…it woke me up”.

Tickets for the event cost £6 and can be booked from the Brontë Parsonage Museum:

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Ovenden Moor Wind Farm

At some point during late summer or early autumn, E.ON, the company which operates the wind farm on Ovenden Moor, will submit a planning application to Calderdale District Council for permission to repower the installation.  Their intention is to reduce the number of turbines from the current twenty-two to nine.  However, these nine turbines will be considerably larger than those currently visible from Haworth Moor.  At 115m they will have a significant detrimental  visual impact on the landscape.

E.ON are holding Open Days at Ovenden on Friday, 6 and Saturday, 7 July from 10am to 4.30pm when the public can visit the wind farm and see the plans for the repowering.  It will also be an opportunity to express opinions about the proposals.

A representative of the Brontë Society will be attending on one of the days to discuss the plans with E.ON.

Full details of the repowering proposals and the Open Days can be found at

Contact details for E.ON are as follows:-

By post:

Ovenden Moor Wind Farm
Westwood Business Park
Westwood Way
Coventry    CV4 8LG

By email:

By phone:

0800 096 1199

Andrew McCarthy

News Release:

Brontë Museum Director to take up new role in Bradford

It has been announced that Director at the Brontë Parsonage Museum, Andrew McCarthy, will soon be leaving Haworth to take up a new position with Artworks Creative Communities in Bradford.

Andrew has been based at the Parsonage for fourteen years; as Education Officer, Audience Development Manager and Deputy Director, eventually being appointed museum Director in July 2008. He initially developed the museum’s education programme and was responsible for several large scale arts education projects in Haworth including The Wind on the Moors, involving four Bradford ‘link’ schools from diverse communities in the city, working with a librettist, composer and professional team of musicians to create a new opera based on the Brontës’ lives which was performed at St Michael & All Angels Church. 

Andrew was also responsible for initiating the museum’s contemporary arts programme which launched in 2006 with an exhibition of work by the British, Turner-prize nominated artist, Cornelia Parker, who was commissioned to create new work in response to the museum and its collection. The programme, which has received funding support from Arts Council England and the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, has brought many well established writers and artists to Haworth in recent years, as well as giving opportunities to emerging, regional creative talent. The programme includes regular readings and events with visiting authors (including an annual Brontë Festival of Women’s Writing). There are also workshops, drop-in activities and special projects, aimed at encouraging visitors to respond to the museum through creative activity, and residencies with writers and artists working with community groups.

As Director, Andrew also delivered a phased programme of development at the museum which saw a major refurbishment of its main exhibition space, and a Heritage Lottery Funded project to re-case, redisplay and re-interpret the museum’s collection in the historic rooms of the house. This programme is due to be completed in January 2013 when the Parsonage will be redecorated following an extensive programme of decorative archaeological analysis aimed at reinstating a more authentic Brontë decorative scheme.

During his time as Director, the museum’s collection has grown significantly, visitor numbers have increased, and despite the challenging economic environment, the past three years have seen the museum deliver successive operating surpluses, after a long period of financial instability.

Andrew McCarthy has achieved a great deal during his time with the Bronte Society and will leave the Parsonage Museum and its public programmes in a position of strength going forward.   The Society wishes Andrew every success in his new post with Artworks.  Andrew is passionate about improving access to the arts and whilst he will be sorely missed we are delighted to think we might look forward to potential collaborations between the Bronte Parsonage Museum and Artworks in the future. 
Sally McDonald – Chairman of the Brontë Society

Andrew will be leaving Haworth in July to take up the role of Operations Director with Bradford based Artworks Creative Communities. Artworks, now based at the Delius Arts & Cultural Centre in Great Horton Road, was established in 1998 and has developed a significant regional reputation for innovative projects that use creativity as a force for change. Working with professional artists and in partnership with communities, organizations and businesses, Artworks develop and deliver exciting projects that use participation in the arts as a tool to inspire, connect and engage those who tend to be excluded from participation in culture and the arts.

The Artworks Team is greatly looking forward to welcoming Andrew to his new post just in time to help us celebrate our one year anniversary of moving into the Delius Arts & Cultural Centre. Andrew’s dedication to the arts is evident through his work with the Bronte Parsonage Museum and the legacy he will leave there.
Estelle Cooper – Artworks Creative Communities

Contacts & Further Information:                             

Andrew McCarthy - Director, Brontë Parsonage Museum -  01535 640194/ 07445 883455 -

Friday, 15 June 2012

June Weekend - Excursion to Haddon Hall

IMS writes:
It was a fine Autumn morning; the early sun shone serenely on embrowned groves and still green fields: I looked up and surveyed the front of the mansion. Battlements round the top gave it a picturesque look.’

'Farther off were hills: not so lofty as those round Lowood, nor so craggy, but yet quiet and lonely hills enough.’

The Monday excursion for Brontë Society members was to Haddon Hall, a building built of gritstone and limestone, on the banks of the River Wye in Derbyshire - one of the seats of the Duke of Rutland. The hall has been the setting for many films - one of the earliest based there was the 1924 film starring Mary Pickford - Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall. This film tells the romantic story of how Dorothy eloped with John Manners in 1563. The Manners family still hold the seat today. Haddon has played cameo roles in Pride and Prejudice and The Other Boleyn Girl  but it was the fact that the hall has been used for three Jane Eyre productions that occasioned a coach from Haworth to travel from motorway to motorway, pass the leaning steeple in Chesterfield and to pull into the car park just outside the town of Bakewell - famous for its puddings and tarts.

We were met by one of the guides who welcomed us to the Hall and who then led us through the narrow gate house and, after warning us of the very uneven ground all around, directed us towards the chapel.

‘We entered the quiet and humble temple’. All was still: The strangers had slipped in before us, they viewed the old time-stained marble tomb.’

Our very knowledgeable guide explained that film directors Fukunaga and Zefferelli and the BBC production which starred the suave Toby Stephens and the pulchritudinous Ruth Wilson had all used the inside of the chapel which, with a Norman pillar and font and Norman lancet windows, has some of the earliest masonry of the Hall. A marble copy effigy of the eighth Duke who died at the age of nine lies in the chapel and all around the walls are fresco-seccos from the early fifteenth century. Similarly, we were told, they had all used the fourteenth century kitchen which houses the only Tudor dresser in the world. Scorch marks on the timber partition walls show where candles and rushes were used for lighting.

‘The steps and banisters were of oak; the staircase window was high and latticed; both it and the long gallery looked as if they belonged to a church rather than a house.’

‘Traversing the long and matted gallery I descended the slippery steps of oak.’

We were taken into the Long Gallery which would have been used for exercise when the weather outside was inclement and the guide explained that the diamond shaped panes in the windows are set at different angles to maximise the use of the daylight. It was interesting to hear that when filming was taking place it was very cold in the Long Gallery- it being more or less impossible to heat- and the actors had to suck ice cubes so that their breath would not be seen on film.

It was burnt down just about harvest time. A dreadful calamity. The fire broke out at dead of night, and before the engines arrived from Millcote the building was one mass of flame. It was a terrible spectacle.’

Our guide recalled that when the BBC decided to use pyrotechnics, smoke machines, and lighted pokers in the windows to make the fire at Thornfield really realistic the local fire brigade - who had happily been warned in advance- received over one hundred calls.

‘And then they called to him that she was on the roof; where she was standing, waving her arms, above the battlements, and shouting.’

‘We saw him approach her; and then she yelled and gave a spring and the next minute she lay smashed on the pavement.’ 

We were taken outside and the part of the roof from where the stunt person playing Bertha jumped was pointed out to us. Apparently scaffolding had had to be erected and the person jumped the thirty feet on to an airbag. It looked as if it would have been quite an ordeal to jump from those battlements but at ten pounds a foot maybe it was worth it - however not for me!

No nook in the grounds more sheltered and more Eden-like; it was full of trees, it bloomed with flowers:’

We wandered in the beautiful gardens and looked down on the footbridge - seen in all the films- where Sir John Manners was waiting to whisk Dorothy away from the Hall all those years ago and we saw the meadow at the side of the river where in the BBC production Mr Rochester and Jane picnic.

It was a most enjoyable day spent at Haddon - I am sure I will not be the only one watching the DVD of the latest film version of  Jane Eyre once again and saying “I’ve been there!”

June Weekend - Excursion to Guiseley

On Sunday afternoon a minibus transported Brontë Society members to Guiseley Parish Church where nearly two hundred years ago Patrick Brontë married Maria Branwell.

The building has changed considerably since the first church was founded in the twelfth century and the oak box pews Patrick and Maria would have sat in are no longer there. However it was good to see the communion rails the couple would have seen and the plaque commemorating their marriage, which names the famous writers Charlotte, Emily and Anne as their daughters.

June weekend - Sunday Walks

A Walk to Oxenhope and Marshlands

Margaret Berry writes:

Three weeks ago, sunshine and blue skies (!!!) greeted Brontë Society members for the AGM weekend Sunday walk  to Oxenhope.  I have walked the route many times, and it has the happiest connections to the courtship and wedding of Charlotte Brontë and Arthur Bell Nicholls.  We walked up a narrow walled path to Sowdens, the home for twenty years of  the Rev W Grimshaw, and saw the  ancient barn used by John and Charles Wesley to preach.  We had to search for the commemorative plaque, which was covered in rambling roses.

Our group followed the path across the medieval  field systems, to Old Oxenhope Farm,  the route Rev Joseph Grant and Arthur Bell Nicholls walked on his June wedding morning.  There was much discussion and conjecture about their arriving at church with boots and cassocks  covered in wet mud.  
The long views across the valley are quite spectacular on a sunny day,  and compensate for the nettles and boggy ground. 
We paused to look at Marshlands, the home of Rev Grant, and its neighbour, the Old Grammar School, attended  briefly by Branwell  Brontë to study Greek. The buildings are substantially the same as they were one hundred and fifty years ago.

A steep field led down from Bent’s house,  to the Oxenhope railway line - the  whole area was used in the iconic film The Railway Children.   Our group followed the valley path to the medieval pack horse bridge, pausing to watch two trains on the Worth Valley line. Then it was back to Haworth.

The AGM weekend entertained many more new visitors from Brussels, and we all had the opportunity to talk to them on the walk, and hope to see them  again next year.

A Walk with Ian Dewhirst

IMS writes:
 It was with the anticipation of a very interesting afternoon that members met with local historian and retired librarian Ian Dewhirst for a ‘walking/talking’ tour of the local graveyards. With his inimitable style Ian took the group to various graves in the old churchyard where they were regaled with fascinating stories. One memorial stone showed that Elizabeth Hartley had hoped to escape the harsh realities of life in nineteenth century Haworth for a new life in Australia - only to perish with two hundred and seventy other souls on the ship ‘London’. Isaac Constantin emigrated to Canada and became an ordained minister but not before he had established himself as a local poet in Haworth – one of his published poems stretched to one hundred and ninety seven pages!

The Haworth of the past was not exempt from scandal and intrigue for Ian related - round their grave - the story of the Sagar family. Mr Sagar was master of the local workhouse and his wife, who was said to procure girls to visit the couple’s bedroom, was his assistant. Mr Sagar went on trial in York for his wife’s murder by poisoning but he was perhaps saved from the gallows by the local physician, Dr Milligan, who gave evidence three times at the trial - each time his story was different - and Mr Sagar was acquitted.

Haworth’s church graveyard is certainly interesting and certainly very crowded so it is not surprising that Benjamin Herschel Babbage - the inspector who conducted an enquiry and later published a comprehensive and damning report on Haworth’s water supply and sanitation arrangements -  recommended the closure of that graveyard. It was an informative afternoon poking about amidst those ancient graves which showed that life in byegone Haworth was very hard, with whole families dying within months of one another and parents having to cope with the loss of one child after another.
In the Methodist graveyard and the new cemetery the group were brought more up to date as they were shown graves of people who could be called celebrities of a more modern day Haworth - ‘Harry the Hat’ and the balloonist Lily Cove.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Why does Heathcliff have only one name?

Richard Wilcocks writes:
A really impressive panel was lined up for us on the Saturday evening (9 June) of the AGM weekend – from left to right in the photograph, Terry Eagleton (Distinguished Professor of English Literature, Lancaster University), novelist and essayist Caryl Phillips (Professor at Yale University),  chair John McLeod (Professor at Leeds University) and our President Bonnie Greer. They were there to pass comment on a thirty-minute documentary with the title A Regular Black – The Hidden Wuthering Heights, which was shown after an introduction by its director, Adam Low.

Filmed on location in Yorkshire, Lancaster and Liverpool, it ‘examines the ambiguities of Emily Brontë’s classic novel and uncovers a shameful chapter in the hidden history of Black Britain.’ The story is located in Dentdale, home to the slave-trading Sill family, whose own history bears a strange resemblance to that of the fictional Earnshaws. The Sills were mentioned on this blog in a review of Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights in November last year. The documentary features commentary by Caryl Phillips, historians Iain McCalman and Cassandra Pybus, and local historians Melinda Elder and Kim Lyon. Kim Lyon was in at the beginning of the research process back in the 1970s, and is responsible for much of the work on the adoption of an orphan boy called Richard Sutton, who was described as a ‘foundling’ when brought to Dentdale by Edmund Sill. Rather than bringing him up with the Sills’ three sons and one daughter, however, he was kept with the slaves used by the Sills instead of regular servants. Many questions are raised , many speculations sent flying by the thirty minutes of video, not least amongst  them the one about the naming of Heathcliff. Why is he given just one name, like a slave? Why is he not Heathcliff Earnshaw?

Terry Eagleton reminded us that Heathcliff is a fictional character, a ‘collection of black marks on a page’. Heathcliff is ‘nowhere’ before the beginning of the story, just as Hamlet is nowhere before the play starts.  That’s the nature of literature.  “Literature gives us the green light to speculate,” said Caryl Phillips, and Bonnie Greer agreed, describing Emily Brontë as “the greatest novelist in the English language” who provides us with “a poetic dimension we are still trying to unravel.” She told us that she was writing a screenplay based on the speculation that Emily Brontë actually met Frederick Douglass in Leeds in 1847.

“One isn’t bound to appreciate Wuthering Heights through the prism of slavery,” said Caryl Phillips. “These speculations lead us to some kind of a meditation on this great British enterprise, the Slave Trade, a meditation which began in 2007  when we marked the bicentenary of its abolition.” Liverpool, we should remember, was the biggest and busiest slaving port in Europe. Bonnie Greer said that her perception of Liverpool had changed drastically since the time she first visited, when it had been the city of the Beatles, and mentioned the William Wyler movie version of Wuthering Heights, in which the irony was in the fact that it was Cathy - Merle Oberon - who was of mixed race, a secret she kept until the day she died.

Terry Eagleton explained his case that Heathcliff is of Irish origin, a waif speaking Gaelic, one of the huge numbers passing through, or stranded in, Liverpool at the time of the Famine on their way to America: “He is an insider-outsider, a crucial figure in the English novel from Tom Jones to Harry Potter, a character brought into a domestic situation who becomes a joker in the pack, a disrupting influence… let’s examine Patrick Brontë, the foreigner who became more English than the English… and let’s not forget that Heathcliff is also a shit of the first water, relentless and pitiless.”

Caryl Phillips found Eagleton’s proposal on Heathcliff’s Irish origins to be persuasive. We should not forget Liverpool’s strong Irish connections, and the contemporary prejudice against Irish people. “Well, if we knew these things for sure, the novel would lose its attraction. We can pour into it what we need and what we want,” said Bonnie Greer.

Questions from the audience showed that most of the audience was open to the proposals made in the documentary. One member contrasted Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley to Wuthering Heights, pointing out that it was “very much more factually-based”, and another member revealed herself to be a descendant of Richard Sutton: “He was not like that at all,” she said. “Kim Lyon got it all wrong!”

Monday, 11 June 2012

Living in a Power Station

Richard Wilcocks writes:
Thanks to the member (didn't catch your name, sorry) who handed me the address of this video on YouTube. It is about the noise and shadow-flicker caused by a row of wind turbines, includes real scientific observations and is entitled Living in a Power Station.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Newsflash from the AGM

At the AGM, it was revealed that the Parsonage Director, Andrew McCarthy, will be leaving to take up a new post - with the Bradford-based Artworks - in July.

The report he made to this AGM was therefore his last. Vastly popular amongst staff and members, innovative and effective, his will be a hard act to follow.

A full appreciation of what he has done will be online soon.

Charles Dickens and the Brontës

The annual June Weekend began on Friday with a well-attended lecture in the Baptist Centre given by eminent Dickens biographer Professor Michael Slater. The subject was Charles Dickens and the Brontës. The event was part of the 2012 Dickens bicentenary celebrations and took place on the eve of the anniversary of Dickens' death.

Equipped with an edition of Bleak House and little else, Professor Slater began by pointing out that there is a complete lack of evidence that any of the Brontës ever met Dickens, and not much to say about their opinions of him, even though just about everybody in their time read his works. We can speculate, of course, and we do know that Charlotte Brontë was averse to the caricaturing style and was wary of showiness and too much self promotion: reports of all those lavish London dinner parties at the Dickens household, with pineapples studding the table, would have aroused her disapproval.

Nevertheless, significant connections have been made: few important novelists of the nineteenth century were particularly interested in children, or the way they were treated. Charles Dickens and Charlotte Brontë stand out as different here. Lowood and Dotheboys Hall spring to mind, and Wackford Squeers and Brocklehurst have often been put together (misleadingly) in the same club. The young Jane Eyre could be compared and contrasted with Esther Summerson quite profitably, and it has been argued that Bleak House was an influence on Villette. Professor Slater read a few paragraphs from Chapter 3 in which Esther remembers her childhood doll, the only 'person' she felt able to talk to. Miss Barbary, Esther's strict godmother, later revealed as her aunt, could be lined up alongside Jane's aunt...

Theatre audiences in 1848 watching a Jane Eyre adaptation which had been rushed on to a stage not long after the book's publication were addressed by a servant at Lowood who spoke about the terrible Yorkshire schools which were full of unwanted children from the South - showing that Lowood was perceived by the playwright(s) as equivalent to Dotheboys Hall, revealed Dr Patsy Stoneman in question time. The Yorkshire Schools were closed down because of the outrage provoked by Dickens, but Cowan Bridge survived Jane Eyre.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Has a precedent been set?

Plans to build a set of four enormous wind turbines in Norfolk have been rejected in a recent High Court ruling. A legal precedent could have been set, according to the CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England).

The turbines were going to be erected in an area of outstanding natural beauty near the Norfolk Broads and the coast...