‘”The old latticed windows, the stone porch, the walls, the roof, the chimney-stacks, were rich in crayon touches and sepia lights and shades.”
On Tuesday drizzle took the place of sunshine as we disembarked from our coach at Oakwell Hall. The hall was used in 1921 as the location for the silent version of Shirley and is a building which has survived from the late 16th and 17th centuries and was almost certainly built in the Elizabethan age by John Batt whose initials appear on the porch. Charlotte Brontë knew one of the Cockill girls who with her two sisters and mother, Hannah, occupied Oakwell from 1830-1865 and ran it as a girls’ boarding school
Charlotte must have been very familiar with the hall because in Shirley, ‘Fieldhead’, the home of the eponymous heroine incorporates many things that can still be seen in the house today:
‘”The brown panelled parlour was furnished in an old style, and with real old furniture. On each side of the high mantelpiece stood two antique chairs of oak.”
Every house with a long history has a ghost story to tell and Oakwell is no different. We were told of unknown figures appearing, of shelves being unscrewed from walls and of the bloody footprint which never disappeared- until the floor was taken up- despite the vigorous efforts of scrubbing brushes and soap and water! Anyone moving from room to room could have been forgiven for thinking that they had been transported back in time for the hall frequently entertains school children, and on that day groups of children, dressed in Elizabethan style, were happily occupied in interesting looking activities.
They were making lavender bags, writing with quills and one eager little boy told me, as he was concentrating on winding wool round four sticks, that he was making some kind of lucky charm. We saw in the kitchen that the children had prepared vegetables which were in a suspended iron pot over the fire and which they would partake of later from wooden plates.
It was an interesting morning and in these times of cutbacks and talk of closures it is hoped others in years to come will have the same opportunities to enjoy Oakwell Hall. What really made the day for me was to see how deeply the school children were involved in the educational activities there.