Friday, 14 June 2013

June AGM weekend - Saturday

This year's annual lecture was given not by an academic but by an enthusiastic local historian - Steve Wood. It was accompanied by a fascinating selection of slides, some of which came as a surprise for many members of the audience in the Baptist chapel, an appropriate space for events like this because it is like a compact theatre.

The subject was The History of the Withins Farms, 1567-1930 . Most Society members tramp up to Top Withins at some time, usually in good weather. Steve Wood read a few minds when he suggested that perhaps we should have made good use of the fact that the moors around Haworth and Stanbury were significantly bucolic and that the talk should have taken place on the tops, near the set of restored ruins which are possibly one of the inspirations for Wuthering Heights. But then it would have been awkward for him to show us the old photos, and the drawings.

We saw a set of three farms in various states of repair - not only Top Withins, but Middle Withins and Low Withins as well. Only Top Withins remains, the other two having been demolished. Steve gave us a brief survey of the families which had once survived up there, some of them managing hay meadows and keeping cattle, some of them installing hen coops and pigsties. The animals had to come in with the human inhabitants, separated by walls and doors. We saw the careful plans which Steve had drawn. It would have been almost comfortable in winter in the bothy, near the beasts' heat. In one photo, oatcakes could be seen, draped over a beam to dry. They lived mainly on porridge and oatcakes, it seems. Even the dogs were served porridge.

The 'upkeep' of Top Withins farm, if it can be called that, has often been insensitive and neglectful: Keighley Town Council once made interventions, cut stones were stolen - a Yorkshire tradition going back to the Dissolution of the Monasteries and before - and various charitable parties turned up to do something, notably a class of schoolchildren from Barnsley. At one time, it was covered with names and graffiti, not the work of early members of the Brontë Society, I hope and trust. The sycamores have lasted well. Yorkshire Water bureaucrats are currently the keepers: they own just about everything on the moors around here, and have strong views on the keeping of farm animals, because of concerns about water pollution. Sheep have escaped their gaze.

There was plenty of it left when Sylvia Plath drew it, which shows the extent of the recent deterioration. The views are still stunning, but will change soon when tall new wind turbines appear on the horizon. It is, of course, still a popular tourist destination, and the paths are well looked after. Most walkers today might wear fleeces and anoraks - not so a century ago. One photo showed a group of mostly male members of the Brontë Society looking into the farm's open windows dressed in dark suits and bowler (derby) hats. The women with them were wearing long Edwardian dresses a couple of inches up from the turf and huge, elaborate headgear. They had style in those days.


Anonymous said...

Having heard the excellent presentation on Saturday morning about the history of Top Withins I took the opportunity to walk in the same area on a balmy evening with the sun going down in the west The vista was wonderful- miles and miles of open moorland with panoramic views of the villages around and Sladen Reservoir glittering in that late evening sun. I thought of Cathy and Linton's idea of heaven's happiness when they had differing ideas and were near to quarelling as they talked together in Wuthering Heights. His idea was of lying, on a summer's day, in the heather in the middle of the moors with the blue sky shining steadily and cloudless.Cathy's was a little different- rocking in a rustling green tree and close by great swells of long grass undulating in waves to the breeze. I personally could not choose between the two!
I did linger that evening on the path to Top Withins under that benign sky. I did watch the moths and bees fluttering amongst the heath and harebells and other wild flowers and I did hear the soft wind breathing through the grass. Linger yes, but other things beckoned, however I could have stayed there forever.

Anonymous said...

I sincerely hope the comment about Steve Wood not being an academic is not a criticism. He was much more interesting and entertaining than most of them.