Sunday, 12 June 2016

The Story of the Withins Farms

Top Withins - 1920s 
Friday 10 June was the first day of what used to be called either 'AGM Weekend' or 'June Weekend' but which has now been renamed 'Summer Festival'. At 3pm first Steve Woods, then Peter Brears gave their illustrated talk 'The Real Wuthering Heights: The Story of the Withins Farms', which was a bigger and better version of a talk given on the same subject three years ago. It began with a brief reference to the letter from publishers Smith, Elder & Co to Ellen Nussey, who was being asked for clues about locations. They wanted to know what the Brontë Sisters had in mind because they were producing the first illustrated edition of the collected works, and Volume Five (1873) of this was Wuthering Heights along with Agnes Grey. As Ellen Nussey's reply has been lost, we do not know much for sure, but the book included an illustration of Top Withins by E M Wimperis which she seems to have suggested to him, so there is some evidence that it was one of the places in Emily's imagination - along with others.

The talk was the result of years of careful study, and covered Top, Middle and Lower Withins, three farms which made up about a hundred acres, much of it rough pasture and much of it probably never used - too rough perhaps. Most farms in the area were dairy, producing milk, butter and a little cheese. Two hundred years ago this would have been consumed by the many weavers and spinners in the area - and because it was not much of a living, the farmers and their families would have done plenty of carding and spinning themselves. There were some sheep, and about half a dozen cows at each farm.

It would have been an isolated life, with long walks down to Stanbury or Haworth, unpleasant and hazardous in bad weather, especially in heavy snow, and especially for any children on their way to school and back in the later years of the nineteenth century. The ruined Lower Withins was finally demolished in the 1930s ("There were plenty of Brontë enthusiasts taking away souvenirs") and Top Withins was fixed into its present state fairly recently, though it seems to have been still quite substantial in the 1920s.

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