Tag Archives: bronte parsonage museum

A literary weekend

I’ve been trying to get to Haworth to visit the Charlotte Bronte exhibition all year. It finishes this month. I was going to go up on July but went to look after my mum after an op instead. Then I went to some workshops and events in Haworth in September but they overran and I got there too late. Finally the Mr said, “Book a hotel, we’ll go up for the weekend.” And so it came to pass that on the last Saturday of November I stood on the doorstep of Bronte Parsonage, excited and expectant, and heard the guide say “I’m afraid we’ve had a power cut and everything’s in darkness. We may have to close.” I explained that I was clearly destined never to see it and he let us in for free, alongside the lady behind us who had “come a long way” and then closed to everyone else.

Charlotte's writing desk
Charlotte’s writing desk

Once your eyes had adjusted to the light, it wasn’t actually too bad. We could still see the exhibitions – the tiny clothes, the tinier books, the miniscule writing – as well as each room, and the art and displays produced for Charlotte’s 200 anniversary. I feasted my eyes. We went backwards to the normal route round and so ended at the dining room where they wrote their books. By now, we were the last people in there and as we approached the room, the same guide appeared and told us they were going to do something even the guides hadn’t seen before. They opened the blinds in the dining room and revealed it by natural light. (Normally the blinds are down and it’s lit electronically.) It’s a charming room and I felt the same kind of frisson I had when I stood in the Motown studio that Marvin Gaye had used.

The shop where Branwell bought his opium
The shop where Branwell bought his opium

We had a lovely chat with the guide (after we’d all gone they were going to open a box of chocolates so he could have been excused for not talking) about the dreadful conditions of Haworth at the time the Brontes were living there – S was struck by the fact that 40% people never made it past their sixth year – and then the guide asked if E had been named after any of the Brontes. I felt terrible telling him she was named after an Austen character instead. “Ah, well it’s the next best thing,” he said breezily.

Haworth by fading Christmas light
Haworth by fading Christmas light

The church was closed when we emerged so no chance to visit their graves but we ambled through the town instead and pottered in the shops. There was a Victorian Christmas parade on, with carol singers, lights and a fairy scattering sparkly dust on the streets. It was all very jolly and didn’t feel too fake, considering most of the people there must have been visitors.

Proper Yorkshire pudding
Proper Yorkshire pudding

A stay at the Robin Hood Inn at Peckett Well, near Hebden Bridge¬†for our evening meal and sleep. A lovely inn, really nice people but damn, that room was hot. E loves staying in hotels and was excited the whole weekend about it, waving goodbye to the building when we left. We travelled into Hebden Bridge and parked, deciding to clamber up the hill to visit Heptonstall. This was a recommendation from a Twitter friend and I didn’t know it was going to be such a steep hill, up cobbles covered with wet leaves. For some reason I thought Heptonstall would be a few houses but it was larger than expected, with two pubs and a Christmas craft fair. In days of yore it was a Cromwellian stronghold and saw off the Royalists in the Civil War but we were there because it’s the burial spot of Sylvia Plath.

The old yard has the higgledy piggledy charm of wonky stones sinking in towards each other, as well as the ruins of an older church to one side. I love a good graveyard anyway and we found many families with similar names (lots of Sutcliffes, and many women who spelled their name Susy. Why this should be, I don’t know.) Across the lane from the church is the new graveyard, where the plots are in straight lines and being slowly filled up with modern stones. It was less charming to look at but still very peaceful with lots of birdsong, a really lovely spot to spend eternity.

I first encountered Plath as a 13-year old with a male teacher who taught us her poetry for a short time. He described everything as the result of hysteria and terrible illness, never picking out the beauty or examining the female viewpoint, which as a teacher in a girls’ school was pretty unpardonable. As a result I never gave her a thought until I found The Bell Jar at the university book fair, devoured it, loved it and have treasured her ever since.

The quote is from the Bhagavad Gita
The quote is from the Bhagavad Gita

I found the grave and drew in to look at it. There were coins on the stone and at the foot of the grave, visitors had planted pens in the earth. I wasn’t expecting to be so moved by the sight of it, and wiped away a few tears before finding a few scattered oak leaves and arranged them.

We slid and slipped down the hill to lunch in Hebden Bridge before making our way home.

I hope E carries on enjoying reading. I hope she loves Jane Eyre. I hope she finds something important in The Bell Jar. I hope people continue to make little pilgrimages like this to celebrate our women writers.

Thank you, Haworth Parsonage, for letting me in.

Bronte Festival of Women’s Writing

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.* At least not in Nottingham. But as I drove up the M1 the rain cleared and a sliver of blue sky appeared through the clouds.

I was on my way to Haworth, or to the Bronte Festival of Women’s writing, put on by the Bronte Parsonage Museum and sponsored by Mslexia magazine. Both my workshops were held at Ponden Hall, reportedly the inspiration for Thurshcross Grange in Wuthering Heights. My plan was:

  • Arrive with half an hour to spare and amble around the moors briefly
  • Workshop 1
  • Hotfoot it to the Parsonage for a look around
  • Workshop 2
  • Dinner in pub
  • Evening talk
  • Drive home

It was possible. In reality…

2016-09-10-14-23-36The journey was going fine and with half an hour to go I had 3.5 miles on the sat nav. Then it recalculated and suddenly added 11 miles to the route on a whim. I only realised this when it had taken me out on a single road across the moors (v bleak, v Bronte) for 5 or so miles. It got so far, turned a u-turn and sent me back the way I’d come. Bloody machine.

I parked, flustered and was shown in, not the last but it was only once I sat at the table that I realised I had no idea which workshop this was.

It turned out to be Writing a Synopsis with Debbie Taylor, editor of Mslexia and resplendent in scarves, a jeweled necklace and glasses on a string. I could never pull of that look.

2016-09-10-14-09-10Being a querying author I have a synopsis but this workshop made it clear mine is not specific enough. I also think I need to change the focus of my elevator pitch, I’ve led with the wrong character and it’s confusing. The workshop was very good and thought provoking but its major flaw was that it overran. By an hour. Partly because there were 13 people who all had feedback and discussion, and partly from the time it took to eat the cake on offer. But an hour! So my plans to see the Parsonage were scuppered – too stressful to get there, park, buy a ticket and race round taking in nothing. 2016-09-10-14-16-11So I went for a walk instead. Ponden Hall is by a reservoir, in a valley and up a rough track in the middle of the moors. Horses grazed, cows made alarming high pitched mooing noises and the river trickled through. On my return climb I stopped to peep over the wall as Cathy and Heathcliff did as children.

Ponden Hall itself is lovely,it’s a family home run as a bed and breakfast and if you get a chance to stay there, you really should. I recommend it, if only for the lemon cake which was SUPERB. The building itself is all thick walls, large fireplaces and intriguing corridors and lintels. I was sorely tempted to poke about and explore but managed to restrain myself.¬†2016-09-10-12-21-54 2016-09-10-12-21-35

The day had turned very pleasant and I was seized with a desire to sack off the second workshop and walk to the Parsonage but it would have been a waste of a ticket and there’s always something to learn.

Jane Rogers took the second workshop on writing an arresting first page, and was as thought provoking as the first workshop, though more disciplined on timings (no cake which may have helped).

2016-09-10-17-26-07Afterwards I parked at the Parsonage, knowing I’d missed last entry but hoped at least the shop was open. Alas no. Not even a postcard for my mum. The church, where they’re mostly all buried, was also closed and a wedding party were eating in the schoolroom and hall where Charlotte got married. I walked the streets instead and found a pub for dinner.

The evening talk was hosted by Tracy Chevalier as part of her tenure for the Bronte200 project, and she interviewed two further authors Jessie Burton and Grace McCleen about their novels, both of which feature miniature scenes, and the links and significance of the Bronte’s miniature works, especially the tiny books they produced. There was a small but appreciative, and I think quite scholarly, audience.
2016-09-10-19-00-59 2016-09-10-19-01-04I drove home and got home just before 11. It was quite a way but I have a strong yearning to return before the Charlotte exhibitions finish. The setting on Saturday was wonderful but it felt more Emily and it’s Charlotte I love most. A combined trip to Haworth and to the Railway Children’s station at Oakworth may be just the thing for a family outing.

*Apologies to Charlotte Bronte but I couldn’t resist this opening.