After walking in the footsteps of the Brontë sisters, sitting at “their” waterfall and bridge, it was about time to visit the Parsonage, their former home in Haworth. During the time the Brontë family lived at the Parsonage it was described as a black house, isolated on top of a hill over Haworth, next to the church. Back then there weren´t any trees surrounding the house, like today, and the house overlooked the cemetery.
The Parsonage was built between 1778 and 1779 and in 1820 Patrick Brontë arrived with his wife Maria and their six children in Haworth to start his post at St Michael and All Angels’ Church. The house remained their home for the rest of their lives.
Maria died in 1821 and her sister Elizabeth came to take charge of the household.
The four oldest sisters were sent away to attend the Clergy Daughters’ School at Cowan Bridge in 1824, but Maria, the oldest, became ill and was sent back home, where she died. The youngest Elizabeth followed her shortly.
Charlotte later used the School as a model for the infamous Lowood School in her novel “Jane Eyre”.
For the next few years the surviving children remained at home, creating a rich imaginary world sparked by their father’s gift to Branwell of a set of toy soldiers. Because of the important role education had played in his own life Patrick encouraged his children in their pursuit of knowledge. Any books that came their way were eagerly devoured, and they produced their own tiny illustrated books, small enough for the toy soldiers, with minuscule handwriting to deter the prying eyes of Parsonage adults.(Brontë.org.uk)
The sisters needed to earn a living and should become “governesses: the only career option socially acceptable for young ladies with no fortune.” Charlotte was sent to Miss Wooler’s school at Roe Head in 1831 and later returned to Haworth to teach her sisters and at the local school, her father had opened.
Branwell, the only son, was educated by his father and mostly left to himself.
Branwell took art lessons in Leeds, but a plan to apply to the Royal Academy of Arts in London never came off, and after a short stint as a professional portrait painter in Bradford Branwell was back in Haworth in debt. (Brontë.org.uk)
After a quite unsuccessful time as a teach Emily returned to Haworth in 1839, only Anne worked as a governess for a few years returning to the Parsonage in 1845, shortly after her brother Branwell.
Planning to set up a school themselves Emily and Charlotte went to Brussels to study for a year, funded by their aunt Elizabeth. But she died in 1842 and the sisters had to return.
The sisters had continued to write, and in 1846 Charlotte, Emily and Anne used part of their Aunt Branwell’s legacy to finance the publication of their poems, concealing their true identities under the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Poems was published by Aylott and Jones, but despite some favourable reviews, only two copies were sold. Undeterred, the sisters absorbed themselves in their next literary venture, novel writing. (Brontë.org.uk)
After a few unsuccessful attempts to get published Charlotte’s “Jane Eyre” was accepted right away and became an instant success. Followed by “Wuthering Heights” and “Agnes Grey”.
In July 1848 the sisters were forced to reveal their identities to their publisher. They didn´t have to much time to celebrate their success. Branwell had fallen back on alcohol and opium for solace and felt ill, he suddenly died of tuberculosis in September 1848, aged 31.
Emily and Anne were also ill and Emily died just three months after her brother. In an attempt to save Anne and get her well again, Charlotte took her for a sea cure to Scarborough. But Anne died there at the end of May 1849, aged 29.
Charlotte tried to escape in work and travelled to London often, gradually becoming known as an author. In 1854 Charlotte married her father´s curate, the Reverend Arthur Bell Nicholls but died in the early stages of pregnancy in 1855, aged 39. Two years later her very first novel “The Professor” was finally published. In the same year her friends Elizabeth Gaskell biography “The Life of Charlotte Brontë” was also published.
This biography, along with Charlotte’s Biographical Notice of her sisters, have become key sources for interpretations of the family, and have ensured that the story of the Brontës’ lives continues to exert as much fascination as their fiction. (brontë.org.uk)
The Brontë Society
Even before Charlotte died in 1855 enthusiastic visitors were making their way to Haworth to spot the famous author around the village. Mr Brontë’s Sunday afternoon congregations were sometimes swollen with sightseers, eager for a glimpse of his daughter, or, failing that, happy just hear her father preach. (brontë.org.uk)
The Brontë Society was founded in 1893 and the first museum was opened in 1895 above the Yorkshire Penny Bank on Haworth Main Street. The collection of all things Brontë had started.
In 1928 the Church put up for sale Haworth Parsonage at a price of £3000, and it was bought by Sir James Roberts, a Haworth-born wool merchant and lifetime Brontë Society member, who handed the Society the deeds. It was, of course, the perfect home for their collection. (brontë.org.uk)
The Parsonage is open almost every day and your ticket will be valid for 12 months. It isn´t the biggest house, therefor it fills up fast. I went twice and was lucky to find an almost empty house shortly before closing time. I would recommend visiting later in the afternoon.
And after your visit to the Brontës enjoy the Haworth Main Street and especially my favourite shop, where some centuries ago Branwell went to get his laudanum.