by Karen J Mossman
In the 1990s, I visited the Bronte museum in Howarth, Yorkshire. This is the article I wrote about it back then.
It was late afternoon on a dark, cold November day. Leaden clouds filled the sky and a damp mist settled over the streets. I was visiting relatives in Keighley and we visited The Bronte Museum while we were there.
A flock of crows gathered in the trees, squawking noisily, making me shiver. Pausing, I glanced along the cobbled street towards the church with its silent and damp graveyard. The headstones were lopsided, and some were flat, and I wandered amongst them reading the inscriptions. Many of them had faded with age.
I pulled my coat further around me and turned back to The Parsonage, the name of the house the Bronte family’s home. It was a splendid Georgian house built in 1778 from local stone.
The Reverend Patrick Bronte arrived in Haworth in 1820. He brought his wife, his only son, Branwell, and his five daughters, Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne. The two eldest girls died in childhood and not long after their mother had passed away. The four remaining children had vivid imaginations and from an early age wrote stories together.
As a writer, it was easy to see where they drew their inspiration from. The ride through Haworth left me with a desolate feeling. The large dark stone cottages bore witness to how life once was. The damp atmosphere and the smell of moss only added to the bleak but beautiful landscape. It was an ideal setting for imaginations to weave stories.
Branwell found moderate success as a painter, and some of his paintings and drawings hang in the museum. Charlotte’s most famous novel was Jane Eyre, and Emily wrote the equally famous Wuthering Heights. The lesser-known Anne penned Agnes Grey.
The museum has hundreds of visitors every year and is as atmospheric as the village itself. On this cold November day, there were just one or two people venturing into the house.
I was given a leaflet that guided me through the rooms numerically. The smell of beeswax and wood gave it an immediate warm feeling. Mr. Bronte’s study, where he did much of his parish work, looked as if he had just nipped out and was to return any moment to pick up his pen.
Having visited the dining room, the kitchen, and a further study, I ventured up to the first floor. I was instructed to look for the clock on the stairs, which was regularly serviced by the neighbour of my relatives.
The clock was a long cased grandfather clock set in a recess on the stairwell. It had a highly polished case, Roman numerals, and a picture above the face. “A fine clock,” the neighbour had said. “Be sure to stop and look at it.” Apparently, Mr. Bronte wound each evening as he made his way to bed.
Unfortunately, the museum was closing at 4.30 and I found myself a little hurried as I tried to take everything in. I saw the clothes the sisters wore and was amazed at how petite they were. I also saw the little books they put together as children and gazed at Branwell’s paintings with fascination.
By complete contrast, I visited again one summer’s day in June 2017. So much had changed, not least the atmosphere. After my original visit, the museum was given a lottery donation, and they used it to build a large annex for a gift shop and the primary entrance. Upstairs the museum had also been extended to show more works of the family, their paintings, and furniture.
Admittance was £8.25 per person, and that gave you free entry for 12 months, although it was unlikely we would make use of it.
The hundreds of visitors each year I mentioned in the first article or seemed to have descended on the same day as we came. I was jostled to get into the rooms and up the stairs. There was no smell of beeswax. The rooms I could get into looked interesting, but there were too many people for me to get near the information boards.
I enjoyed Bramwell’s bedroom as there was so much to look at. The bed had been arranged as if he was still there, and the drawings over the hearth were really good.
Afterwards, we strolled into the village of Howarth and this had all the charm it ever had. A pretty place with his dark stone buildings and cobbled streets.
Here are a few of the photographs I took as we walked through the village. I hope you enjoy them.