Haunting Haworth

 

Haworth is a small village in England primarily known for being the birthplace of the Brontës – authors of Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and more. On a recent trip to the UK I visited the village.

I always find that the best literature is influenced by a strong sense of place – and this is particularly noticeable in the Brontës’ works. Who can forget the image of the bleak moors that Emily created in Wuthering Heights, filled with lonely ghosts, or the image of Rochester’s horse pummelling out of the mist on the road to be met by the decidedly witch-like figure of Jane herself?

“Heaven did not seem to be my home; and I broke my heart with weeping to come back to earth; and the angels were so angry that they flung me out into the middle of the heath on the top of Wuthering Heights; where I woke sobbing for joy.”

The only two options available to me to reach Haworth were via a bus or a steam train on the Keighley and Worth Valley railway. Wanting the entire historical experience, I decided to take the steam train. And so it was that Haworth first appeared to me as an old station sign through a white cloud of steam and the excitement of two British children behind me, each proclaiming that they could see more fog than the other.

The journey to the centre of the village is quite an uphill climb along old cobblestones that I doubt have been changed or repaired much since the 19th century. I absolutely loved it. I had worn a long skirt and boots out of a fancy to imagine myself as one of the Brontë sisters, and as I trailed up the hill it was interesting to notice what has changed and what has remained. Many of the shops were for little vintage knick-knacks and tasteful souvenirs, and then you would see the occasional ‘blunder’ – for instance, a shop called “Spooks” which I believe sells tarot cards and other Wiccan items. Somehow, it just added to the charm of Haworth – and let’s be real, Emily Brontë would probably have visited.

I visited the Haworth parish where Emily and Charlotte are buried, and you can see a plaque dedicated to them surrounded by items brought by people like me who wished to pay them tribute. Anne, meanwhile, was buried at Scarborough. The cemetery behind the church contains lopsided, moss-covered stones reading the names of those who had died there – many of whom were very young. It’s sad to reflect that none of the Brontë sisters themselves survived their 30s – and Charlotte, the eldest, outlived them all. But who could possibly hope to accomplish half of what they did, especially as women of the time, becoming among the most published authors in the world?

The Haworth parsonage, where they lived, was a charming, rather small house that was directly behind the church graveyard. The view from the front of the house was the graveyard and church, and the view from the side of the house was the distant moors. It’s easy to imagine how they would have been inspired daily by these sights.

The museum inside was thorough – containing writings, possessions, original furniture including writing desks, even a lock of Charlotte’s hair and one of Anne’s handkerchiefs spotted with blood. Most interesting were some wonderful drawings by Anne of her dog (was there anything they could not do?) and a small exhibition devoted to their brother, Branwell, who was also a very talented painter. There was a letter he had written to Wordsworth, beseeching the poet to give feedback on his own writing. Wordsworth was apparently very unimpressed.

It is the 200th anniversary of Branwell’s birth, hence an emphasis on his life in an extra exhibition. He was a tragic figure, and became addicted to drugs and alcohol before dying young. I visited a shop called “Cabinet of Curiosities” which used to be the apothecary where Branwell would have purchased opium.

The major highlight of Haworth was taking the “Brontë walk” over the moors. It was so windy and atmospheric that I couldn’t resist taking some Wuthering Heights inspired pictures. It felt free, it felt wild, and it was so different to the confines of the charming little village below. The Brontës had such a connection to nature, and their love of it is incredibly apparent in their own words.

Lines composed in a wood on a windy day, by Anne Brontë

My soul is awakened, my spirit is soaring
     And carried aloft on the winds of the breeze;
For above and around me the wild wind is roaring,
     Arousing to rapture the earth and the seas.

The long withered grass in the sunshine is glancing,
     The bare trees are tossing their branches on high;
The dead leaves beneath them are merrily dancing,
     The white clouds are scudding across the blue sky.

I wish I could see how the ocean is lashing
     The foam of its billows to whirlwinds of spray;
I wish I could see how its proud waves are dashing,
     And hear the wild roar of their thunder to-day!

All images by Hannah Oakshot. Permission required for usage. 

 

Hannah Oakshott

Hannah’s favourite things in life are her dogs, tea, television and, of course, books. She is a tv blogger, embroiderer and freelance editor and wants to be half as cool as Shirley Jackson when she grows up.