I’ve finally ticked off another ‘museum’ off my list!
However, I would not really class the Bronte Parsonage as a ‘museum’. Rather, I would consider it as simply a house, stepping back in time and into the life of a Bronte sister, their brother and their father. Renowned for their literary works, the Parsonage gives a detailed insight into their other past times including art, fashion and how they ran their household.
Located in the once sleepy hamlet of Haworth, not inhabited by hundreds of tourists a week, it is almost effortless to imagine Victorian figures walking through the cobbled street – it comes naturally, as if no time had changed.
I got the same feeling when I visited Anne Frank’s house in Prinsengracht, Amsterdam, – a feeling of wonder, amazement but sheer sadness.
The Bronte family experienced many devastating events and quite simply they were unlucky. Patrick Bronte, the local priest of Haworth, became a widower in 1821 a year after his wife Maria gave birth to her sixth child – daughter Anne. He witnessed all six of his children become gravely ill; his 5 daughters (Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Emily & Anne) contracting tuberculosis and son Branwell possibly contracting the disease but enhanced by his addiction to alcohol and drugs.
Perhaps the curse of the Bronte Family was not necessarily a curse specifically put upon the family, but rather a curse of Haworth itself. According to records from the census and local records, the mortality rate of Haworth was 25% in the Victorian period – differing with nearby Bradford and Keighley which were around 17%.
I definitely sensed eeriness around the exterior of the house, the church and the graveyard – which all interconnected. The sheer size of the graveyard is a reflection of the mortality rate, clearly being a factor of the inspiration for the Gothic novels written by Charlotte and Emily. In contrast, the street of Haworth unexpectedly had a community feel despite fatality, and inside the Parsonage there is a mix of a welcoming tone with a somewhat mysterious feel.
The Parsonage felt a little isolated also, not negatively, but as if it was meant to be a beauty spot. Central and carrying grand importance. There are no neighbouring houses – but it is guarded at one side by the church and school (where Charlotte once taught and also acted as the venue of her wedding reception) and on the other the purple and brown haze of the Moors.
After purchasing the tickets from the reception leading off from the original house at the back, the entrance to the house was the original front entrance – adding to the welcoming feel. I was initially surprised at how deceptive the size of the house was from the outside as inside the rooms were very small. It was then pointed out that there were two factors for this – some rooms acted as private exhibition and store rooms, the other reason was the thick stone walls which allowed to house to look big
ger from outside.
Through the front door I was introduced to a room on each side. To the right was Patrick Bronte’s study set up with his writing desk, piano, spectacles and at the back was his top hat!
To the left was a small living room, again holding a writing desk and range of books. I presume the three younger sisters and their brother used this room for t
heir own studies as they spent a majority of their days in each other’s company. This room in particular was very unnerving in a way as it contains a sofa on the far right. It is believed that the sofa was where Emily took her final breath.
Entering the kitchen I found out that Charlotte and Anne did a majority of the housework within the parsonage alongside their servant, while Emily acted as housekeeper. The three surviving sisters were taken out of school after 1825 as it is believed that the two eldest Bronte sisters contracted tuberculosis due to the poor conditions of the school. (Acting as inspiration for Lowood School and the characters in Jane Eyre)
Going up the stairs I was faced with the original grandfather clock of the house, opposite was a copy of the most famous Bronte painting – the portrait of the siblings painted by Branwell who then painted himself out, leaving a ghostly figure between two of the three sisters.
Patrick Bronte’s bedroom was the first room off the stairs, also acting as Branwell’s room when he became extremely ill.
Charlotte’s room was dedicated to items of her clothing and pasttimes, including small figures from a dollhouse. A weird coincidence then occurred, as there is workshop and exhibiton run by historians and writers, including a writer named Jessie Burton – who’s book the Miniaturist I am reading now!
The Parsonage is celebrating a bicentenary and over the next few years each year will be dedicated to a specific Bronte – so I suspect this room will be adapted and reflect her siblings and father over time.
One of her last surviving dresses was on show in a tall glass cabinet along with her incredibly tiny shoes, long longs, parasol and one of the most beautiful fans I have ever seen! The dress is an uncanny resemblance to a dress I stand near to at the Castle Museum, known as the TB dress. Being pale and ill was considered beautiful, and the sha
pe and tone of this dress also adds to that nature. The dress extenuates the tiny waist – Charlotte standing at under 5’ with a 19inch waist.
In another cabinet was Charlotte’s wedding bonnet, laced with blue and yellow flowers which have kept their tone really well. An interesting fact I wasnot aware of was that Charlotte signed a document that in her death all of her possessions would return to her father and not her new husband, Arthur Bell Nicholls!
Upon entering the exhibition room I passed through Branwell’s own study – dedicated to his paintings. He was an incredibly talented artists, so lifelike!
The exhibition room contained a wide range of Bronte artefacts, from first edition publications, their artwork, family heirlooms and even the collars from the family pets! Charlotte’s writing desk and her trunk are situated in this room.
The last part of the room was dedicated to the deaths of the family. It was a Victorian tradition to incorporate the hair of the head into items – including a bracelet made up of Emily’s hair and rings with intertwined different member’s hair. This was continued downstairs in another exhibition room opposite the reception: Charlotte Great and Small. This particular exhibition is curated by the wonderful novelist and historian, Tracy Chevalier.
In one of the glass cabinets of this exhibition there was a family template from 1824 with a lock of each members hair.
Other cabinets included small pieces of Charlotte’s work; a small piece of one of her dresses, a tiny embroidery which when you look at very carefully is encrusted with the tiniest needles ever. If you ever have a chance to view this exhibition – GO!!!!
From the final exhibition room you return to the reception and the gift shop (where I picked up a few Bronte postcards for my next wall art). I spoke to a lovely member of staff who gave me some more information on the private exhibition the Parsonage holds. I am really interested in seeing some more clothes and items of the sisters, including Charlotte’s corset and dresses by Emily and Anne – to lay each dress next to each other to imagine all three sisters together. Hopefully one day I will get a chance to go on the private tour!
Outside the Parsonage, Haworth is dedicated to all things Bronte with retro style cafes and shops incorporating the names and artwork of the family. Traditional shops still stand, including an old fashioned sweet shop, and the most amazing – the apothecary used by Branwell.
The schoolroom was unfortunately closed for restoration, however the church was open. For a really small hamlet this church is absolutely stunning and incredibly large, with the most beautiful stained glass windows on every side. I don’t particularly like taking photos of stained glass inside churches or the alters but I did take a quick photo of the Bronte plaques, one explaining their vault and the other showing the spot where Emily and Charlotte lay.
I would highly recommend visiting Haworth and the Parsonage – it really is a spectacular place.