Beloved English novelist and poet Charlotte Brontë was endlessly inspired by her hometown Yorkshire, where she was born on April 21, 1816. We explore some of the cosy places she would have known and where you can now stay.
The strong-willed female writer who created some of British literature’s best-loved characters grew up in the Yorkshire countryside, a wild region, crossed by the Pennine Way walking trail, which was to be a fertile seedbed for many British writers, including poet Ted Hughes and playwright JB Priestley, who were born here.
A windswept land of purple heather, high cliffs and brooding moors where curlews nest in summer, the Yorkshire countryside was to provide inspiration for many of the scenes in Charlotte’s novels, including Jane Eyre’s flight from Thornfield when she discovers Mr Rochester already has a wife and declares: “I have no relative but the universal mother, Nature: I will seek her breast and ask repose.”
With a host of special events taking place to celebrate the life of the elder of the three famous literature-loving Brontë sisters, book into one of these cosy boltholes and follow in Charlotte’s footsteps.
Brontë Country extends across the Bradford and Leeds area of West Yorkshire and is linked by the 43-mile (69km) Brontë Way. Following this footpath, which starts at Oakwell Hall – immortalised as Fieldhead in Charlotte’s novel Shirley – and ends at Gawthorpe Hall, where some say Charlotte caught the cold that killed her (though this is disputed), is an ideal way to discover this region.
Charlotte discovered the picturesque Elizabethan manor house of Oakwell, in Birstall, while visiting Ellen Nussey, the friend who subsequently comforted her when three of her siblings, her brother Branwell and her two sisters, Emily and Anne, fell sick and died within eight months of each other.
“If Fieldhead had few other merits… it might at least be termed picturesque,” says Shirley, the eponymous hero of Charlotte’s second published novel, of her home, and visitors to Oakwell will easily recognise: “The old latticed windows, the stone porch, the walls, the roof, the chimney-stacks, (that) were rich in crayon touches and sepia lights and shades.”
Dewsbury Minster, the Gothic church where Charlotte’s stern, but loving father, Patrick, took up ministry in 1809, is a short drive from Birstall. Seek the plaque dedicated to the man whose love
of storytelling surely inspired his daughters to write, and check into the Waterfront Lodge Hotel, a boutique hotel in a converted watermill overlooking the scenic Calder and Hebble waterway.
After a restful night, far from the cries of the protesting Luddites who haunt the pages of Shirley, head for Thornton, the countryside hamlet where Charlotte was born in 1816.
The 19th-century cottage, where four of the six children of Maria and Patrick Brontë were born, is now an Italian deli combined with a museum, whose exhibits include the desk where Patrick wrote his first sermon.
“My happiest days were spent there. This is where the family was complete: father, mother and children, and where they had kind friends,” Patrick Brontë later said of his time here.
Stroll further along Thornton’s Victorian high street to discover the remains of the Old Bell Chapel where Charlotte’s father once preached his dramatic sermons, then spend the night at Holdsworth House, a glorious Jacobean manor built in 1633, surrounded by glorious landscaped gardens where celebrities, including the Beatles, have stayed.
Charlotte was only four years old when the Brontë family moved to Haworth, a small village on the edge of the bleak Pennine moor where her father had been appointed perpetual curate of St Michael and All Angels Church. Within a year Maria Brontë, Charlotte’s mother, had died of cancer.
Raised by their Methodist aunt and melancholy father, the six Brontë children grew up in almost total isolation: “We were totally dependent on ourselves and each other, on books and study, for the enjoyment and occupations of life,” Charlotte said of that time.
This isolation also fuelled the siblings’ legendary creativity, however, and it was here at Haworth Parsonage that the three sisters wrote most of their famous works.
Charlotte is buried in the St Michael and All Angels Church, so pay your respects at the family vault (Anne Brontë is the only family member not buried here), then hike out to the Brontë Waterfall, described by Charlotte as “a perfect torrent racing over the rocks, white and beautiful”.
Stop off to see the stone Brontë chair, where it’s said the sisters took turns to sit and write their stories, then check in to the delightful Ashmount Country House, a charming stone-built bed and breakfast with four-poster beds and working fireplaces that was once home to the Brontë sisters’ personal physician, Amos Ingham.
From here, it’s an easy drive to Wycoller, over the county border in Lancashire, where villagers accused of witchcraft were hanged in 1612. The Brontë sisters were frequent visitors to this historic hamlet.
Wander in the atmospheric ruins of Wycoller Hall, which is said to have been the inspiration for Ferndean Manor, the house buried in the woods where Jane Eyre discovers the newly blinded Mr Rochester and agrees to marry him. Then spend the night at The Devonshire Arms, a luxurious boutique hotel with period furnishings in a renovated 17th-century manor house at the heart of this stunning area, where the Brontës met the Nussey family in September 1833, on their way to visit the ruins of Bolton Abbey.
End your tour of Brontë Country at Gawthorpe Hall. A short hike from the village of Haworth, Charlotte stayed at this 17th-century manor house, which is now a museum housing an important collection of paintings and textiles, a couple of times.
Shy of crowds and fearful of being patronised, Charlotte disliked the owners but enjoyed the house, which she described as “grey, antique, castellated, and stately” in a letter to Ellen Nussey in 1850. It was following a visit here in 1855 that Charlotte died. Her death certificate listed the cause of death as tuberculosis but modern theories suggest she may have succumbed to the effects of extreme morning sickness.
With panoramic views, chandeliers and open fireplaces, Higher Trapp Country House Hotel is an ideal spot in which to spend your last night. Curl up by the fireplace and listen to the wind whistle across the moors outside as you think of Charlotte Brontë, a woman whose haunting novels still inspire us 200 years after her birth.
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