Place: Haworth, West Yorkshire, England
CHARLOTTE BRONTE HOUSE IN HAWORTH
Aug. 26, 2013, 12:30 p.m.
Just arrived in Haworth, and wanted to get down my first impressions before I go out exploring. Took the train from Kings Cross in London to Leeds, then switched to the Northern Line into Keighley. As we drew closer to Keighley, the land became more and more hilly. Took a taxi from Keighley into the tiny village of Haworth, where Charlotte Bronte lived with her sisters Emily and Anne. Now there are high hills all around – I guess what they call the moors. I don’t know what I was expecting, but they don’t look any different to me from hills or meadows. They’re dotted all over with houses, but I suspect back in Charlotte’s day they were much more open.
The driver drops me off at the bottom of Main Street, which is a very narrow cobbled lane. It looks like nearly all of the buildings here are made of this very dark stone. I walk up the steep lane past bed-and-breakfasts, tiny shops, an ice cream place, a little bookstore. At the top of the hill I reach my B&B – a place called The Apothecary Guest House. The owners are so warm and welcoming. Nic asks me where I’m from, and when I tell him Ohio, he asks, “Cleveland? Akron?” I can’t believe it! He’s had people here from Akron. Such a small, small world. He leads me up to my room, and it turns out I have a view of the Bronte Parsonage! I can’t wait any longer, knowing it’s right there outside my window. Have to go! More later…
Spent the day just walking around the village, got some ice cream – elderflower and chocolate, yum. They love elderflower in England. Seem to use it in a lot of things, especially drinks. This is the first time I’ve had it in ice cream, and it was delicious – just the faintest hint of a flowery flavor.
I decided to wait to see the Bronte’s place until I can go first thing in the morning. Turns out today was a bank holiday in England, so there were a lot of people around the village. I did visit Haworth Church, though, walked around the cemetery. Charlotte’s father, Patrick, was curate of the church, and the Bronte family tomb is located there, but you can’t see it. A plaque marks the spot under which it’s located.
In the evening I went on a Ghost Walk tour. There were only seven people in our party, so it was nice and intimate, like having a private tour of the village. Our guide told us that 150 years ago, Haworth (pronounced How-worth) was a very different place. Two thousand people lived here then, and all of them had to share just 69 privies and 3 wells. The streets were covered in straw and sewage. The death rate was very high, with 5 to 7 people dying per day. The cemetery was dangerously overcrowded and run-off from it tainted one of the wells, contributing to the high death rate. It was in these conditions that the Brontes came to Haworth. Our host showed us a street in the village where there was a row of what they call "weavers' cottages." Before the industrial revolution, most people worked from home, as the weavers did. It was the duty of the curate’s wife to look after the villagers, but Patrick’s wife, Maria, died just two years after moving to Haworth, so Patrick’s daughters took up her duties. Emily looked after the weavers. There have been sightings of a ghost called “The Grey Lady” up and down this street, and many people believe her to be Emily.
Then we went to the cemetery and learned a bit more about the masons who cut the gravestones. The term “grave error” comes to us from the masons! Whenever they made a mistake chiseling a gravestone, they would simply chip deeper in to erase the mistake – hence the term “grave error!” Isn’t that great? Our guide walked us over to one particular gravestone, and it turned out to be one that I had been drawn to earlier and photographed. It’s the family plot of Joseph Heaton, who was himself a mason. He and his wife had several children, but none of them lived past the age of two. All of them were buried in one plot, and in his spare time, Joseph tirelessly worked on their gravestone. He wanted to make it the most beautiful of all, and he certainly did. Our guide told us no grass will grow by this grave because of the people constantly walking over to see it. There were flowers on the grave, too. There are still Heatons living in Haworth today who visit the cemetery and pay their respects.
Mr. Bronte himself lived to see his entire family die around him – his wife Maria, daughters Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, and his son, Branwell. But he suspected that the high death rate in Haworth might be due to the unsanitary conditions, and he was instrumental in bringing about improvements to the water supply.
Tomorrow I’m going to go for a long walk on the moors. There’s a 4½ mile hike that will take me past some places that were inspirations for Emily Bronte when she wrote Wuthering Heights!
GUEST WRITER'S BIO
Vicki Speegle is an award-winning screenwriter whose feature script LOVED ONES was in development at Amazon Studios and was a finalist for best screenplay. Her screenplay DEAREST was a finalist for the 2011 Sundance Screenwriters Lab, and her television pilot THE WAKES OF WILBUR POE recently placed in the finals of Slamdance.
Vicki grew up the daughter of a gay single mom turned pastor in Akron, Ohio, where she helped take care of her two younger brothers, an experience that provided fodder for a number of short stories and scripts. Her infatuation with storytelling began at the age of five when she sent a love letter to Donny Osmond, and since then she has worked an eclectic mix of jobs to support her writing habit, including 4 years in the U.S. Navy tracking nuclear submarines on a tiny island called Adak, Alaska, assistant to a very eccentric New York City artist, and a brief bout as the world’s worst waitress. Vicki studied music performance and education at Akron University before making the move to New York University, where she earned her BFA in Film & Television Production. During her studies at NYU she interned as assistant to the editor for Ken Burns’ production of THE WEST. She wrote, directed, and produced several shorts, including her thesis film OLDER, which went on to screen at the Tribeca Underground Film Festival and won 2nd place in the Pioneer Theatre Short Film Slam in New York City.
After graduating from NYU, Vicki joined Rigas Entertainment as assistant to the Director of Development, helping in the development of feature films with directors Peter Cattaneo (The Full Monty) and Maggie Greenwald (SongCatcher). In 2005 Vicki began shooting a documentary about her mother’s struggle to reconcile her faith as a pastor with her advancing Alzheimer’s. The project is currently in post-production and has garnered the support of GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). In 2007 Vicki’s screenplay LOVED ONES placed in the top 5 of the Bluecat Screenplay Competition and won Screenplay Live at the Rochester Film Festival. Her works have placed in several other competitions, including Women in Film, Chesterfield, and American Zoetrope. Vicki’s credits include a teen comedy for Applause Films and radio scripts for Wynton Marsalis, Director of Jazz At Lincoln Center.
Vicki lives and works as a writer, filmmaker, and web producer in New Jersey. She is still waiting for Donny’s response.