Wandering in Bronte Country with Frances Brody
Sunday is the perfect day to go wandering on the Yorkshire Moors, deep in the heart of Bronte Country…..Kate Shackleton is there, solving a case in A Snapshot of Murder and since it features the Bronte Parsonage and the landscape of Wuthering Heights so prominently, we caught up with the author Frances Brody herself on location:
Ooh it’s a windy day today, but I guess it’s always blowy on the Bronte Moors!
Tell us what is special about the locations featured in your book?
There’s such a lot I could say. I’ll tell you about just three locations.
The Bronte Parsonage is the first place and the most iconic place you HAVE to visit if you want to see and understand the Brontes…
The Brontë Parsonage Museum, Haworth, which now attracts tourists from across the world, was opened on Saturday, 4 August, 1928.
In A Snapshot of Murder, Kate Shackleton and friends are there to witness the handover of the deeds. Prior to that date, the museum was housed in a rented room above the Yorkshire Penny Bank at the top of Main Street.
After receiving a generous bequest of memorabilia from Mr Bonnell of Philadelphia, the Brontë Society, they needed more substantial premises. What better place than the parsonage that was home to the Brontë family.
In 1927, the Church of England authorities made it known that they would be willing to sell the parsonage for about £3,000. Wealthy industrialist Sir James Roberts provided funds for the purchase. A Haworth lad made good, and a lifelong member of the Brontë Society, Sir James had heard the Reverend Patrick Brontë preach. He remembered Charlotte Brontë, and had attended her funeral.
There is an iconic photograph of the crowds that gathered on that day. Lady Roberts opened the door to the Brontë Parsonage Museum with a golden key.
Said to be Emily Brontë’s inspiration for the home of the Earnshaw family in Wuthering Heights, Top Withins draws visitors from across the world. Signposts to Top Withins and the nearby Brontë Waterfall give directions in English and in Japanese. My path took me by the cottage where Timothy Feather lived. He was the last handloom weaver. Now in a sorry state of dilapidation, the farmhouse circa 1928 would still have been reasonably intact. The approach takes the walker along an old packhorse track. I visited on the windiest day of the year and again on the hottest day. There’s a very special atmosphere. Views of land that was quarried and farmhouses abandoned reminds one that this was an area where people struggled to make a living from the land.
Higgledy-piggledy Ponden Hall was, for centuries, a farmhouse. When owned by the Heaton family, it was renowned for its extensive library. The Brontë children visited there and are said to have borrowed books.
I first visited Ponden Hall years ago. Brenda Taylor had bought it from the farmer owner. The Taylors set out to be self-sufficient, growing vegetables, haymaking and handloom weaving in what was originally the weaving room. The house is at the foot of the moors. Weary walkers stumble from the Pennine Way looking for somewhere to stay.
Present owners Steve Brown and Julie Akhurst fell in love with the house. Julie has explored the history and is writing a book about it. Brave guests can choose to stay in the Earnshaw room in a box bed built to the specifications of the bed Mr Lockwood slept in at Wuthering Heights. It is built around the famous ‘Cathy window’ where Cathy’s ghost struggled to get in.
How did you research setting?
I wangled an invitation to tea with Julie and Steve at Ponden Hall. By lucky chance, Ann Dinsdale also came to tea, with a friend who wanted a guided tour of the Hall. Ann is Principal Curator of the Brontë Parsonage Museum. She loves the Kate Shackleton books and had hoped Kate would come to Haworth.
That was a great moment because suddenly here were people who could point me in the right directions and answer my questions.
What about background to the period?
Keighley Library has a terrific Local Studies section. There are scrapbooks of cuttings and photographs that give a flavour of the times.
In attendance at the opening of the museum was popular novelist Halliwell Sutcliffe; the Lord Mayor of Bradford; the Mayor of Keighley and Mr Ingram, former American Consul at Bradford who came especially from Washington. (That’s how important Bradford used to be!)
I came across the books of local historian Steve Wood. Later I had a guided tour of Haworth with Steve. He gave me a wealth of detail that helps bring the story to life.
Travel tips for visiting the setting in your work?
There are lots of good places to stay in Haworth and the surrounding area.
Have stout footwear and be prepared for changes in the weather.
For guided walks: Helen of Helen’s Heritage Walks
I’m vegetarian and loved the lunches at Cobbles and Clay on Main Street, Haworth
After my book launch, we went to Hawthorn, Main Street, Haworth
Brontë, Haworth & Oakworth Private Hire 01535 644442/645555 Email: brontëtaxis@live.co.uk
And with that a horse and cart comes into view, Frances grasps her skirts and holds onto her bonnet for the rain is battering the landscape with a sharp blanket of wet dullness, and leaves The BookTrailer on the side of the cobbled road. There is an inn opposite, where the candles announce a welcoming arrival which will hopefully include a bowl of broth to warm the soul. Reader, I turn once more to wave goodbye and thank you to the fading rattles of the Brody hansom cab and enter the inn where I intend to sit in the window seat with the heritage and landscape of Bronte Country all around me.