The Brontë sisters, Haworth and Jackie Kay

Helena Fairfax, Haworth, the Brontës, Jackie Kay

The Museum staff at the entrance to the Parsonage

Last week I was lucky enough to attend a writers’ workshop at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth.  The workshop was run by the Scots poet Jackie Kay.  Jackie Kay is the writer in residence at the Parsonage (what a

Helena Fairfax, Brontës, Haworth, Jackie Kay

The Brontë Parsonage (in December gloom)

brilliant job that must be!)  She is also Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle Uni, an MBE for her services to literature, and the author of several volumes of prose and poetry.  So, writing, the moors, Haworth and the Brontës – I was quite excited about the day!

Jackie Kay talked about her research as writer in residence, and the areas which had particularly interested her.  One of these was the life of the Brontë sisters’ father, Patrick Brontë .  Patrick was Irish, but spent most of his adult life in England.  He went to Cambridge, which was a massive achievement for the largely self-taught son of an agricultural labourer, who had been destined by his family to become a blacksmith.  Jackie Kay wondered what type of man he had been, to come from such a background and be father to one of the most creative families in literature.  He survived his wife and all six of his children.

Another of the Haworth characters that interested Jackie was Tabitha, the family’s maid.  Jackie believes Tabitha was herself a

Helena Fairfax, Haworth, Brontës, Jackie Kay

The kitchen (I took these photos before I was politely asked not to – sorry Museum staff!)

phenomenal story teller, and would regale the children with tales that were far beyond their years.  She served with the family for 31 years, and was much loved.

One of the discoveries I most enjoyed finding out about was a poignant list of the household’s goods, which Jackie came across during her research.  The household goods were put up for auction after Patrick Brontë died, and include such items as “Sundry Books 5 s/3p” ; “Warming Pan 5s / ” ;  “Hair Trunk 12s/ “; and (somehow I found this the saddest): “2 silk umbrellas 10s / 6p”.

Finally, the writing exercise Jackie set us involved choosing one of the rooms in the Parsonage, plus an object we’d seen there, and maybe one of the members of the household.  We also had to write down four words that summed up our main impressions of the morning. Then we had five minutes to write what we wanted.  (I’m not really explaining this as well as Jackie Kay did, but I’m sure you get my drift!)

Anyway, I decided to put a scene together involving Patrick Brontë reading to the children when they were young.  I’m also intrigued by Aunt Branwell, so she, too, appeared in my five minute writing.  Aunt Branwell was Patrick’s sister-in-law, and moved from Plymouth to Haworth to look after the family when her sister died.  According to Mrs Gaskell, Aunt Branwell ran the household with clockwork precision.  I wonder what she made of the sisters and their frenzies of creativity, and of their brother Branwell, who became addicted to alcohol and opium.

Helena Fairfax, Haworth, Brontës, Jackie Kay

Patrick Brontë’s study

In my short scene I made Aunt Branwell into a scary figure, who thinks reading is the height of laziness when there are domestic chores to be done.  (I’m sure she wasn’t like this in real life, but it makes a good story!)

So here’s my short Haworth Parsonage scene:-

The girls were in the kitchen, hiding from their aunt.  Their father’s bacon and eggs sizzled in a pan over the fire.  When he added a fresh tomato, the fat spat and hissed.

‘What happened next, Pop?’ Anne asked.

Their father turned the pages of an imaginary book.  ‘…And then the bear grabbed the little girl by her long, long hair, swung her over his shoulder, and carried her off to the woods,’ he roared.

The girls cowered, giggling and terrified, in the corner.  A step was heard on the staircase.

Helena Fairfax, Brontës, Haworth, Jackie Kay

The parlour

‘Sssh.’  Their father slammed shut the imaginary book.

Maybe not my finest work, but I tried to give the impression of a family who grew up loving stories :)

It was a while since I’d been to the Brontë Parsonage, and I thoroughly enjoyed looking round again and seeing the household through Jackie Kay’s eyes.  It was a fun morning.

And now a hard question.  Which of the Brontë’s novels is your favourite?  Or maybe you don’t enjoy them at all!  Either way, I’d love to hear from you.  And if you’ve ever visited the Parsonage in Haworth, I’d love to hear your impressions.

Hope you’ve enjoyed my small peek into the sisters’ life and household!

helena fairfax, brontës,haworth, jackie kay

The Church in Haworth where Patrick Brontë preached

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16 thoughts on “The Brontë sisters, Haworth and Jackie Kay

    • Hi Margaret, yes it was fun, thanks! Haworth is a great place to visit, even though quite dark and gloomy at this time of year. I can see where the sisters got their Gothic ideas from! Thanks for your comment!

    • Thanks so much, Susan! I always feel under pressure with these five minute exercises, and don’t usually enjoy them, but Jackie Kay was very good at bringing out people’s creativity. I wish I had her skills! Thanks very much for your comment!

  1. That sounds like a wonderful way to spend time. You can tell the sisters were influenced by their home life and by the surrounding countryside in their writing. I have to say I like Jane Eyre the best, maybe because I picked it up for fun rather than for a school assignment. :) Lovely little piece you wrote too!

    • Hi Brenna, You really can tell the influence of their surroundings once you visit Haworth. It must have been terribly bleak and cold in the house in the winter months. I love Jane Eyre, too. My favourite keeps changing all the time, though, so I don’t think I could ever just plump for one! Thanks for your great comment!

  2. This took me back down Memory Lane to an excursion we went on to the Bronte home from my grammar school in England. I seem to recall there’s a very steep hill near Haworth. We all had to get off the “chara” so it could make it up the hill.

  3. Love your photos and description of your day. I went to Haworth Parsonage as a young child and have always wanted to go back. Even as a child, I was struck by how small the rooms were for so many inhabitants. I remember hearing how the sisters created tiny books (paper being very scarce and precious) for their stories. When I returned home, I tried to do the same, but couldn’t make my writing small enough to manage more than a couple of words per page. My visit was quite a powerful early influence. So, thanks for the memory…

    • Hi Lynette, thanks for your lovely comment. You’re right, the rooms are tiny, and that’s exactly what impressed me, too, when I first visited as a child. There is a dress there, too, belonging to Charlotte, and some shoes. They are equally small. It’s hard to convey this in the photos. I actually find the house quite oppressive, looking out as it does over the churchyard and graves, and over the bleak moors to the rear. Visiting Haworth really deepened my understanding ofthe Bronte sisters’ writing. I’m glad you enjoyed the photos. Thanks very much for stopping by.

  4. Thank you Helena, you made my day!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I am the owner of a weblog from the Bronte Sisters. http://kleurrijkbrontesisters.blogspot.nl

    I really wanted to see photographes of the newly decorated Parsonage. But beside some very small pictures I could not find it. I even asked the Parsonage ( through their Facebook page) to pubish some. But till now nothing.

    I hope you are not angry I posted them. if you don’t want it, I will take them off my weblog. But I hope you agree.

    Have a nice Sunday.

    Greetings from Geri

    • Hi Geri, I’m so glad you liked the photos. I wasn’t really supposed to take photos inisde the museum. I didn’t realise at the time, and had taken these three before one of the staff told me the rules. Feel free to post them on your site. I hope your readers enjoy looking at them, and I hope you get over to Haworth some day soon to see the rooms for yourself. Have a great Christmas!

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