Wednesday 21 June 2023

Report on Brontë members meeting in Haworth June 2023

As the Brontë Society in Haworth has stopped organising the June AGM weekend, an “unofficial” June weekend was organised (for the second time) for Brontë Society members interested in meeting up in Haworth. Val Wiseman and Margaret McCarthy from the London and South East BS branch took the initiative in cooperation with others including Helen MacEwan from the Brussels Brontë Group. 

The June weekend took place 9-11 June 2023 in Haworth. While waiting to board the ferry to Hull, I received the unfortunate message that Helen could not attend due to illness. That was a real blow for her but also for us. The BBG was therefore only represented by two of its members: Jean de Wolf and myself. 

My husband Paul and I arrived a bit earlier on Wednesday 7th June, unfortunately with some car problems (flat tyre) that we had to sort out first. Once the new tyre was put in place (Thursday morning) our “June weekend” could begin. 

First stop was of course a visit to the Brontë Parsonage Museum. Due to Covid-19, I had not been there for a number of years and was eager to see the house and its new exhibits, and the new exhibition “the Brontës and the Wild.” Very interesting indeed. 

A visit to the church of St. Michael & All Angels was of course also a must. As in the Parsonage, I just feel so close to the Brontës when I am there where they are all buried (apart from Anne). There was also an interesting special item on display in the church near the font, a picture of the Madonna with child on toast. Yes, toast. Really fascinating to see how this was done! 

A stroll in the village and up and down Main Street was next on our programme. The weather was really fabulous for walking around, we enjoyed the sunshine. We ended up in the Cobbles and Clay Café for tea and scone (me)/chocolate drink and cake (Paul). 

Some members were due to arrive on Thursday already, and we met up in the Old White Lion for a meal in the evening. It felt so good to be back in Haworth! 

On Friday morning 9 June, Paul and I made an excursion to Hebden Bridge, one of our favourite haunts around Haworth. Hebden Bridge is a lovely little village to visit, but for us also to search for antiques. In the afternoon we were back in Haworth enjoying the scenery of Haworth Main Street outside the Black Bull and seeing familiar faces 😉. 

At 6 pm we were meeting up with the other members of the group for an evening meal in the Black Bull. I was ready for the event, wearing a T-shirt very appropriate for the occasion (What would LIFE be without a little BRONTE, indeed!). The agenda had been suggested by Val and Margaret who organised the joint events for the weekend. Starting the weekend with a meal together was welcomed by all those present (in all about 20 people were expected). We really had an enjoyable evening talking Brontë and other subjects. 

On Saturday morning, the weather still wonderfully sunny, warm and bright. So Paul and I decided to walk to the Brontë bridge and falls. Early in the morning not many people are out and about, so we could enjoy a little bit of the tranquility on the moors on our way to the bridge. It is such a wonderful special place to be. I really could stay there all day just enjoying the beautiful scenery, but we had a meeting with the group at 2 pm, and had to go back in time. We were meeting up with the group in the Old White Lion for two very interesting talks. 

The first talk was by Miriam Halahmy who talked about her new Brontë-related book. She was not really a Brontë fan but became interested in 2016 during the bicentenary of Charlotte Brontë when reading Claire Harman’s biography. Her book will be published in March 2024. The Brontës are not the main characters in this book. The heroine is Kate, a young village girl from Haworth. But the sisters do feature in the book because Kate is working in the parsonage. As a teaser, Miriam ended her talk by reading a few pages from her book. I’m sure that everyone in the room will be on the lookout when it gets published! 

The second talk was about The Greatness of Anne Brontë and professor Marianne Thormahlen was supposed to present this. However, as health issues prevented her from being present in Haworth, Patsy Stoneman read her paper, showing many reasons why Anne is as important a writer as her two siblings. Anne is often considered incorrectly as being in the shadow of Charlotte and Emily, but her two novels prove that she was a very good writer in her own right, fully aware of what was happening around her and having the guts to write about it. In defence of Anne’s greatness, Patsy also read her own paper on the subject, from another perspective but proving the same thing. 

At 5 pm we were expected at the entrance of the Brontë Parsonage Museum shop for a ghost walk led by Nigel Nicholl. We were all invited to share our possible own experiences with ghosts or tell other ghostly tales we knew. And there were some tales indeed to be told, but mostly rational explanations could be given for what seemed to be ghostly at first. The walk went from the Parsonage (a picture of a ghost appearing in the front door was distributed and possible explanations for this apparition were shared), then to the schoolroom and the sexton’s house towards King’s Arms (strange noises late at night coming from the cellar), with ghostly tales at every stop. Also the Old White Lion was a haunted place (the ghost of the aeronaut Lily Cove who crashed to death in Haworth from a balloon, is haunting room 7). Then came Weaver’s in West Lane (the place where we were staying!) with the story of the Grey Lady appearing on 19th December (Emily Brontë’s ghost?). Further down West Lane towards North Street (where a bed began to heave in the middle of the night for no particular reason), and then on we went via Changegate back to Main Street and a visit to the graveyard. 

But then something strange happened: While Brian Speak was trying to take a picture of all of us, there was an apparation of a woman in the front door of the sexton’s house! However, she was not a ghost, but she had an interesting tale to tell: she had always loved the sexton’s house when she was a child and she moved to this house recently. In researching her family tree, she then discovered that she was in fact a descendant of John Brown who was the sexton during the Brontës’ time in Haworth (a great-great-great-great-granddaugther). One of the daughters of John Brown married a Mr Binn and from this ancestry line she was a descendant. Her maiden name was Binn, but she married a Mr. Brown, and therefore she is now also called Brown (Elle Brown). Circle closed! 

We were all flabbergasted when we heard this fascinating story, but we had to move on with the ghost walk, still to go to the Old Apothecary and the Black Bull (both popular haunts of Branwell). We were also supposed to go down Main Street to Haworth Old Hall (also a haunted place), but everyone seemed to agree with Nigel’s proposal not to do this. Tiredness set in and we all needed a cold drink, a nice rest and a good meal! (Note: if you want to know more about this ghostly subject, you should really read “Ghosts & Gravestones of Haworth” by Philip Lister.) 

Some of us met up again in the Old White Lion for an evening meal and an evaluation of the day.

Unfortunately, Paul and I had to leave the next day, so we sadly missed the events planned for Sunday: a group visit to the Parsonage or the Church Communion service as an alternative; a meeting in Parson’s field at the back of the Parsonage to reflect on the weekend, on what the area around the Parsonage was like in the time of the Brontës and also thoughts and ideas on what could be organised for next year’s members’ weekend. Yes indeed, another meeting is planned for the second weekend of June 2024 (7-9 June)! In the evening on Sunday there was again a joint meal in the Old White Lion with a quiz, a short skit In the Heathcliff Tea Room (by our own Helen) performed by members of the Brontë Society and a musical performance by Val Wiseman (a few songs from her beautiful Brontë Tribute Album Keeping The Flame Alive). 

It felt so good to be back in Haworth after such a long absence. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting up with so many familiar faces and talking Brontë (again and again). And we have been very lucky with the weather as well! 

I have already booked our accommodation for next year and I am looking forward to it already. I do hope more Brontë enthusiasts will join us then! 

  Marina Saegerman

No comments: