Monday 20 May 2024

Another step on Brontë Sisters Square in Koekelberg

A further step has just been taken towards seeing the Brontë sisters return to the Brussels municipality of Koekelberg, at least in spirit. A public consultation meeting was held on 16 May to update Koekelberg residents on plans to name a square after the Brontë sisters and to invite their comments.

As reported in previous blog posts, the idea was announced four years ago, promoted by local councillor Robert Delathouwer (Vooruit party). Last year it was approved in principle by the Koekelberg council subject to a public consultation process. 

Just a reminder, the Brontës’ link with Koekelberg came through Charlotte’s close friend Mary Taylor, who was studying at a school called the Château de Koekelberg with her sister Martha while the Brontës were at the Pensionnat Heger near Place Royale. Charlotte and Emily used to visit Koekelberg during their time in Brussels in 1842-43. 

Martha Taylor died while at the Koekelberg school and was buried in the Protestant Cemetery. Mary Taylor, a feminist who believed women should earn their own living, went on to run a store in New Zealand, lead a party of women up Mont Blanc and write a feminist novel, Miss Miles

The public consultation meeting on 16 May in the Vrijetijdspunt Comenius (community centre) in Rue des Braves/Dapperenstraat presented the plan to make part of Rue des Braves into a square and baptise it Gezusters Brontëplein/Place des soeurs Brontë. The plans were presented by Christophe Mercier and Julie Réveillon from Suède 36, an architectural firm specialising in urban planning projects for public spaces. Present at the meeting were local councillors Muriel de Viron of Ecolo (public works) and Marie Bijnens of Groen Brussel (culture). 

Public consultation on 16 May

Among the discussion of aspects such as vegetation, street furniture and pedestrianisation was a proposal to display a couple of quotations from Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre in the square. Those attending the meeting were shown selected quotations and invited to vote for those they favoured. 

Excitingly, there is also a plan for sculptor Tom Frantzen to provide a scultpure of Charlotte and Emily. Over 10 years ago Frantzen, the author of iconic sculptures in Brussels including those of Bruegel and Jacques Brel, made a maquette for a sculpture of Charlotte and Emily. Sadly, though, funds were not forthcoming to commission it for a location in central Brussels. Will Tom Frantzen’s projected sculpture finally find a place – in the Brontë Sisters Square in Koekelberg? Like all such exciting projects, that will depend on the availability of funding ...  

I attended the meeting and spoke to the audience briefly about the Brussels Brontë Group. 

Helen (center) with councillors Muriel de Viron and Marie Bijnens

That the Brontë sisters are finally being put on the Brussels map is thanks to the current "feminisation" of Brussels street names to increase the proportion named after women, something Koekelberg bourgmestre Ahmed Laaouej is keen to promote. Three streets or sections of streets in Koekelberg, which had only two streets/public spaces named after women, have recently been re-baptised. The women thus honoured are:

-- Congolese woman Gemba, one of seven Congolese who died in 1897 in Tervuren when Congolese villages were created complete with "human exhibits" as part of Expo 1897. 

-- Feminist Tunisian-French lawyer Gisèle Halimi, whose defence of two Brussels rape victims at the "Aix trial" led to harsher sentences for rapists under French law. 

-- Renée Douffet, who was part of the Jewish resistance in Koekelberg and saved a Jewish friend from deportation by providing her with false papers. 

It is hoped that the Brontë square, whose adjoining buildings include a library as well as the community centre, will be inaugurated in 2025. The culture councillor will ensure that the library’s collection includes some Brontë-themed books. 

Helen MacEwan

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