The Brontë sisters are some of the best know, widest read and most popular authors in the history of the English language. I’ve read one or two of their books, at least one by each sister, and they’re not bad at all. There are those who enjoy the writings of the Brontës even more however and those people make up the Brontë Society. This society is base at and runs the Brontë parsonage museum in the idyllic town of Haworth.
Firstly, for those who don’t know, Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë where the daughters of Patrick Brontë. Patrick was a curate with the Church of England in the 19th century. As a man of the church Patrick was furnished with a house; the parsonage. The tragedy that befell Patrick are akin to many of the books written by his famous daughters. His wife, sister-in-law and all his children died relatively young; leaving him survived solely by his son in law. The literary works of his daughters however developed a following that would eventually see the house where all this happened become a museum.
The Parsonage is a lovely Georgian era building furnished as it would have been around the mid-19th century. Much of the furniture is not only original to the date, but original to the house with object actually owned by the family on display. This is not just a time freeze museum however; cabinets and displays are integrated into each room. A cut away in one room, for example, shows some of the original paint work; the room now painted in a modern approximation of this.
After a self-lead room by room tour of the house you pass through into the exhibition galleries. A newer, but congruous, extension on the back of the building; houses the shop, staff rooms and galleries as well as an access lift. The galleries house examples of original writings and artefacts. Many of these are mentioned in the books for example the cabinet (pictured: Jane Eyre) and the windows (pictured: Shirley).The windows deserve a special mention as they have only just gone on display having been in their original location of at Red House (former museum) . They had been removed from Red House during the War and taken to the Parsonage for safe keeping. When Red House opened as a museum they were restored to their rightful place, only to be removed again when Red House was shut.
The gallery is much more informative and child friendly than the house itself. There are some excellent quotes, such as the one pictured, and numerous activities for the easily bored to enjoy. The dressing up box did, however, leave a little to be desired.
I visited the museum shortly after a BBC Drama about the Brontës had aired. As such a lot of the displays where dedicated to the costumes, scripts and props currently on loan to the museum. As well as this we are amidst the bicentennial celebrations of the Brontë births. 2017 belongs to Branwell Brontë, wayward brother and son, to whom I bear some unfortunate resemblance. To this end a second focus in the exhibits was the poetry, art and untimely alcohol driven demise of Branwell .
All in all the house and exhibits offered a quite fascinating insight into the lives of, arguably, the most famous family of writers in history. I was especially taken with a pair of moccasin slippers (pictured); bought by Charlotte on a trip to Scarborough. Next to the other shoes these easily are the jazziest and most comfortable choice of foot ware. There’s a real human element that I can still connect with nearly two centuries later.
A few words need to be said on the Brontë Soceity. There are and have always been popular authors and their fan clubs. Pottermore has yet to set up and run its own museum though; at least to my knowledge. The Parsonage was also the busiest museum I have visited and I make a habit of going at quieter times. The society does not receive government or council funding. The money comes from the entry charge, the shop and donations. This gives the society a lot of freedom, but it also means that should interest every dry up; the museum will shut up pretty quickly.
The Brontë Society is doing a splendid job, however no doubt aided by the ease of promoting literature of exceptional quality. The Museum is well run, well presented and full of interesting artefacts. It is a very specific museum though. This combined with the remote location, entrance fee and nature of its topic; makes for a particularly elitist experience.
Groups of teenagers do not wander in out of the cold and the uninitiated visitor may mistakenly think there was a dress code. Many might not think this a bad thing, but personally I like to think museums should build from the bottom up and not be pedestals from which to look down on people from. I’m no expert, but I’d be inclined to think that the creators of such characters as Heathcliff and Frances Evans Henri might agree with the sentiment of self-improvement.
Taxidermy rating: 0/15
Toilet score: 2/5.(Not maintained by the museum)
Trail: Yes, not done
Dead people: No
Overall Score: 6/10
Website : https://www.bronte.org.uk/