Stepping into the pages of Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice and Robin Hood: The Jane Eyre Hathersage Trail

It’s hard to believe that our younger son has been living at his cottage on the edge of Sheffield with the Peak District and Ladybower Reservoir on his doorstep for three years already. His neighbour owns a holiday rental cottage in the same terrace and I finally managed a few nights stay there last weekend. The location has the best of both worlds – near to the vibrant and cultured city of Sheffield and yet just a short drive from the beautiful Derbyshire Dales/Peak District National Park. The outlook from the cottage is pastoral and peaceful. And there is perhaps too much choice when it comes to excursions to fill three full days.


North Lees Hall

Continue reading


Charlotte Great and Small : a Life


Back in early January my friend Simon over at Stuck-in-a-book, having found out that I’d read Claire Harman’s  Charlotte Bronte: A Life late last year, asked me to a write a review of it for his online publication Shiny New Books. I said I would and several brain racking weeks later presented him with this. Continue reading

Paula Rego – coincidence

If you watched all of the video recording of The Brilliant Brontes in the last but one post you will have seen Sheila Hancock inspecting and discussing the drawings of Jane Eyre with the artist Dame Paula Rego. By coincidence a week later one of the most prominent museums (yes, there are several!) in Cascais turns out to be devoted to the work of Paula Rego (and it has a nice cafe too). Shortly after our arrival we decided to take a walk and investigate.

Casa das historias

The Casa das Historias opened in Cascais in 2009

Rego was born in Lisbon in 1935 to keen Anglophile parents who sent their daughter to an Anglican English language school in Lisbon and later to school near Sevenoaks and art school (The Slade) where she met her future husband Victor Willing. She became a naturalised British subject and was created a Dame of the British Empire in 2010. She divides her time between Britain and Portugal.

Here are some of her Jane Eyre works  currently on display at the gallery Casa Das Historias in Cascais.

Paula Rego Jane Eyre

Paula Rego’s Jane Eyre

Paula Rego Jane Eyre 2

Paula Rego’s Lithograph Jane Eyre

Paula Rego Jane Eyre book

The Book of the Exhibition

Didn't have room for the PR soap

I had no room for the Paula Rego soaps in my luggage!

Mary Taylor : Strong Minded Woman & Friend of Charlotte Brontë

Discover the pioneering 19th century life of early feminist Mary Taylor of Red House, friend and inspiration to Charlotte Brontë. Mary’s exceptional life included emigrating to New Zealand; starting a business; leading expeditions of women mountain climbing in Europe and writing radical feminist articles and books.” (It’s Happening …)

Red House

Back in December I visited Oakwell Hall in Birstall to look at the Christmas decorations and promised myself that I would follow up with a visit to the nearby Red House; which also has Brontë connections. In the ‘It’s Happening …’ leaflet which I picked up that day I noted a future exhibition to be mounted at Red House on the topic of its one-time inhabitant Mary Taylor. The exhibition runs from 2 March until 2 June.

Front door Red House

No photography is allowed inside the house; but never mind it’s a bit disappointing anyway. Several times in the 1980s I brought my sons here as they laid on some good children’s craft workshops (and still do). For quite a few years it was closed for renovations and yesterday was my first visit since then.

Red House - front

I was told that the house has been returned as nearly as possible to how it would have looked in the 1830s; the time when Charlotte Brontë visited. Some furniture, pictures and fittings are original, or of the period, and the rest have been carefully copied; for example the ‘Brussels’ weave, looped pile carpet in the Parlour, window curtains and bed hangings in the Main Bedroom and wallpapers.

There are very few rooms to visit – The Parlour (left in photo) with waxworks of Mary Taylor (playing the piano) and her mother (stitching tapestry); the adjoining scullery and kitchen; across the hall (which serves as reception and shop) there is the dining room and a study (right in photo). Upstairs you can visit the Main Bedchamber (above the parlour), the Governess’ room and the Girl’s room.

The Taylors were  a prosperous, middle class family and Joshua (a woollen cloth manufacturer and merchant) lived here with his wife Anne and their six children. Their daughter Mary (1817-1893) was a great friend of Charlotte Bronte, who often visited Red House and featured the house as ‘Briarmains’ and the Taylor family as ‘The Yorkes’ in her novel ‘Shirley’.


Perhaps the most interesting feature, to me, were the stained glass windows in the Dining Room with painted heads of William Shakespeare and John Milton. Charlotte Brontë describes in ‘Shirley‘.

Those windows would be seen by daylight to be of brilliantly-stained glass – purple and amber the predominant hues, glittering round a gravely-tinted medallion in the centre of each representing the suave head of William Shakspeare, and the serene one of John Milton.” (Shirley Ch.9)


Mary Taylor (Photo source)

So, having almost galloped through the main house I spent quite some time in the Exhibition Gallery studying the fascinating life of this woman Mary Taylor. One hundred years after her death she is now gaining recognition through Charlotte Brontë’s descriptions, through her letters and through her own published works. Examples of her books were displayed (including modern reprints). She wrote “The First Duty of Women” and a novel “Miss Miles, or a tale of Yorkshire life 60 years ago”. She was a strong-minded woman intent on pursuing her own way of life and living by her own ideals. She was an early feminist and strongly believed in women having their own independence.

She attended Roe Head School near Mirfield (where she met CB) and later The Chateau de Koekelberg in Brussels. She taught in Germany and I was surprised to read that in 1845 she emigrated to New Zealand and was one of its earliest settlers. There she owned a successful shop. She returned to Britain in 1860 and spent the rest of her life in nearby Gomersal. That is, when she wasn’t being a woman after my own heart and leading women’s mountaineering holidays in Switzerland! “Swiss Notes by Five Ladies : an Account of  Climbing and Touring in 1874″ was reprinted with a supplement by Peter A. Marshall and Jean K. Brown.

Secret's Out and Spen Valley Stories

The Secret’s Out with Spen Valley Stories (right)

So that was the house … but there is more. In the converted stables and outbuildings are two more displays. The Secret’s Out all about the Brontë connection with Red House and its local area and Spen Valley Stories : “Everyday community life through a century of change is illustrated through personal stories – displays include Schooldays; Working Lives; At Home; Freetime and Shopping.”

I didn’t have time to investigate these but I will be definitely go back, so watch this space!

Back of Red House

Back of The Red House from the main road

‘Deck the halls’ at Oakwell

Oakwell Hall

Step back in time and enjoy Oakwell Hall’s period rooms decorated with greenery from the park with the theme of traditional Christmas carols. Enjoy the rich and historic splendour of Oakwell Hall, decorated for a 1690 Christmas.”

Oakwell Hall

“It was neither a grand nor a comfortable house; within
as without it was antique, rambling and incommodious.”

Charlotte Brontë’s description of ‘Fieldhead’ (Oakwell Hall) from ‘Shirley’.”

We have had days and days of constant rain. The dark misty clouds mean that the days seem even shorter than the time of year supposes that they should be, so I decided to ‘step back in time’ to a nearby house with Bronte connections – Oakwell Hall in Gomersall. It is now owned by Kirklees Council but has had an interesting history and the lovely house dates back to the 16th century. Read about the fascinating study of the timbers, panelling, layout and construction of Oakwell Hall here. It is such a shame that photography is no longer allowed inside Oakwell Hall as the greenery and decorations brighten up the rooms at this time of year.

Oakwell - rear

Rear view of Oakwell Hall

Thought to be built by one John Batt, whose initials appear above the door, Oakwell was occupied by him and his family for way over a century. Between 1789 and 1927 when the hall was bought by the local council it had several owners and was at times a private residence, at times occupied by short term tenants (families and schools) and at one point was threatened to be “taken down, brick by brick, and shipped to America”. A local appeal was then launched and with the help of two particular wealthy benefactors (Sir Henry Norman Rae and John Earl Sharman) the house was saved and passed to Batley Corporation (now Kirklees Council). Since 1927 the house has been a museum and more recently the surrounding parkland has come into Council ownership and the whole is now Oakwell Hall Country Park.

As you tour the house, after being greeted in the Great Hall, at one point on the ground floor you pass into the Buttery. This bare room with stone floor is now a small information space and here I read more about the Bronte connection with Oakwell Hall.

Whilst a pupil at Roehead School in Mirfield Charlotte Bronte made friends with Ellen Nussey and Mary Taylor. Ellen later attended a school at Oakwell Hall and CB frequently visited her here. She was inspired to base her descriptions of the house Fieldhead on Oakwell Hall and she also based The Yorke family in the same book on her friends The Taylors.

Accurate descriptions of the house interior and exterior can be lifted straight from Chapter 11 “Fieldhead” in Shirley.

“If Fieldhead had few other merits as a building, it might at least be
termed picturesque. Its regular architecture, and the gray and mossy
colouring communicated by time, gave it a just claim to this epithet.
The old latticed windows, the stone porch, the walls, the roof, the
chimney-stacks, were rich in crayon touches and sepia lights and shades.
The trees behind were fine, bold, and spreading; the cedar on the lawn
in front was grand; and the granite urns on the garden wall, the fretted
arch of the gateway, were, for an artist, as the very desire of the eye.”

“Mr. and Miss Helstone were ushered into a parlour. Of course, as was to
be expected in such a Gothic old barrack, this parlour was lined with
oak: fine, dark, glossy panels compassed the walls gloomily and grandly.
Very handsome, reader, these shining brown panels are, very mellow in
colouring and tasteful in effect …”

Talking with one of the Museum staff I also discovered that several filmings had taken place at Oakwell over the years. Notably in 1921 a silent film version of Shirley. 

A 2009 TV version of Wuthering Heights used Oakwell for its interior scenes. Fast forward to around 48 minutes in if you are only interested in seeing some interior shots of Oakwell. The exterior shots look to me as if they were filmed using East Riddlesden Hall near Keighley.

The interior scenes of  The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Listeralso made for TV was filmed here at Oakwell. The true home of Miss Lister was nearby Shibden Hall at Halifax but I was told that the rooms at Oakwell were much larger to allow for all the cameramen’s paraphernalia.

Oakwell Gardens

On leaving the cosiness of the hall you enter the lovely, beautifully ordered, Elizabethan gardens. I made a mental note to revisit these on a less wet and grey day. I hurried home to light my own Christmas tree lights and relax with a mince pie.

My own Christmas tree


A Literary Pilgrimage in Yorkshire

Yesterday I revisited Haworth with a friend. Looking back at my Flickr photos I see that my last visit to this Literary Shrine was in 2005. On that day, it was a Sunday, the queue to get into the Parsonage stretched down through the garden. I planned to return on a quieter day. So, a mere 7 years later, I was back again and indeed found the village and Parsonage very much quieter. [Mental note to self – visit Haworth Parsonage on a Monday in November] My only previous visit inside the house itself was in the early 1990s.

Approaching the Museum from the Car Park

I’m sure I don’t need to explain here that the Parsonage at Haworth, near Keighley in West Yorkshire was home to the Bronte family (probably the world’s most famous literary family) from 1820 to 1861.

Bronze Sculpture (by Jocelyn Horner) of The Bronte Sisters in the Heather Garden

Little had changed in the house itself – my friend and I and one other couple were the only visitors at 1pm today. Some of the pictures had been moved about and there’s a much improved permanent exhibition called Genius: The Bronte Story. My friend had brought along her guidebook from a previous trip [in 1983] so we were able to compare and as photography inside the house is prohibited. Here are some pictures from that book:

The Dining Room

Mr Bronte’s Study

Bronte Parsonage Guide, 1983

There’s a further exhibition called Bronte Relics : A Collection History.

New exhibition looking at the fascinating history of the Bronte Parsonage Museum collection, a story almost as extraordinary as the Bronte story itself.” [website]

“The provenance of a variety of objects is traced back through previous owners and collectors to the major sources of Bronteana; amongst them Charlotte’s husband, Arthur Bell Nicholls; Ellen Nussey, Charlotte’s lifelong friend; the family of Martha Brown, the Brontes’ servant, and the American collector, Henry Houston Bonnell.” [2012 flyer]

Opposite The Parsonage is the School in which Charlotte Bronte taught at one time.

The Parsonage is on the left and the School on the right

The Churchyard, Haworth

No visit to Haworth can be described without a mention of the weather. Maybe on occasion the sun shines up on Haworth Moor but I do believe that I have yet to experience this phenomenon! Today was cloudy and wet and typically atmospheric. But read here about a summertime visit.

The Black Bull – Branwell was a ‘regular’

Through The Book Shop Window

Cobbles and Clay Art Cafe, 60 Main Street, Haworth

Tea and Tart at Cobbles and Clay

After just over an hour in the Museum we headed for a bright and jolly Haworth tea shop, stopping briefly to enquire whether the bookshop [Venables and Bainbridge] had any copies of Wuthering Heights in Polish for my friend to buy for her daughter-in-law. It didn’t. We were surprised that there were no foreign language versions of the great novels in the Bronte Museum Shop. We know they had sold French and German versions in the past.

As we returned up the hill, back to the car park, we noticed that the church was open and popped quickly inside to look at the Bronte memorials before leaving the village.

The Literary Connection of North Lees Hall

“It was a fine autumn morning; the early sun shone serenely on embrowned groves and still green fields; advancing on to the lawn, I looked up and surveyed the front of the mansion. It was three storeys high, of proportions not vast, though considerable: a gentleman’s manor-house, not a nobleman’s seat: battlements round the top gave it a picturesque look.

Its grey front stood out well from the background of a rookery, whose cawing tenants were now on the wing: they flew over the lawn and grounds to alight in a great meadow, from which these were separated by a sunk fence, and where an array of mighty old thorn trees, strong, knotty, and broad as oaks, at once explained the etymology of the mansion’s designation.

Farther off were hills: not so lofty as those round Lowood, nor so craggy, nor so like barriers of separation from the living world; but yet quiet and lonely hills enough, and seeming to embrace Thornfield with a seclusion I had not expected to find existent so near the stirring locality of Millcote. A little hamlet, whose roofs were blent with trees, straggled up the side of one of these hills; the church of the district stood nearer Thornfield: its old tower-top looked over a knoll between the house and gates.”

Jane Eyre  (Chapter 11)

Today I visited a friend and former neighbour who, with her husband, moved to work in Sheffield. They now live in the Hope Valley in the beautiful Derbyshire Peak District . Our plan was to take a walk from her house to visit North Lees Hall, visited by Charlotte Bronte and her friend Ellen Nussey. Bronte later based Mr Rochester’s home Thornfield Hall on North Lees Hall.

The Vivat Trust has similar aims to The Landmark Trust. I have never stayed in one of their properties but my feeling is that they do everything much more comfortably or even luxuriously but that they don’t have such a ‘low’ (ruinous?) starting point. North Lees Hall is a Vivat Trust property.

The day started off very misty – but these always turn out the best. After a cup of tea and brief chin-wag we headed off up the hill from her house. It was a perfect walk – a climb up the lane to begin and over a couple of stiles and then green grassy paths for a good hour or so with wonderful views of Stannage Edge (a climbers paradise, apparently). Eventually through a wooded copse we spied the Hall. By this time the sky was fully blue and cloudless (Jane Eyre’s “fine autumn morning” indeed).  Another hour’s walk via an Ice Cream Parlour  (Hope Valley Ice Cream) brought us across a golf course and home for lunch.

Stannage Edge, Derbyshire