“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.”
“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.
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 Lister, also 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.
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.
A MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!