Happy JAnneuary – Anne Brontë 200 Celebrations

We have made it into a new year, so happy 2020 one and all! This isn’t any old new year, of course, but the end of a six year period which has seen the 200th anniversaries of the births of the Brontë children. They’ve saved the best for last, for this year sees the 200th birthday of our beloved Anne Brontë.

In fact, the big day is just twelve days away as I type this, so we’re not only in the year of Anne, but the month of Anne too! The History Press, who published my ‘In Search Of Anne Brontë’ in 2016 and who will be publishing my book on Charlotte Brontë and Ellen Nussey later this year, have dubbed this month ‘Janneuary’ – I like that, so I’m borrowing it to give a Janneuary update on three Brontë birthday celebrations heading rapidly towards us.

Scarborough

Brontë pilgrims often make their way to Haworth, and understandably so – it’s worth a visit on any day of the year, but Anne Brontë lovers should also try to get to Scarborough. It’s a beautiful place on a sunny day, which is why Anne loved it so much. She is buried there of course, in St. Mary’s churchyard in the shadow of the ancient castle, but she also spent large chunks of her summers there during her years as a governess to the Robinson family of Thorp Green.

St Mary's Church, Scarborough
St Mary’s Church, Scarborough

Anne always remembered Scarborough fondly, and it’s good to see that they remember her fondly too, for they’ve put together an exciting sequence of events to mark this special occasion. The first event gets under way next week, and it’s a brilliant way to mark Anne’s life and her artistic as well as writing talent. Called ‘Anne Brontë p.200’ it runs from 11th January to 8th February, and is at Woodend Creative, a large building in beautiful grounds just a short walk from the Grand Hotel and adjacent to Scarborough’s excellent art gallery.

The brainchild of local artist Lindsey Tyson, it is based upon an excellent idea that takes Anne’s ‘The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall’ and turns it into 200 individual pieces of art by 200 artists, each of whom has used a page from the book as their base. The results are incredible, and if you can’t get along to the exhibition you can buy the complete set of Anne inspired artwork in this stunning book that you can purchase at the event or from Lindsey via this link:

This book is beautiful inside and out – full credit to Lindsey and all the artists! (picture courtesy of Jamie McGarry)

That’s not all that’s taking place on the east coast this month. On the 14th, Tim Tubbs is giving a talk on ‘The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall’, and on the 17th and 18th, Eddie Lawler is presenting his ‘Tracking The Brontës’ show. Eddie has performed at Haworth on many occasions, and now lives at Scarborough with his wife Olga who painted this fantastic version of Branwell’s portrait of the sisters. It’s a brilliant show – fun, moving and packed full of facts (with a little Yorkshire rapping thrown in for good measure). All of those events are also at Woodend.

Olga's take on the pillar portrait - with Branwell restored!
Olga’s take on the pillar portrait – with Branwell restored!

On Sunday 19th a beautiful celebration of Anne’s life will take place, beginning at the Grand Hotel, on the site of which Anne spent her final moments. A torchlit procession will then lead to the South Bay beach, where pebbles will be thrown into the sea. The procession will then lead uphill to St. Mary’s church where bells will ring out in Anne’s name.

Manchester

Anne Brontë never crossed the Pennines to Manchester, but her family did. It was in that city that her father Patrick had his cataracts cut away without anaesthetic, and where Charlotte commenced the writing of ‘Jane Eyre’ as she nursed him. Emily Brontë had earlier visited the city with Charlotte too, to consult an eye specialist.

It is now a bustling, modern city but it hosts its very own Anne Brontë tribute under the banner of ‘Project Anne Brontë 200’. It takes place on 28th March of this year in a very fitting setting – Manchester’s ‘Cross Street Chapel’. I say fitting, because the minister of this very chapel, in its original form, in the mid-nineteenth century was a certain Reverend William Gaskell, husband of Charlotte Brontë’s friend and biographer Elizabeth Gaskell.

Cross Street Chapel
Cross Street Chapel is right in the heart of Manchester

Pamela Nash has put together a magnificent programme of musical highlights that pays great tribute to Anne, and as Anne loved to play and listen to music she will surely appreciate this tribute. The hugely acclaimed up and coming composer Lucy Pankhurst has written a piece especially for the event – a setting of Anne Brontë’s poem ‘The Bluebell‘ which she has entitled ‘A Fine And Subtle Spirit’. It’s being performed by professional singers and a children’s choir, so it should be a truly memorable event. There will also be performances of hymns by Anne and poems by Emily set to music, and I will be there to say a few introductory words myself (please don’t let that put you off). This is an event not to be missed if you are in or near Manchester, and I will bring more details on it as that final Saturday in March approaches.

Bradford

Anne was born in Thornton near Bradford of course, the last of the six Brontë siblings and just three months before the family moved to Haworth. Unfortunately there won’t be a special event at the Thornton birthplace of the Brontës and the powers that be are keeping the Parsonage at Haworth closed on that day (January is the month when they change out the exhibitions), but they have organised a party at the Delius Arts & Cultural Centre in the centre of Bradford.

Here is the official description of the event on the Brontë Society website:

Come down to be entertained by an exciting line-up of musicians, poets and DJs, and try your hand at zine-making, badge-making and other DIY crafts. This is a night to throw on your glad-rags, revel in performances, and enjoy delicious food and drink all for Anne Brontë’s birthday.”

It sounds like there’s something for almost everyone, and no advance booking is required – simply turn up and pay what you want.

The Delius Centre, near Bradford's Alhambra Theatre
The Delius Centre, near Bradford’s Alhambra Theatre

The truth is that if you carry Anne Brontë in your hearts, she will be with you wherever you are on Friday the 17th, so why not have your own celebration even if you’re on your own with an Anne Brontë book and a slice of cake (that’s what I plan to be doing in Haworth on the day)? If you can couple that celebration with one of the fabulous events in Scarborough or Manchester as well then you can make it a JAnneuary and MAnnearch to remember!

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