Haworth In The 1940s – A Village Through Time

If you’ve been watching the excellent BBC documentary series ‘A House Through Time’, presented by David Olusoga and co-written by Melanie Backe-Hansen, you’ll know that this series centres upon a house in Leeds. In today’s post let’s take a look at a timeless village just 17 miles west of Headingley: Haworth. This weekend marks the ever exuberant and popular 1940s weekend (a picture from a recent one, courtesy of Wikimedia, adorns the top of this page), so let’s dip into the archives to see just what was really occurring in 1940s Haworth. As you might expect, there are Brontë connections.

Haworth 1940s weekend, picture courtesy of the Yorkshire Post
A local tragedy, Bradford Observer, 13th November 1940
Harold Mee, a Haworth flying hero, Yorkshire Evening Post, 6th March 1941
Ida Hacker, another Haworth hero, Bradford Observer, 22nd October 1941

Bradford Observer, 15th January 1942

‘Haworth, most famous of Yorkshire villages, was “on the air” last night. Few listeners in the country would hear the broadcast, but it would be heard by many thousands in Africa, to whom it was specially sent out in the overseas programme. For 15 minutes Yorkshiremen out there would feel themselves back at home as they heard from villagers how Haworth is carrying on.

As written by Graham Banks, the programme had little war atmosphere about it. Haworth is playing its part in the war effort, but it is also maintaining its old traditions, and it was the spirit of the Haworth they knew which Mr. Banks tried to recapture for Yorkshire listeners beyond the seas.

Mr. Charlie Wildman, who has 62 years’ experience in choir work in the district, and who, at 73, still sings tenor and conducts a choir, told the listeners there had been three performances of “Messiah” in Haworth that Christmas, and produced a tit-bit when he asked the Mill Hey Methodist Choir to sing Haworth’s own Christmas anthem. It is known as “Joa o Peggy’s Anthem” – so named after its composer, Joseph Redmond, who was Parish Clerk in the days of the Rev. Patrick Brontë

I chatted with Mrs. Mathilde Mason, aged 67, who for 50 years has been weaving at the same mill. She is the kind of woman whom Yorkshire people like to think of as typical of their county. She was waiting to be called to the microphone for a rehearsal with the producer, Nan Macdonald, and I asked her if she was nervous.

“Well, I am, rayther, but Ah’ll be all reight when Ah get going,” she replied. I tried to convince her of my belief that she would be one of the hits of the broadcast .

“It’s funny,” she told me, “T’first time Ah ivver did owt like this was in this varry schoolroom. Ah gave a bit of a reading because Ah couldn’t memorise, but Ah knew who was listening then.”

“This programme is being recorded and will be sent to most of our Colonies,” I told her.

“Well, Ah hope it gets to Australia,” she answered, “Ah’ve some friends out there who heard me give yon reading, an’ they’ll be capped.”’

The Auxiliary Territorial Service visited the Bronte Parsonage, Yorkshire Evening Post, 11th March 1942

A link to the Brontes lost, Yorkshire Post, 5th June 1942
A morale boosting concert held in the parsonage – which has now become the Bronte Cinema, Bradford Observer, 23rd November 1942
One of the oddest tales of 1940s Haworth was that of mystery benefactor ‘The Count’, Bradford Observer, 5th March 1943

Yorkshire Post, 19th August 1944

‘Canadians At Haworth – Museum And Church Visited: A party of 40 Canadian Servicemen attending the “Life in a Northern Shire” course at Leeds University yesterday visited Haworth, where they spent some time looking round the Brontë Parsonage Museum, which on an average attracts 14,000 to 16,000 visitors a year. They also inspected the church and had a glimpse of the neighbouring moors.

They travelled by bus from Leeds and were accompanied by Mr. W. R. Grist (secretary of the Leeds Regional Committee for Adult Education in the Forces) and Mrs. Grist. Mr. and Mrs. J. P. Major-Stevenson, and Messrs. Berlyn and J. B. Henning (of the Canadian Legion Educational Services).

Before the party inspected a wonderful collection of books, manuscripts, letters, drawings and personal relics, Mr H. G. Mitchell (Museum custodian) gave interesting details of some of the relics. Members of the party signed their names in the visitors’ book, which contains the names of people from all over the world.

The Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Bradford (Ald. and Mrs. W. H. Barraclough) were paying a visit to the Museum when the Canadians arrived, and the Lord Mayor spoke for a few minutes to members of the party.’

Haworth villagers celebrating VE Day in 1945

The 1940s in Haworth has shown us the full gamut of life and emotions; we’ve seen the community gathering together to honour the old traditions, great heroism and terrible tragedies. Talking of tragedies, this week has also marked the 173rd anniversary of the death of Branwell Brontë – the start of a terrible nine month period which would also see the passing of Emily and Anne from the same cause: tuberculosis.

On a happier note, do you remember Ida Hacker, the Haworth-born woman who helped save hundreds of lives after an air raid in Westminster? Here’s a little more information on her along with a charming photo that could have come from this year’s 1940s weekend. It seems that she and her husband were the first ever married couple to receive a pair of British Empire Medals!

I hope to see you next week for another new Brontë blog post, until then keep the home fire’s burning and remember – walls have ears! Right, I’m off to practise my jitterbug ready for next year.

Strictly Come Brontë

We can tell that winter draws near as last night here in the UK a new series of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ made its debut. I love the show, not only because I used to do a little ballroom dancing myself in my younger days; I was hampered by having two left feet, neither of which possessed any rhythm. Anyway, I received a tweet (you can find me on Twitter via @Nick_Holland_ where I post something Brontë related every day) asking what dances, if any, the Brontë sisters would have engaged in. It’s a great question, so today we’re going to look at dancing in the Brontë lives and books.

Bill and Oti picking up the 2020 Strictly glitterball

As we know, the Brontës were taught largely at home until their mid teens, partly due to the tragic deaths of Maria and Elizabeth Brontë after attending the Cowan Bridge school which became immortalised as Lowood. Nevertheless from an early age, the Brontë girls would have been educated with a view to a future career as a governess. That would have involved being proficient in art, needlework, ideally in music, as well as having some knowledge of broader subjects such as mathematics, history, geography and scripture.

Would a governess have been expected to know how to dance, and how to teach dancing to her young charges? Let’s turn to two novels which detail the life of a governess: Jane Eyre and Agnes Grey. There is no reference to Jane teaching Adèle to dance, but then she wouldn’t have had to as the girl already knows how to as she explained to Jane:

‘“I lived long ago with mama; but she is gone to the Holy Virgin. Mama used to teach me to dance and sing, and to say verses. A great many gentlemen and ladies came to see mama, and I used to dance before them, or to sit on their knees and sing to them: I liked it. Shall I let you hear me sing now?”’

We later learn that Adèle is the daughter of a French ballet dancer and an unknown father. We may, of course, think that Rochester is the father, but it seems that the professional dancer was a woman of ‘loose morals’, a popular opinion at the time, and one that became more ingrained in the public conscience as the century progressed.

Adèle dancing in Jane Eyre
Adèle dancing in Jane Eyre

In Agnes Grey however, Anne Brontë directly addresses the issue of governesses and dance lessons. Agnes becomes governess to the Murray family of Horton Lodge (which bears great similarity to Thorp Green Hall near York where Anne worked as a governess). The Murrays are a wealthy family, and their daughters are being trained for their big entrance into society and for the society balls in which they will be expected to dance with eligible young gentlemen, and maybe find a future husband.

Agnes sums up the attainments of Rosalie Murray thus:

‘Her mind had never been cultivated: her intellect, at best, was somewhat shallow; she possessed considerable vivacity, some quickness of perception, and some talent for music and the acquisition of languages, but till fifteen she had troubled herself to acquire nothing; – then the love of display had roused her faculties, and induced her to apply herself, but only to the more showy accomplishments. And when I came it was the same: everything was neglected but French, German, music, singing, dancing, fancy-work, and a little drawing – such drawing as might produce the greatest show with the smallest labour, and the principal parts of which were generally done by me. For music and singing, besides my occasional instructions, she had the attendance of the best master the country afforded; and in these accomplishments, as well as in dancing, she certainly attained great proficiency.’

Rosalie gains great proficiency in music, singing and dancing; she had a visiting teacher for music and singing, although it’s clear that Agnes also provided lessons in these subjects. There is no mention of a dance tutor however. We know that the spoilt yet essentially kind hearted Rosalie Murray was based at least partly on one of Anne’s real life pupils: Lydia Robinson. Did Anne then teach Lydia and the other Robinson girls to dance?

It seems likely to me that the Brontës did indeed learn to dance as part of their home-based education, and if so their tutor is likely to have been their aunt Elizabeth Branwell. Aunt Branwell is often thought of as an austere woman, but this is quite unfair. Indeed, Ellen Nussey described her thus:

‘She talked a great deal of her younger days; the gaieties of her dear native town Penzance, in Cornwall, the soft, warm climate, etc.’

Bath Assembly Rooms
Bath Assembly Rooms, the Branwells would have known the Penzance equivalent

One thing Aunt Branwell would have enjoyed would surely have been dancing, at the Penzance Assembly Rooms opened in 1791 when she was a teenager. These assembly rooms were similar in appearance and purpose to the ones in Bath which have become so associated with Jane Austen, and of course Elizabeth Branwell was a contemporary of Austen. The Branwells were a wealthy and well connected family in Penzance, so there seems little doubt that their daughter Elizabeth (and her younger sister Maria the mother of the Brontës) would have been expected to dance in the Assembly Rooms. This is one of the gaieties that Aunt Branwell remembered so fondly, and it gave her the skills and inclination to teach dancing to her nieces.

The introduction of a piano into the parsonage in 1833 allowed the musical accompaniment for dance lessons, and we know that Emily and Anne loved to play it. So, what kind of dancing would the Brontës have learnt?

The Waltz remained popular throughout the 19th century

The waltz originated in 1786; initially deemed scandalous because of the proximity between male and female dancers, it quickly became popular, especially after it featured in an opera by Vicente Soler called ‘Una Cosa Rara’ or ‘A Rare Thing’. Its success spread across Europe and by the early nineteenth century it had become the dance to have in your repertoire.

By the 1830s a faster version of the dance had emerged – what we now know as the Viennese Waltz, ideal for frantic yet elegant turning and spinning in the voluminous dresses of the day. Another dance popular in the Brontës’ youth was the galoppade or galop.

‘The Great Galop of Johann Strauss’ (1839) makes it look like a disorderly conga

By 1840 it had taken a new variant which became the most popular dance of the time: the polka. The fashionable Robinson girls of Thorp Green Hall would doubtless have been keen to learn this new dance, so would it have been their governess Anne’s job to teach them?

Thanks to the 1946 Brontë biopic ‘Devotion’ we have this clip of Charlotte Brontë engaged in a galoppade; like all of that film it may have taken a liberty or three with the truth, but it is charming and amusing:

We will never know how good the Brontës were at dancing, whether they would have earned a ten from Len or a scowl from Craig; I like to think, however, that it was one of the pleasures they had in their lives, and I like to think that they would have enjoyed ‘Strictly’ like all discerning viewers.

I hope to see you again next week for another new Brontë blog post. Now where was I? Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow. I will leave you with another quote from Jane Eyre:

‘Existence for you must be a scene of continual change and excitement, or else the world is a dungeon: you must be admired, you must be courted, you must be flattered – you must have music, dancing, and society – or you languish, you die away.’

Charlotte Brontë’s Contract For Jane Eyre

In Autumn 1847 the fortunes, and fame, of Charlotte Brontë were changed in rapid fashion thanks to two words: Jane Eyre. The speed with which the book was accepted and then published, and then with which it found favour with the reading public is unthinkable by modern standards, and remarkable even in the 19th century. Thanks to a letter written on this day in 1847 we have an insight into the terms that Charlotte’s publisher offered to her, and her response to them. In today’s post, then, we’ll take a look at the publishing contract for Jane Eyre.

The story is well known of how Charlotte Brontë wrote Jane Eyre rapidly after being encouraged to send another work by the London based publisher Smith, Elder & Co; they had rejected the work she had initially sent, The Professor, although as we shall see Charlotte didn’t take that decision lying down. Charlotte’s new manuscript was sent to Smith, Elder on 28th August 1847; George Smith read it in one day, cancelling his dinner appointment, and was enthralled; less than two months later, on 16th October 1847, it was available to buy.

George Smith
George Smith, publisher of Charlotte Bronte

By mid September the initial agreements had been made, and George Smith had written to Currer Bell (he of course had no idea at that time that the author was actually a woman named Charlotte) with some further suggestions. Here is Charlotte’s reply to his letter, written 174 years ago today:

‘Gentlemen, I have received your letter and thank you for the judicious remarks and sounds advice it contains. I am now however in a position to follow the advice; my engagements will not permit me to revise ‘Jane Eyre’ a third time, and perhaps there is little to regret in the circumstance; you will probably know from personal experience that an author never writes well till he has got into the full spirit of his work, and were I to retrench, to alter and to add now when I am uninterested and cold, I know I should only further injure what may already be defective. Perhaps too the first part of ‘Jane Eyre’ may suit the public taste better than you anticipate – for it is true and Truth has a severe charm of its own. Had I told all the truth, I might indeed have it more it far more exquisitely painful – but I deemed it advisable to soften and retrench many particulars lest the narrative should rather displease than attract.

I adopt your suggestion respecting the title; it would be much better to add the words “an autobiography.”

It was Smith who suggested adding ‘An Autobiography’ to this first edition of Jane Eyre

In accepting your terms, I trust much to your equity and sense of justice. You stipulate for the refusal of my two next works at the price of one hundred pounds each. One hundred pounds is a small sum for a year’s intellectual labour, nor would circumstances justify me in devoting my time and attention to literary pursuits with so narrow a prospect of advantage did I not feel convinced that in case the ultimate result of my efforts should prove more successful than you now anticipate, you would make some proportionate addition to the remuneration you at present offer. On this ground of confidence in your generosity and honour, I accept your conditions.

I shall be glad to know when the work will appear. I shall be happy also to receive any advice you can give me as to choice of subject or style or treatment in my next effort – and if you can point out any works peculiarly remarkable for the qualities in which I am deficient, I would study them carefully and endeavour to remedy my errors.

Allow me in conclusion to express my sense of the punctuality, straight-forwardness and intelligence which have hitherto marked your dealings with me, And Believe me Gentlemen, Yours Respectfully, C Bell.

Since you have no use for ‘the Professor’, I shall be obliged if you will return the M.S.S. [manuscript] Address as usual to Miss Brontë &c.’

Jane Eyre 1983 header
This letter paved the way for countless books and adaptations

From this letter we can see that Charlotte had great confidence in her work, and that she hated the editing process – something she also referred to prior to the publications of her later novels. Two revisions were all she could stomach and she absolutely refused to do any more – as the result of this is the Jane Eyre we know and love, it’s safe to say that Charlotte was right.

It’s interesting to see as well that Smith had suggested that the first part, that dealing with Jane’s childhood and especially her time at Lowood school, was the weakest. Once again, it seems to me that Charlotte was right, and the book would be greatly diminished if this section had been altered or removed.

Mr Brocklehurst
Charlotte insisted on leaving Jane Eyre’s powerful first section as it was

Under the terms of the contract Charlotte had been offered an advance of one hundred pounds for this novel and two subsequent novels; she feels that this is scant reward for the intellectual effort to write a novel, although it is at least twice as much as a governess or teacher would earn in a year – as another comparison, Branwell Brontë earned an annual salary of £75 when he was appointed Assistant Clerk at Sowerby Bridge Railway Station.

Charlotte has confidence in Smith, Elder, however, and is confident, even without it being mentioned in the contract, that they will increase the advances offered if Jane Eyre proved to be as successful as she expected. Once again, Charlotte was right as by the time that her next novel, Shirley, was being readied for publication she was given an advance of £500.

This simple letter is really an important historical document for it charts the moment that the green light was given for the publication of Jane Eyre. Charlotte was supremely confident in her own ability and in the work she had produced, and that’s an example that all writers can learn from. I hope to see you all again next Sunday for another new Brontë blog post.

The Secret Poetry Manuscript Of Emily Brontë

We have now entered September, although much of August has felt like December here in chilly Yorkshire. September 1845 was a pivotal month in the Brontë story for it marked a chance, or possibly not so chance, discovery that changed the course of the Brontë’s lives, and the world of literature forever. We’ll let Charlotte tell the story, in her 1850 biographical notice of Ellis and Acton Bell:

‘One day, in the autumn of 1845, I accidentally lighted on a manuscript volume of verse in my sister Emily’s handwriting. Of course, I was not surprised, knowing that she could and did write verse: I looked it over, and something more than surprise seized me, – a deep conviction that these were not common effusions, nor at all like the poetry women generally write. I thought them condensed and terse, vigorous and genuine. To my ear, they also had a peculiar music – wild, melancholy, and elevating.

My sister Emily was not a person of demonstrative character, nor one, on the recesses of whose mind and feelings, even those nearest and dearest to her could, with impunity, intrude, unlicensed; it took hours to reconcile her to the discovery I had made, and days to persuade her that such poems merited publication. I knew, however, that a mind like hers could not be without some latent spark of honourable ambition, and refused to be discouraged in my attempts to fan that spark to flame.’

Charlotte discovers Emily's poems
Charlotte discovers Emily’s poems in ‘To Walk Invisible’

Charlotte had found not Emily’s usual poetry collection but her secret poetry manuscript, the one which contained her most powerful verse, the poems dearest to her. Reading between the lines we can see that Emily was furious at the discovery, at her innermost feelings being laid bare. Anyone who has watched ‘To Walk Invisible’ will remember the portrayal of that scene.

Eventually however, and with the help of Anne who produced her own poetry, Emily was persuaded to let the three sisters embark on a new adventure: they would approach publishers with their own jointly penned volume of verse. The result was the very first Brontë book: Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Whilst that was far from a success it did receive positive reviews, and the encouraged sisters then turned their hands to prose – the rest is history!

We can imagine Charlotte’s feelings of wonderment as she encountered that first page and then carried on reading, and now we can see exactly what those first words were and, thanks to Sotheby’s, see them ourselves:

‘Loud without the wind was roaring
Through the waned autumnal sky,
Drenching wet, the cold rain pouring
Spoke of stormy winters nigh.’

Thanks to Sotheby’s for the use of this picture – the opening of Emily’s manuscript

Here we have, in Emily Brontë’s own hand, the very words Charlotte Brontë looked upon on that September day 166 years ago. We also know exactly when they date from, for Emily has kindly dated them for us; many of the poems in this book come with a date of composition, in this case November 11th 1838 when Emily was 20 years old, but we also see at the head of this first page that Emily transcribed this and other poems into it in February 1844 – Emily had kept this book and its contents a secret from Charlotte for around a year and a half.

This first poem is 17 stanzas long, ending:

‘Well, well the sad minutes are moving
Though loaded with trouble and pain –
And sometimes the loved and the loving
Shall meet on the mountains again -’

A powerful start, but it was followed by many of the poems that have earned Emily Brontë her rightful place as one of the greatest poets of the nineteenth century. This history-making manuscript is part of the Honresfield Library collection that was initially due to be auctioned by Sotheby’s in July; thankfully, although the process is still ongoing, it seems certain now that they, and other treasures by the likes of Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott, will be saved for the nation.

‘The Bluebell is the Sweetest Flower’, picture thanks to Sotheby’s

Many of Emily’s verses, as Charlotte stated earlier, are powerful, terse and vigorous, but one of my favourites is a rather sweet, gentle moving poem. On page 13 of Emily’s secret poetry manuscript was the untitled verse later called ‘Love and Friendship’, and which always makes me think of the close friendship that she and Anne Brontë enjoyed.

Emily found love as fleeting as the wild rose briar, but friendship was as evergreen as holly. Picture courtesy of Sotheby’s

Poetry was one of Emily’s great loves, and she was supremely talented at its composition. The discovery of her secret manuscript was deeply hurtful to this intensely private woman, but we get evidence that the trauma caused by the discovery was a long lasting one.

At the time of Charlotte’s discovery of the manuscript the final poem within it was ‘How beautiful the earth is still’, composed in June 1845. After the discovery just one more poem was added, composed at the start of January 1846, presumably to be added in time for their Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell collection to be sent to prospective publishers.

It did make that book, but after that in the final two and a half years of Emily’s life she wrote only one further poem, ‘Why ask to know the date – the clime?’, although she also reworked this slightly as ‘Why ask to know what date what clime’. It seems that the discovery of Emily’s secret poetry manuscript had at a stroke destroyed her ability to compose verse and obtain pleasure from it, especially after the publication of the book had laid her innermost thoughts before the world at large. The final poem in the manuscript, however, is not a bad way to end a collection: ‘No Coward Soul Is Mine’:

Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s. The left hand poem has a footnote in Charlotte Bronte’s hand: ‘Never was better stuff penned’

Poetry will always have the power to raise the spirits and make the world seem a better place, especially when written by a masterful poet such as Emily Brontë. I hope you can join me next Sunday, for another new Brontë blog post.