Last Sunday we marked the 174th anniversary of the death of our beloved Anne Brontë. Soon we will be able to mark cheerier events in the Brontë story, but in today’s post we take a look at what we know of the funeral of Anne Brontë.
The grave of Anne Brontë is well known, and in many ways it couldn’t be better positioned. Many, quite reasonably, would like Anne to be buried with her family beneath the floor of Haworth’s church, but Anne adored Scarborough and her final resting placed within it is one that would surely have been loved by her.
We’ll come to the reason for Anne being buried in Scarborough later in this post, but you probably know that she is buried in the churchyard of St. Mary’s church. There are signposts to Anne’s grave, but if you are looking for it (as many do) please be aware that it isn’t in the main churchyard itself, next to St. Mary’s but across a little road in the auxiliary graveyard. Anne’s resting place is at the top of this cemetery, near to its entrance and a bench. Many people sit there and think of Anne, her life and her works, and many others leave little gifts on Anne’s grave, from flowers to seashells and more – I’ve even seen a handwritten note asking Anne to help them get better. These memorials are all touching, and demonstrate how Anne’s resting place allows people to feel close to her in a way that her siblings resting place in a crypt doesn’t. The picture at the head of this post, by the way, shows a group of Swedish students who had come to visit Anne’s grave.
Looming above Anne’s resting place is the majesty of Scarborough castle. We know that on the day after Anne’s death Charlotte walked to the castle with her friend Ellen Nussey – a perfect place to be alone with one’s thoughts and memories. Anne loved the castle too, as it was there that she set the great proposal scene of Agnes Grey. Anne loved the sea too, and it can be clearly from Anne’s grave, rolling away eternally into the distance.
At the time of Anne’s burial there was no memorial stone, as we see in a fragmentary letter from Charlotte Brontë to her father Patrick dated 9th June 1849. It is fragmentary because it was cut into tiny pieces which were then sold off to collectors. Parts of it are still missing, but we can just about piece together the following wording:
‘Dear Papa, we left Scarborough last Thursday having settled all the bills before I went away. I paid all the expenses connected with the funeral out of the money Anne had with her, which amounted to about [unknown pounds] and a few shillings. I have ordered a stone to be erected [missing section] revisit it – I directed that the following words should be carved upon it:
“Here lie the remains of Anne Brontë, daughter of the Revd P. Brontë, Incumbent of Haworth Yorkshire. She died aged 28, May 28th 1849.” This stone will cost about £3 more.’
Charlotte revisited Scarborough and inspected the stone three years later and found that the masons had made many mistakes. She had them corrected, all except the age of Anne which still states 28. I believe that both Charlotte (who was never very good with dates) and Ellen, who registered Anne’s death and stated that she was 28, believed Anne was a year younger than she actually was.
So Anne Brontë lies forever in Scarborough in the vicinity of St. Mary’s, but her funeral service didn’t take place there. It actually took place on May 30th in Christ Church, which was nearer to Wood’s Lodgings where they had been staying, but renovation work being undertaken on that church at the time meant that no burials could be carried out there so St. Mary’s was used instead. For posterity’s sake this has turned out for the best, as where Christ Church once stood an Iceland supermarket now resides.
The only account we have of Anne’s funeral is to be found in Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Life Of Charlotte Brontë but Elizabeth has put the relevant section within quotation marks – this shows that she was directly quoting from a letter, a letter that surely came from Ellen Nussey herself who had been helping Elizabeth with the creation of the biography. I give the page as a whole below as it also gives an account of why Anne was buried in Scarborough and not Haworth:
“The afflicted sister decided to lay the flower in the place where it had fallen”. A beautiful and moving statement, and today, heading two centuries later, there isn’t a single day that goes by without somebody going to visit that precious fallen flower.
‘The visitor from the same neighbourhood as Ellen’ referred to in the account, by the way, was surely Margaret Wooler who lived within a mile of Ellen but also had a holiday home in Scarborough – she had come to pay respects to one former pupil Anne and to comfort two others, Charlotte and Ellen. If you visit Scarborough please do visit Anne’s grave and say a silent thanks to her for all she did and all she was. I hope to see you again next week for another new Brontë blog post.