Anne Bronte’s ‘Night’: A Poetic Snapshot

Anne Brontë was one of the greatest novelists of the nineteenth century; her books Agnes Grey and The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall deserve to be ranked alongside those of her sisters Charlotte and Emily Brontë. Poetry was her first creative love however, and in her verse we often get a snapshot into her thoughts and life at the time she was putting quill to paper. We’re going to look at one such poem in today’s post: ‘Night’.

As we have seen in previous posts, Anne’s debut novel was autobiographical in many parts, and Agnes can be seen as a representation of Anne herself. Therefore we can really hear Anne’s thoughts when Agnes reveals: “When we are harassed by sorrows or anxieties, or long oppressed by any powerful feelings which we must keep to ourselves, for which we can obtain and seek no sympathy from any living creature, and which yet we cannot, or will not wholly crush, we often naturally seek relief in poetry.”

Agnes, Edward and Snap walk on the beach

There is no better example of this than in the poem entitled ‘Night’ which Anne Brontë wrote in early 1845 (she gives no more precise date). We know that in the early part of this year, Anne was in her last few months of employment as governess at Thorp Green Hall. By the summer she had left the job she had held for over five years. On July 31st 1845 Anne wrote a diary paper giving us this commentary on her years at Thorp Green and especially at her last months there:

“Yet I was then at Thorp Green, and now I am only just escaped from it. I was wishing to leave it then and if I had known that I had four years longer to stay how wretched I should have been; but during my stay I have had some very unpleasant and undreamt of experience of human nature… Branwell has left Luddenden Foot, and been a tutor at Thorp Green, and had much tribulation and ill health.”

In fact it was Anne, whose service was highly regarded by the Robinsons of Thorp Green Hall, who had found her brother Branwell a position as governor there – a move she was to regret deeply. By the opening of 1845, it was clear to Anne that Branwell had not only returned to heavy drinking, he was also deeply in love with the mistress of the house Lydia Robinson. Fearing a scandal, Anne resigned her position on 11th June 1845 and returned to Haworth. A month later Branwell repeated that journey having been dismissed from his post.

Lydia Robinson
Lydia Robinson, Anne’s employer at Thorp Green Hall

It is against this background that Anne Brontë wrote her poem. It is only 12 lines long, yet it reveals the torment Anne was experiencing. Her days are filled with ‘solitude and woe’, despite the presence in the house of her brother. Only at night can she escape her torment and return instead to a world of bliss: the world of dreams she shares with the darling of her heart, her lifelong love who, alas, lies cold in the grave. This is, of course, the love she wrote of all her life after his 1842 death, the man who was reconstructed as hero Edward Weston in Agnes Grey and who appears in poem after poem: William Weightman.

William Weightman by Charlotte Bronte
William Weightman was the inspiration for Anne’s hero Weston

I hope you can join me next week for another new Brontë blog post, for now I leave you with Anne Brontë’s ‘Night’:

“I love the silent hour of night,
For blissful dreams may then arise,
Revealing to my charmed sight
What may not bless my waking eyes!
And then a voice may meet my ear
That death has silenced long ago;
And hope and rapture may appear
Instead of solitude and woe.
Cold in the grave for years has lain
The form it was my bliss to see,
And only dreams can bring again
The darling of my heart to me.”

Celebrating Charlotte’s Birthday In The Bronte Birthplace

Yesterday was the 208th anniversary of a very special person indeed. They were the third of six children of a couple who had moved to Yorkshire from Ireland and Cornwall. A clergyman’s daughter who described herself as: “the weakest, puniest, least promising of his six children.” She was so shy that she once hid behind curtains all morning when an unexpected visitor arrived, and those who met her repeatedly commented on her small, frail appearance. Yet, she grew up to be fierce spirited, hugely intelligent, and with a creative mind that few could equal, she grew up to change the world of literature forever, she grew up to be Charlotte Brontë.

Charlotte Bronte

It was very fitting therefore that yesterday was the open day for the newly community-owned Brontë birthplace in Thornton. People had the first chance in five years to step into what was in 1816 Thornton Parsonage, to stand in the very room that had witnessed the birth of Charlotte Brontë exactly 208 years earlier. People were understandably excited, and before the door was officially opened a queue was already snaking down Thornton’s Market Street. Over 700 people attended the open day, as the organisers stopped counting at that point – the day had been successful beyond their dreams, and showed the love for the Brontës and their project.

With the open day completed the Brontë birthplace will now be closed until 2025 as renovation work is undertaken. I can’t wait to see the finished result, but the open day showed just what a magical building this is, as shown in the photographs throughout this post. The picture at the head of this post, by the way, is a postcard of the Brontë sisters outside Thornton Parsonage specially commissioned by the Brontë Birthplace.

The fireplace by which the Bronte sisters were born

Huge congratulations must go to all involved in this project, and its prime movers Christa Ackroyd and Steve Stanworth were at the open door talking, meeting and greeting. Another highlight was a fabulous actress playing Nancy de Garrs and displaying a fine way with accents, as well as bringing Nancy and the young Brontës to life! 

Christa Ackroyd with a young Bronte fan

It was also thrilling to see the scullery turned for the day into an educational activity centre for children. The youngsters seemed to love creating bonnets, Brontë inspired word wheels and more and this educational aspect will be a key feature of the reopened Brontë Birthplace – as well as giving people the incredible opportunity of staying in rooms once lived in by the Brontës!

Nancy de Garrs was brought brilliantly to life

It is clear that the Brontë Birthplace will be a very special place indeed, and a necessary place of pilgrimage for all Brontë fans. It’s also, of course, close to Haworth so people will be able to visit both parsonages in one day or weekend. I’m so happy at all that has been achieved, so well done to all who put in so much hard work, who bought shares and who did their bit to bring this campaign to fruition. Charlotte Brontë, on her birthday, would be very proud. Oh, and of course it was good to see Anne Brontë remembered too, both in the lovely mural across from the parsonage (the initials below the figures are AB, CB, C and H, and EB – I’m sure you can decipher the code) and on this lovely plate on display.

I got to experience the Bronte birthplace with the love of my life by my side, which made it even more special. I hope you all have a special week ahead of you, and I hope to see you on Sunday for another new Brontë blog post.

Images Of Thornton’s Past

Last week I was excited to bring you the great news about the Brontë birthplace, and I’m just as excited now as it’s only one day until its public open day! With that in mind in today’s post I’m going to bring you pictures of Thornton from the archives.

Thornton of course is where the story began for Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne Brontë – although elder sisters Maria and Elizabeth were born during Patrick Brontë’s earlier incumbency at Hartshead. Thornton still retains its small village charm, although it has changed much of course in the 200 years or so since the Brontë family called it home. This postcard of ‘Brontëland’ shows some of the buildings that would have been there at the time of the Brontës.

Photography as we know it today was invented in 1822, the year after the Brontës left Thornton for Haworth so there are no images of Thornton from the time they lived there – although debate still rages about whether images of the Brontë sisters as young women exist. We do, however, have these images of 72 Market Street, Thornton from the late 19th or early 20th centuries. By that time the building had ceased to be a Church of England parsonage and had instead become a shop.

The Brontës are surely Bradford’s most famous daughters, which is why it’s so fitting that the Brontë birthplace will fully open to the public next year when Bradford is the UK’s official City of Culture. A newspaper article about ‘Bygone Bradford’ brought us this image of the Brontë Bell Chapel in Thornton. Now a beautifully maintained ruin across the road from the present church, this was the church as it was when Patrick Brontë ministered there – in fact it was Patrick who had the grand bell tower installed which has given the chapel its name ever since.

The Bell Chapel, Thornton

Now we fast forward to 2016, as Charlotte Brontë’s bicentenary celebrations gripped literature lovers, Thornton Parsonage was now trading as Emily’s, a delicatessen and cafe which still gave a loving nod to the Brontës – and even had my own biography of Anne Brontë in place above the fireplace by which she had been born.

Thornton parsonage fireplace

When the De Luca family who owned Emily’s put the building up for sale a year later its future became uncertain, as it had been on many occasions over the last century and more. Nevertheless, Mark De Luca did kindly allow me to look around the parsonage as it was then which resulted in  these images:

Thornton Parsonage fireplace


Patrick Bronte's writing desk
This desk may have been used by Patrick Bronte, although another of his desks is in St. James’ church, Thornton

Fast forward to today and at last we can say that the Brontë birthplace in Thornton has been saved for the nation, and there are some very exciting plans due to come to fruition. You can find out more by visiting the open day next Sunday, 21st April, between 11am and 4pm. I will be there at some point, but you can also join me here next Sunday for another new Brontë blog post.


The Brontë Birthplace Is Saved!

In today’s very special post I bring you amazing news about the Brontë birthplace in Thornton. Whilst Haworth has become synonymous with the Brontë sisters, it is the former parsonage on Market Street, Thornton that saw the births of Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne Brontë.

The building was until recently a cafe called Emily’s but was closed to the public after its owners put it up for sale. It faced a very uncertain future, as it had at many times down the decades. Once more there were worries it could be bought by property developers and closed to the public forever – but thankfully, a local group of Brontë enthusiasts came to the rescue. The Brontë Birthplace Campaign was formed, and an ambitious crowdfunding project was put in place. Brontë fans from across the world came together to support the campaign, and I’m thrilled to announce today that the campaign was successful. The Brontë birthplace is saved for the community, and for the literature loving public, forever!

By this fireplace the Bronte sisters were born. Photo by Mark Davis

I was thrilled to be invited along to a preview day by two indefatigable stalwarts of the campaign: Yorkshire broadcasting legend Christa Ackroyd (no relation to Tabby Aykroyd of course, she gets asked that a lot) and Steve Stanworth, who does so much to preserve the nearby Brontë Bell Chapel in Thornton. All the fabulous photographs in this post (including the one at its head) are courtesy of, and copyright of Brontë country photographer Mark Davis. Here are more details from some of those at the heart of this wonderful campaign:

“The Brontë birthplace in Thornton, Bradford, where Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë were born in front of the parlour fireplace is now saved and officially in public ownership for the first time in its 200 year history.

Photo by Mark Davis

Brontë Birthplace Limited, a community benefit society, has now taken over the small terraced house on Market Street thanks to a share offer which attracted more than 700 individual investors and significant grants from Bradford City of Culture 2025 and the Community Ownership Fund, under the Government’s levelling up agenda, amounting to more than £650,000 raised. It is a monumental achievement which means the legacy of the most famous sibling authors the literary world has ever known can truly be celebrated throughout Brontë country from cradle to grave and beyond.

Christa Ackroyd (and Charlotte). Photo by Mark Davis

At last we have the keys and the hard work has begun to restore the grade 2* blue plaque building to open in time for Bradford City of Culture 2025, when visitors will be invited to walk in the footsteps of its most famous residents and sit in the community cafe beside the original fireplace, or even stay in the bedrooms where the young girls slept.

A full programme for schools, universities, literary enthusiasts, artists and creatives is being planned and the house has already unveiled some hidden secrets including the hitherto unseen servant’s staircase, the Rev Patrick Brontë’s wardrobe and the original deeds stretching back more than two centuries.

Patrick Bronte’s wardrobe. Photo by Mark Davis

Saving this little house, which has been locked and empty for four years now, has been the culmination of a ten year ambition and a two year campaign . Very soon the public who have supported us every step of the way will be given first glimpse inside this hitherto unexplored gem which is considered the missing piece of the jigsaw in the incredible story of the Brontës, which saw three humble Bradford girls succeed on a world wide stage due to their strong sense of purpose, their passion, determination and Yorkshire grit. We like to think they would have found the same virtues in the entirely voluntary committee who have now bought the house and plan to bring it home for Bradford, Yorkshire, the nation and Brontë enthusiasts the world over.”

Photo by Mark Davis

Nigel West (Patron, and living relative of Charlotte Brontë’s widower Arthur Bell Nicholls)

“This has to be the most significant purchase for the literary world in the country this year. If you consider how important we believe Shakespeare ‘s birthplace to be , here we have a house where not one but three literary giants were born, now saved for the nation.”

Photo by Mark Davis

Ann Dinsdale (Chief Curator of the Brontë Parsonage Museum, Haworth)

“This humble house has had a chequered history and the Society have been fully supportive of the efforts of the Brontë Birthplace Committee to ensure the public have access to what is such an important building in the Brontë story. It is here which Patrick describes as having spent his happiest days and it is important to remember that although he and his wife Maria only lived for five years it is this very place where Charlotte, Branwell , Emily and Anne were born in front of the fireplace to add to their family of two elder daughters, Maria and Elizabeth who sadly the Reverend Brontë was to lose at a young age along with his wife Maria when they moved to Haworth . It should be remembered that It is in Thornton that they socialised for the first and seemingly last time. It will have been a busy noisy happy home and a significant part of their story which will attract visitors from all over the world and add greatly to the offerings already available in Brontë country.”

Steve Stanworth, photo by Mark Davis

Steve Stanworth (Vice Chair)

“This is the culmination of a ten year plan to buy the birthplace not just for Brontë lovers but for young people in the same city where the three famous authors were born to inspire them to see their own potential using the sisters as role models . Now the hard work begins to create an unforgettable experience for visitors who will be able to sit with a coffee besides the famous fireplace where they were born, or even stay overnight in the very rooms where they slept as children. It has been a very emotional day to finally get the keys to what is surely one of the most important buildings in Bradford ‘s cultural past.”

Photo by Mark Davis

Christa Ackroyd (Education Committee Member)

“To achieve support of more than £650,000 is incredible. Two major grants from Bradford City of Culture 2025 and the Community Ownership Fund which comes under the government’s levelling up agenda have significantly helped us with our ambitious plan to raise such a large amount of money in what for many are difficult times.

But it is also to the credit of more than 700 individual investors from people just down the street to all over the world who have bought shares in the humble Brontë home that has stood empty for years that I want to say a special thankyou for seeing its potential . This little house has big plans for the future. It can and will inspire particularly young people to walk in the footsteps of greatness and believe they too can achieve great things. Now it is safe we can breathe a sigh of relief but the hard work begins to being it back to life in time for 2025 and Bradford’s big year.

Bradford has been much maligned in the past. A significant number of children live in poverty and suffer from low expectations . We aim to use this little house to show no matter who you are or what your beginnings you can dream big if you never give up , just like the three sisters who were born here never have up on their ambitions to write stories still read the world over today.”

The original staircase used by the Bronte servants the De Garrs sisters. Photo by Mark Davies

The hard work is only just beginning, but this incredible building’s future is now safe and secure – for us all! It will become an educational centre, a centre for the arts, a cafe, even a place where people can stay in the rooms where the young Brontës lived and breathed. Let us have some more great news:

An open day is planned to celebrate Charlotte’s birthday on Sunday April 21st from 11 til 4 when everyone is welcome at the house to celebrate its purchase before it is closed for major structural work after which it will spring back into life in 2025 as a beacon of ambition and possibility for those who will then be able to experience its magical sense of the past and its promise for the future.”

I hope to see as many of you as possible on 21st April at the Brontë birthplace in Thornton! There will be more on Thornton, and its former parsonage, in my usual post on Sunday. Tonight, and this weekend, is a time for celebration for all those in the campaign, all its backers, all the people we owe so much to. It’s a time of celebration for Thornton, for Bradford, for all across the world who hold the memory of those three incredible sisters dear!