On the 21st February 2014, The Foundation Centre took a trip to Haworth, including a visit to the Bronte Parsonage Museum. The event was organised by Alison McManus, a Teaching Fellow at Durham University’s Foundation Centre. 30 students attended including student, Max Loth-Hill. This is what he wrote about the experience.
The iron grey sky lent a sombre light to the graveyard, and as ravens wheeled and cried overhead the rain began to fall, washing over the old parish church and the uneven rows of graves which lay behind it. Some stones stood upright like sentinels, others leaned precariously or had collapsed completely. Like the people they commemorated they had fallen victim to the passage of time. Among the carved skulls and ornate scrollwork of the tombs there stood group of living souls, huddled up against the cold and damp. No, it’s not the start of a start of a gothic novel, but the beginning of the Foundation Centre English Literature group to Haworth, home of the famous Brontes. Despite the expressions on the faces of some of the group, the overcast sky and wet weather created a dramatic atmosphere, enhanced by the grim tale being related to us by the tour guide. She explained to us that we were surrounded by somewhere in the region of 40,000 graves – Haworth is a town where the dead seriously outnumber the living. Unfortunately for those living there in the 19th century, the fact the graveyard lay on a slope meant that rainwater flowed through the graves, downhill and into the town water supply. The contaminated water spread illness, and was the source of the eerie mists that often rose up through the graveyard. After taking shelter in the church, we headed into the town for lunch.
Haworth is a beautiful town, full of cobbled streets, old taverns and shops full of all kinds of curiosities. Walking down from the church we were confronted with spectacular views of the surrounding countryside which so inspired the Brontes. We headed to one of the many pubs for lunch, which we consumed in front of a roaring fire, and then headed back up to the parsonage itself. The Bronte’s father, Patrick, was a remarkable man who rose from impoverished beginnings in Ireland to graduate from Cambridge and become the vicar at Haworth. He was not without eccentricities, and we saw the bullet holes in the church tower which he apparently fired his pistol at for target practice.
Inside the house it was easy to be transported to the world of the Bronte family. It was exciting to be in the same rooms where they had written, and their clothes, possessions and furniture were displayed throughout. One particularly impressive cabinet seems to have originally belonged to the family of one of our group! This clearly reinforced our literary credentials (by association), and after an enjoyable time spent pottering around the house we ended up in a very important part of the parsonage: the gift shop. Souvenirs duly purchased, we then proceeded into a cellar where we heard a fascinating and informative talk about Jane Eyre in the context of various literary theories. By now our day was done and it was time to return to the bus for the journey home. Alison kindly ensured we were fully supplied with food and drink, and as we made our way back we plied ourselves with muffins and juice. Our day in Haworth was wonderful, and of course thanks to Alison for organising and looking after us so well. I’m sure many of us will be back soon, and not just to visit the pubs!