Posted by: tonyexdruid | February 13, 2010

The unsung hero of Haworth

The Rev Arthur Bell Nicholls, husband of Charlotte Bronte. Often overlooked or viewed with suspicion or irrelevance but Arthur proved his undying love for Charlotte and displayed supreme humility until the end of his days. 

The Rev Arthur Bell Nicholls BA


Known by all at the Parsonage after becoming the assistant Curate in 1845 he became Patricks most reliable stalwart. After the deaths of Branwell, Emily, Anne and Charlotte he stayed and looked after Patrick until he too died. Arthur lived until 1906. 

The story of Arthur, his love for Charlotte, her initial lack of interest but eventual love and adoration of the man could have come straight from the pages of one of Charlotte’s novels. Quiet and reserved, he was often viewed with suspicion and even contempt by many of those he loved. After his initial proposal to Charlotte (which was refused), many people including Patrick Bronte himself, thought his motives must be financial reward, fame, or both. Many thought he was simply not worthy enough to gain the hand of one of the country’s most celebrated authors. John Brown, an old friend of Branwells and living in the same house as Arthur, even said he would like to shoot him. Patrick was so furious at Arthurs proposal that his eyes became bloodshot and the veins in his neck stood out. Charlotte thought her father was about to have another stroke. 

After events had died down somewhat, Patrick asked Arthur for a written promise – ‘never to broach the obnoxious subject again’, either to him or to Charlotte. 

Arthur retreated to his lodgings, a broken hearted man. He was unable to compose himself for a while and had to ask friends to cover his duties for him. He tendered his resignation to Patrick and made enquiries about doing missionary work in Australia.    

But he soon felt he must stay at Haworth if he was to have any success in eventually winning over the woman he loved. 

And as time went on, he did just that. He managed to keep his curacy at Haworth and ended up not only impressing Charlotte but Patrick aswell. 

Within two years of his first proposal they were married. Many of Arthurs ‘doubters’, especially in the village, became his most loyal and ardent supporters.   

But less than a year after their marriage Charlotte had died.  

Arthur stayed on at the Parsonage and looked after Patrick for a further six years until Patrick too, passed away. 

Unfortunately the church voted him out and appointed the Rev Wade to take over from Patrick. 

Arthur returned to Ireland and never sought another clerical post. His turned his hand to farming and assisted at the family home in Banagher. 

He never sought publicity, fame or riches from his marriage to Charlotte and died in Ireland in 1906, his last words being….Charlotte, Charlotte’. 

Charlottes' funeral card


Arthurs lodgings (on the right) on Church Lane


The above photo shows Arthurs lodgings which is the house nearest the camera. It was the home of the Brown family. John Brown was the sextant and Martha his daughter became a servant of the Brontes. The house adjoins the sunday school in which Charlotte taught. In the distance on the left is the Parsonage. The scene has changed very little since Arthurs day. 

The photo below shows the close proximity of the sextants house and the church. 

Haworth churchyard and St Michael and All Angels church


The photo below is a nice early shot taken from the churchyard of the house in which Arthur stayed and the sunday school. The photo is believed to date from the 1850-1860’s. The characters in the photograph are unknown but believed to be villagers. 

The sextants house and school, Haworth


For full details of Arthurs life I strongly recommend ‘My Dear Boy’ The life of Arthur Bell Nicholls, B.A.’ written by Margaret and Robert Cochrane. Available at the Parsonage museum shop.

Posted by: tonyexdruid | February 5, 2010

The Parsonage – a study.

Originally known as Glebe House, the Parsonage was built in 1779. The Bronte family moved here from Thornton, Yorkshire in April 1820 and always called it the Parsonage.

It may be hard to imagine but there was no piped water, gas or electricity at the Parsonage. Patrick Bronte did at some stage add a back kitchen, which appears in outline on a map drawn before 1824. A well in the back yard was the source of all water. Also in the backyard was a two seater privy used by the whole household – there was no such luxury as an inside lavatory!

Due to the lack of a gas supply the house was lit by candles, rushlights and oil lamps. There were fireplaces in all rooms, but they could not afford to light the fires unless absolutely necessary. With so many open flames in the house Patrick sensibly forbade using curtains but all windows had interior wooden shutters. The ground floor rooms and stairs were stone flagged.  

In 1850 (which was after the deaths of Emily, Branwell, Anne, Maria etc) Charlotte made some alterations to the house which consisted of enlarging the dining room and bedroom above at the expense of the entrance hall and small bedroom above it (Emily’s room). A decorative archway was installed and internal access to the old storeroom and servants bedroom above was made.

In 1854 Charlotte and Arthur Bell Nicholls married and they planted two fir trees in the garden that year.

In 1855 Charlotte died at the Parsonage and in 1856 the churchyard closed for burials.

In 1861 Patrick (the last surviving member of the original family) also died at the Parsonage and the Rev John Wade became the new incumbent and took over the Parsonage. It appears by all accounts that Wade deplored the publicity that had grown around the Brontes by this time, and it was he who was responsible for the large scale alterations to the house (more about the Rev Wade elsewhere).

In 1864 the trees were planted in the churchyard.

In 1874 Wade added a new gabled North and West wing to the Parsonage including new fireplaces and removal of the old kitchen range. The back kitchen was demolished to make was for a large kitchen extension. The ground floor level was raised by several inches by laying a wooden floor over the existing flags in the study and dining room in an effort to make the house warmer. Wade put in new fireplaces and mantle pieces. The wainscot was removed and replaced by skirting boards. The whole staircase has probably been replaced at some point and the banisters have certainly been replaced.  

In 1879 Wade had the old church demolished, retaining only the original tower, which was extended to accomodate a clock face. Some of the graves had to be re sited.

In the 1960’s considerable extensions took place around the rear of the Parsonage by the Bronte Society.

So although the Parsonage (and church) you see today may look original, it is worth remembering that it is not really how the Brontes would of remembered it!

The Parsonage

The above photo (care of the Bronte Society) was taken around the 1980’s but it nicely shows the Rev.Wade’s extension on the right hand side of the building. The garden wall is also visible, most of which is not original I’m afraid! and also Church lane. The photo has been taken from near the roof of the sunday school in which Charlotte taught.

The Parsonage pre-extension!

The above photo is my attempt to show roughly how the Parsonage would of looked in the Brontes day. Obviously no extension on the right! but there was a path (edged by the garden wall) going around the right side of the house as I’ve tried to show here. Also there are now seven steps leading to the front door, whereas the Brontes knew only the three.

Earliest known image

Above is the earliest known image of the Parsonage believed to date from the 1850’s. Notice just the three white steps leading to the front door and the path at the side of the house. Also note the footpath leading to the fields at the back of the Parsonage. This is the path that the girls would of taken to the moors beyond. Just visible is the top of church lane from which the footpath originates. The narrow chimney visible left of centre of the Parsonage is from Patrick’s back kitchen.

Parsonage around 1900

Above is a later view  taken around 1900 showing Wades extension. Also visible is The Barn (to the right of the Parsonage) which was a stonemasons workshop in the Brontes day (and just out of shot of the earliest image). It was demolished in 1903. The top of church lane is visible and part of the sunday school.

The old church, Haworth.

Above is a nice early photo of the church the Brontes knew. Notice the shorter bell tower. This church was demolished in 1879.

St Michaels & All Saints, Haworth

Above is how the church looks today. Only the bell-clock tower is original.

Old plan showing layout of both churches

Above is a drawing showing the layout of the old church (in grey) to be replaced by the new church (in red). 1878

Posted by: tonyexdruid | January 31, 2010

A day trip

Welcome to my new blog, dedicated to studying and remembering the Bronte family. I am fortunate enough to live just a few miles from the Parsonage in Haworth, West Yorkshire. I became a member of the Bronte society in 2001 but have held a passion and interest in the family for many years. This blog is a record of my research, findings and general thoughts which I wish to share with other like minded individuals. I hope you enjoy them and find them useful.

Yesterday I drove to Haworth again and thankfully the sun was shining. Although it was very cold it was so good to get that fresh country moor-air filling your nostrils! I find the best place for this is directly behind the Parsonage on the path towards the moors, as thankfully the area remains much the same as it was over a hundred years ago – there are still no buildings between the Parsonage and the moors behind.

The other good thing I noticed (for the information of those who cant get over that much) is that the Parsonage now offers a 12 month admission ticket for the price of one admittance. Sorry, in plain English that means when you buy your ticket to enter the Bronte Parsonage museum it remains valid for a whole year and you can use it as often as you like. Not bad for £6.50!