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.

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Responses

  1. Lovely post. I always like Mr. Nicholls and the story of thier romance, as you say could have been taken from one of Charlotte’s books! That scene in the lane when he sobbed “as a woman never does” …his barely able to perform the Whitsun service because she was there…just the sort of thing that would capture her! She certainly understood such anguish herself. As Mrs Gaskell said “she (CB) would only be happy with an exacting and passionate man “


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