If you’ve ever wondered what gave the authors of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights their inspiration, a walk through the moorlands outside the village of Haworth in Yorkshire, England will reveal the answer. Come visit the homeland of the Bronte sisters – and feel inspired yourself!
What is most inspiring about the Brontë sisters, Emily, Charlotte and Anne, is that despite the diversity they faced as women of little means in patriarchal Victorian England, they persevered in their collective dream to be published writers. The dream began, as most do, with rejection, bad reviews and little recognition.
If only the three sisters had known then that over a hundred years later many thousands of people from all over the world, including this Traveling Mom, would make a pilgrimage to the sleepy little town where their story began. Numerous fans flock to Haworth, in West Yorkshire, England, to get a feel for the places that inspired the Bronte sisters.
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Haworth Village History
A lot has changed but a lot has remained the same in the village of Haworth. Located in West Yorkshire, England, the village now has a population of over 6,000 residents, not much more than its 4,000 residents in the mid-1800’s.
Today, it’s a quaint and picturesque town whose economy depends a lot on tourism, but at the time the Brontë sisters resided there it was a bustling industrial area whose main industry was wool and sandstone.
By the mid-1800’s the town had many shops and professionals including a wine merchant, confectioners, stationary, drugist, grocers and cabinet makers.
But life wasn’t at all easy. The life expectancy in this small village in the 19th century was on average 25 years. Historians today speculate that it was because of unclean well water, a result of the no proper sewage system and the placement of the cemetery at the top of the town.
Things to Do in Haworth
While it’s true that the town of Haworth cashes in on the celebrity of the Brontë sisters, it is by no means a tacky tourist destination. The shops, restaurants and pubs are charming in and of themselves and their historical reference to Brontë family is an added bonus.
Brontë Parsonage Museum
Patrick Brontë arrived here with his wife and six children in 1820 to act as parson for the community. The parson and his wife Maria had six children, five girls and one son, Patrick Branwell Brontë. His wife, Maria, died shortly after they arrived in Haworth as did the two older daughters a few years later.
After Patrick Sr.’s death, another pastor was hired, and being of more significant means, he enlarged the parsonage (the addition on the right side) to meet the needs of his family. When he left the area, the Brontë Society moved to have the aging parsonage turned into a museum. The Society sought out original furniture and personal belongings from the family’s heirs and purchased other authentic period furniture to complete the process of setting the building up as a museum. Note: no photographs are allowed in the house.
The Black Bull
This pub’s claim to fame is that the ill-fated Branwell frequented this historic building. It is here that he squandered his talent and the allowance his father gave him on drink and eventually opium (that he acquired at the chemist across the way).
The Rose & Co Apothecary
This charming little shop also boasts a Brontë reference on the plaque outside the door but visitors stop here for the unique bath products.
Housed in the original building occupied by the town’s local chemist, it still retains many historic architectural details. The sign in the window describes it as a patisserie de bain, which accurately describes the delights that await the visitor inside. Displays of bath soaps made in the shape of scrumptious-looking cupcakes and pastries line the counters while the shelves hold rows locally made bath salts.
Keighley and Worth Valley Railway
Haworth railway station is part of the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway line where you can catch an authentic preserved steam engine train that was also used in the film The Railway Children (based on the books by Edith Nesbit) to the Railway Museum in Oxenhope. Be sure to check ahead because the train does not run everyday.
St. Michael’s Church
Located beside the parsonage, this location has had a church here since 1317. All the Brontës are buried here, with the exception of Anne, who is buried in Scarborough by the sea. None of the family are buried in the churchyard but their long time servant and friend Tabby Ackroyd is.
The Brontë Way
The highlight of a visit to Haworth is, without a doubt, walking along the moorlands made famous by the sisters in their novels. For Brontë fans, hiking to the tip of Top Withens is a must. At the end you will come to the ruins of a farmhouse. While there is no evidence that this spot was the location that inspired Wuthering Heights, it is known that the sisters traveled this route often to enjoy the clean crisp wind and breathtaking views.
The Brontë Way is a 43 mile footpath that starts at Oakwell Hall and ends at Gawthorpe Hall in Padiham. The path crosses many Brontë points of interest including their birthplace in Thornton (the inspiration for Thrushcross Grange in Wuthering Heights) and through Haworth.
If you are not lucky enough to have several days to hike the full distance, you can still spend a pleasant two to four hours hiking the Top Withens loop. Notable spots are the Brontë bridge, small waterfall and a stone structure that looks like a chair, which reputedly is where the sisters stopped to rest and write. Along the way are ubiquitous sheep and several birds nest here including curlews, golden plover peregrines and merlins—so dogs must be kept on a leash.
What to Know Before You Go
- Stop at the Visitor Information Office for a map
- Visit the Brontë Parsonage Museum first to get to know the authors better
- Wear comfortable shoes, layers and bring a waterproof windbreaker
- Pack a lunch and bring water; once you are on the trail there are no shops for miles
- This walk has some climbing in potentially windy weather but you can walk a shorter loop (5 miles), turning back at the waterfall
- On the trip back stop in Stanbury at the Wuthering Heights pub for a pint and a restroom break
- Make sure your camera is fully charged
- Read Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey before you go!
The Red Lion
This lodging is primarily a pub and restaurant but it also has rooms to let above. The rooms are basic but are clean, well-priced with modern bathroom, and some rooms lookout onto the village. Try the British Ploughman’s lunch (bread, cheese and pickle) and a pint of whatever the locals say is good.
Apothecary Guest House
Housed in the original chemist’s home built in the 17th century, this modest guest house is located in the center of town and has clean basic rooms. The rooms in the back have views of the surrounding landscape.
Wilsons Luxury Guest Accommodations
One of the more upscale B & B’s in the village, the rooms are larger than many in the area and have luxury toiletries, flat screen TVs and complimentary wine.
Although success in their lifetime was modest and their lives short, literary fans can still feel the spirit of the Brontë sisters alive in the town, but especially on the moors that they loved so dearly.
The Life of Charlotte Brontë by Elizabeth Gaskell, published 1857.
The Brontës by Juliet Barker, published 1994.