This article was originally published in the Yorkshire Journal (Issue no. 3, 2015) by Claire Mason. She has kindly contributed her work to be republished here.
Whilst Stories From Scarborough is an archive concerned primarily with seaside attractions, Anne Bronte’s connection with the town, and her grave, arguably provide interest for visitors. Although ‘attraction’ is perhaps not the best term to use here, this famous literary link undoubtedly contributes to Scarborough’s historical richness, therefore this story has been included.
Anne Bronte was born on 17th January 1820, at 74 Market Street in Thornton (near Bradford) where her father was curate. She was the youngest of six children born to Maria Branwell and Patrick Bronte. In April 1820, the family moved into Haworth Parsonage, where Patrick was appointed perpetual curate.When Anne was only about one year old, her mother Maria died. Elizabeth Branwell, who had moved to the parsonage to nurse her dying sister, stayed on and spent the rest of her life there raising the children. The bleak moors surrounding Haworth became the children’s playground and whilst Elizabeth tried to teach Anne and her sisters how to run a household, their minds were more inclined towards literature.
Above: The Parsonage at Haworth (source – this has been added to the original article, copyright belongs to Sarah Coggrave, who took the photograph on a visit to the parsonage)
At the age of eleven Anne created an imaginary world called Gondal with her sister Emily. For the occupants of this fictional land they created newspapers, magazines and chronicles, contained in tiny books, with writing so small that it was difficult to read without a magnifying glass. Even as children, Anne and her sisters were talented storytellers.
Above: A portrait of Anne Bronte, c.1835. This is a restored version of a painting by her brother Patrick Branwell Bronte, produced when Anne was aged about fifteen. Michael Armitage has returned Anne’s eyes to their natural blue colour. This pigment had previously faded in the original painting. Many years after Anne’s death, the Bronte sisters’ lifelong friend, Ellen Nussey, described Anne as having ‘lovely violet blue eyes’ (via the Yorkshire Journal, Issue No. 3 Autumn 2015)
Upon reaching the age of 15, Anne attended Roe Head School in Mirfield. This was her first time away from home and she was determined to stay and get the education she needed to support herself.
Above: Haworth – Anne left her home town to attend school (source – this has been added to the original article, copyright belongs to Sarah Coggrave, who took the photograph during a visit to Haworth)
In 1839, a year after leaving the school at 19, Anne started work as a governess for the Ingham family at Blake Hall, near Mirfield. However, the children in her charge were spoilt and disobedient. Anne had great difficulty controlling them and ultimately the Inghams, dissatisfied with Anne, dismissed her. She returned home for Christmas in 1839, joining Charlotte, Emily and Branwell.
The episode at Blake Hall had been traumatic, and she reproduced it in almost perfect detail in her novel, Agnes Grey.
Anne obtained a second post as governess to the four children of the Reverend Edmund Robinson and his wife Lydia, at Thorp Green Hall, a country house near York. Initially, she encountered similar problems to those she had experienced at Blake Hall. However, determined to make a success of her position, Anne eventually came to be well-liked by the Robinson family, as a lifelong friend.
Her employment there lasted from 1840 to 1845 and the house appeared as Horton Lodge in her novel Agnes Grey.
It was in fact, the Robinsons who introduced Anne to Scarborough. For the next five years, Anne spent no more than five or six weeks a year with her family, during holidays at Christmas and in June. The rest of her time was spent with the Robinsons at Thorp Green and she accompanied them on annual holidays to Scarborough.
Above: South Bay seafront by Francis Nicholson, c.1832 – Anne loved to walk beside the sea (via the Yorkshire Journal, Issue No. 3 Autumn 2015)
Between 1840 and 1844, Anne spent around five weeks each summer at the coastal town and loved it. A number of locations in Scarborough were the setting for Agnes Grey’s final scenes and for Linden-Car village in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
Above: This old sketch shows St. Nicholas Cliff around 1840. On the left are Wood’s Lodgings, and in the distance is Scarborough’s South Bay. Anne stayed in these buildings during her first few years at Scarborough with the Robinson family (via the Yorkshire Journal, Issue No. 3 Autumn 2015)
Early in November 1842, Anne’s aunt Elizabeth died, prompting her to return home. At the time her sisters were away studying in Brussels. Elizabeth Branwell left a £350 legacy (about £30,000 in today’s money) for each of her nieces. Anne returned to Thorp Green in January 1843 where she secured a position for Branwell.
He was to take over as tutor to the Robinsons’ son, Edmund, who was growing too old to be in Anne’s care.
Anne and Branwell taught at Thorp Green for the next three years. Branwell entered into a secret relationship with his employer’s wife, Lydia Robinson. When Anne and her brother returned home for the holidays in June 1846, she resigned her position. While Anne gave no reason for leaving Thorp Green, it is thought she had become aware of the relationship between her brother and Mrs. Robinson. Branwell was dismissed when his employer found out, although Anne retained close ties to Elizabeth and Mary Robinson, exchanging letters even after Branwell’s disgrace.
Above: This drawing is titled ‘New Buildings, Cliff, Scarborough’, and dated 1843, the year of Anne’s third visit to the resort. It shows Wood’s Lodgings viewed from the sea, with its new ‘central block’ and ‘down- the-cliff’ extension. On the left is the Spa Bridge, and a number of bathing huts (or machines) are in evidence along the beach. Scarborough was the first seaside to pioneer bathing machines. This story has already been featured on Stories From Scarborough – see Part I here and Part II here (via the Yorkshire Journal, Issue No. 3 Autumn 2015)
Over the Christmas of 1848, Anne caught influenza. Her symptoms intensified, and her father sent for a Leeds physician in early January. The doctor diagnosed her condition as an advanced case of consumption (tuberculosis), leaving little hope of recovery. Her health fluctuated as the months passed, and she grew weaker.
Above: The Grand Hotel in about 1895 standing on the site of Wood’s Lodgings, where Anne had stayed several decades earlier. The latter was demolished to make way for the former, and when the Grand Hotel was first opened in 1867 it was hailed as “the largest and handsomest in Europe” (via the Yorkshire Journal, Issue No. 3 Autumn 2015)
In February 1849, Anne seemed a little better and felt that a change of air might relieve her symptoms, so she decided to make a visit to Scarborough. Charlotte requested that their friend Ellen Nussey accompany them on the journey which began on 24th May 1849.
They booked rooms at Wood’s Lodgings.
On Sunday, 27th May, Anne asked Charlotte if it would be easier to return home to die instead of being in Scarborough. A doctor was consulted the next day and indicated that Anne’s death was imminent. She died around two o’clock in the afternoon on Monday 28th May 1849.
Above: This old photo, c. 1860 shows a view of Wood’s Lodgings across the Spa Bridge. It was taken about 10 years after Anne died there. The light coloured cottages abutting the left-hand side of the main building were also part of Wood’s Lodgings, and some believe that it was in one of these where Anne spent her last few days; however, it is equally possible that it was at the right-hand end of the larger, main building. We know for certain that she had a sea view from both her bedroom, and her sitting room (which was one floor below), hence they were ‘back rooms’ with respect to this photograph. Wood’s Lodgings were demolished in 1862 to make way for the Grand Hotel (via the Yorkshire Journal, Issue No. 3 Autumn 2015)
Many thanks to Clare for sharing this article with Stories From Scarborough! Watch out for Part II, coming soon…