Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The Villages of Great and Little Ouseburn—the Forgotten Stops on the Brontë Trail

By Finola Austin

If Yorkshire is known as “Brontë Country,” then Haworth, home of the Brontë Parsonage Museum, is the nation’s undisputed capital. It was here that celebrated Victorian novelists Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë lived out most of their short lives. It was here that they sat together around one table writing their acclaimed books, including Charlotte’s Jane Eyre (1847) and Emily’s Wuthering Heights (also, 1847). But, while Brontë-driven tourism is now the lifeblood of the village, Haworth isn’t the only town with compelling links to literature’s most famous family.

Dedicated Brontë fans seeking to walk in the siblings’ footsteps may also visit the seaside town of Scarborough, where Anne died and was interred (she’s the only Brontë not buried in the family tomb in Haworth), and Thornton, birthplace of the sisters and their brother, Branwell. As far afield as Brussels, it was just announced that a square would be named for the “Soeurs Brontë” or “Zusters Brontëplein,” due to Charlotte and Emily’s links to the city.

But there’s another pair of Yorkshire villages that deserve to be included in the Brontë trail—Great and Little Ouseburn, near York.

Anne Brontë came to the area in 1840 when she was employed as a governess by the Robinson family of Thorp Green Hall, a fine house just outside Little Ouseburn. Branwell followed less than three years later to become the Robinson son’s tutor. Anne and Branwell continued in the family’s employ until the summer of 1845, when their sojourn there ended in scandal. Branwell had apparently entered into a sexual affair with Mrs. Lydia Robinson, a woman eighteen years his senior. He returned to Haworth a broken man, and drowned his sorrows with alcohol and opium. By 1849, he, Anne, and Emily were all dead. Charlotte’s death would follow in 1855.

While Thorp Green Hall itself no longer survives, there are multiple places of interest to history buffs in search of Brontë lore in and around Great and Little Ouseburn. Here are a few:

Queen Ethelburga’s Collegiate
It has been widely reported that Thorp Green Hall itself burned down in the late nineteenth century, although local historian Helier Hibbs challenged this assumption in 2007. Either way, the ‘new’ hall, known as Thorpe Underwood, was built in the early 1900s. This building is now home to a school—Queen Ethelburga’s Collegiate. While the grounds look different than they did in the Brontës’ day (the school for instance filled in the stew pond a few years ago), walking from Little Ouseburn to the school via country lanes, you could be excused for thinking you were stepping back in time. 


Monk's House

Monk’s House
Branwell, unlike Anne, didn’t sleep in Thorp Green Hall, but in an outbuilding known as the “Monk’s House” (or, less often, the “Monk’s Lodge”). This beautiful Tudor home is now a private residence, adjacent to Queen Ethelburga’s and visible from the main road.


Holy Trinity

Holy Trinity Church, Little Ouseburn
The Robinsons’ local church will be familiar to some Brontë fans from a sketch of it made by Anne, although renovations made in the late nineteenth century altered the building. Those in search of Brontë history will also find several graves of interest. Edmund Robinson (Lydia’s husband) is buried here, along with his parents and sister. So too are Edmund Robinson, junior (known as Ned), who was Branwell’s pupil, and Georgiana Robinson, the youngest child of the house, who died while Anne lived at Thorp Green, prior to the Brontë brother’s arrival. The most distinctive feature of the churchyard, a beautiful mausoleum, houses the remains of the Thompson family—neighbors of the Robinsons. 


Dr Crosby's Obelisk

St Mary’s, Great Ouseburn
The church in Great Ouseburn is also worth visiting for its links to Brontë history. A tablet in the church and a towering obelisk in the graveyard both memorialize one Dr. John Crosby, who was said to have acted as go-between for Lydia and Branwell, following the latter’s dismissal. You’ll also see a plaque for Jane Robinson, Edmund’s aunt, who was instrumental in arranging his match with Lydia.


Rosehurst

Rosehurst
In Great Ouseburn, there is a red-brick house, now known as Rosehurst, which was built for and lived in by this same Dr. Crosby. The house remains a private residence.


Moat Hall

The Kirkby Hall Outbuildings and Moat Hall
The Robinsons’ neighbors, the Thompsons, were clearly influential. Their impact on the Ouseburns is clear just from the scale and grandeur of their mausoleum, but, unfortunately, Kirkby Hall, their palatial mansion, which Anne and Branwell would certainly have been familiar with, no longer exists. Some nineteenth-century outbuildings can still be seen on the farmland where the Hall once stood, and Moat Hall, another house owned by the family, is a home in Little Ouseburn.

While the Ouseburns, like Haworth, are in Yorkshire, anyone visiting both will be struck by the geographic differences between these areas. 

In her 1847 novel, Agnes Grey, which is thought to be at least partly based on her experiences at Thorp Green Hall, Anne Brontë writes, “The surrounding country itself was pleasant, as far as fertile fields, flourishing trees, quiet green lanes, and smiling hedges with wild-flowers scattered along their banks, could make it; but it was depressingly flat to one born and nurtured among the rugged hills of [Agnes’s hometown].” 

Adding Great and Little Ouseburn to the Brontë trail gives us a whole new perspective on the Brontës, away from industrial Haworth and its bleak moors. And visiting these villages will give you a chance to see the pieces of history that still surround us today, hinting at one of the most scandalous episodes in Brontë family history.

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Finola Austin
, also known as the Secret Victorianist on her award-winning blog, is an England-born, Northern Ireland-raised, Brooklyn-based historical novelist and lover of the nineteenth century. She has two degrees from the University of Oxford, including a Master’s in Victorian literature. Brontë’s Mistress is her first novel and is available for order now. The book explores the scandalous historical love affair between Branwell Brontë and Lydia Robinson, giving voice to the woman who allegedly corrupted her son’s innocent tutor and brought down the entire Brontë family. By day, Finola works in digital advertising. Find her online at http://www.finolaaustin.com/ or connect with her on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.

3 comments:

  1. Such an interesting read, I'm sure all Brontë fans would agree!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you for hosting me as part of the Bronte's Mistress blog tour! I had so much fun during my research trip for the book and am so excited to share some of my pictures and findings with other history lovers <3

    ReplyDelete

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