I woke up early Wednesday, since my body clock was telling me it was 7:30am when it was 6:30. I decided to try the Minster again, as morning matins are listed daily for 7:30am. Walking around to the front entrance at 7:15, I found the door open but saw no one inside. I let myself in and listened, but the only sound that met my ears was that of a vacuum! The cleaning lady was Hoovering away in the main part of the cathedral, but no one else was in sight. I walked around to check the other side chapels, hoping to find the morning service, but not a soul was to be seen, so I just gave myself a little early morning tour, spending an hour reading monuments and taking pictures. It was glorious. The Minster is an incredibly beautiful church, and it is filled with monuments to military men, which I found intriguing. The more plaques and inscriptions I read, the more I began to wonder if Jane Austen had visited York Minster. The names “Wentworth” and “Musgrove” (or “Musgrave”) show up so many times on tomb epitaphs and memorials that I started looking for them on purpose. (And, it turns out, others have noticed the fascinating connection as well, since many other Austen character names pop up in Yorkshire!)
Knowing Jane’s fondness for her own naval brothers and their brave exploits, I read a lot of the memorials to naval officers and crews. Alas, they were too dark to photograph clearly, but I did get some good shots of a side chapel dedicated to remembering Yorkshire servicemen from WWI and WWII:
I continued working my way around the church without encountering anyone else and soaked in the amazing silence of the great cathedral.
York is surrounded by its original medieval wall, which was built alongside the original Roman walls that are nearly 2,000 years old. As I’d walked through the Monkbar on my way to the Minster, I saw that the gate to the wall was locked. I decided to check it again and found it open, so I took a short stroll on a portion of the wall and enjoyed the view.
I descended the steps and headed back to the hotel to join Suzi and Keith for breakfast, getting a shot of these gorgeous hydrangeas (my favorites!) as I passed:
After a delicious full English breakfast, we packed ourselves into the car and headed north to Haworth, which is about an hour and a half outside of York. As we got closer, I remarked upon the dull grey and even dingy black color of the bricks used to build the houses in the area. When we pulled into Haworth itself, pretty much everything looked bleak and grey. Granted, the sun wasn’t shining, but it was still a striking contrast to the bright red tile roofs and cheerful red brick of York! We pulled up into the Bronte Parsonage Museum’s parking lot and began our tour.
We were not allowed to take pictures inside the house, which is a great pity, as so many items originally belonging to the Bronte family are there, including Charlotte’s honeymoon dress, wedding bonnet, lace patterns, sewing box, and more. The “fainting couch” on which Ann died is still in the sitting room, as is much of the original furniture. Because Elizabeth Gaskell and other family friends visited often and knew the Brontes well, they were able to leave detailed descriptions of the house and its contents, even down to the original wallpapers (Gaskell even gave a sample to the V&A for future reference!). My favorite thing in the house was actually the wall of the original nursery, which had been carefully stripped down to the plaster to show drawings that were probably made by the Bronte sisters and their brother, Branwell, when they were writing their “Angria” stories. They hashed out wildly imaginative characters and tales amongst themselves and wrote them down in tiny script in little books they stitched together by hand (many of which are in the museum displays at the back of the house).
Walking through the rooms of the parsonage, I was struck by how minuscule they were and remembered Charlotte’s quote about how much she needed to get away from time to time to avoid feeling stifled: “I can hardly tell you how time gets on here at Haworth…. Life wears away…. I feel as if we were all buried here…” (letter to Ellen Nussey, 1846). Looking outside her sitting room window across the lawn to the cemetery, one finds her choice of “buried” to be apt, indeed:
It is estimated that there are between 20,000 and 60,000 (!) people buried in this cemetery. It was so overcrowded that Queen Victoria declared it “unsanitary” in the 1860s and ordered it closed. There are no graves after that time period. Every time the Brontes walked across their lawn to the church, they passed by thousands of graves. Rather morbid, but there you are. I think it certainly had to influence their writing!
Sadly, the original church was demolished in the 1870s and a new one built atop it. The Bronte vault didn’t get “glorified” in the process, as they were still considered fairly local authoresses at that point. The lone marker is the one on the pillar that now stands over the vault covered by the new church:
No mention of any achievements at all–nothing about Branwell’s portraiture or any of the sisters’ books. I couldn’t help but contrast this with Jane Austen’s grave in Winchester, which is well marked and includes a memorial window that was later placed by one of her nephews. A rather poignant ending to such richly imaginative lives.
All in all, it was a thrilling visit for me, as I’ve always wanted to see Haworth (this comes from the gal who has read Jane Eyre every year since she was 16!). Yet I left with a sense of melancholy, wishing the Brontes had lived long enough to see just how far and wide their books would travel and how deeply they would be loved. I think they would have been stunned.
We drove back to York and enjoyed afternoon tea/luncheon at 3pm. Then I spent the next four hours walking all over the city, familiarizing myself with the alleys and “snickleways” (as they are called), poking around in the antique book shop (heaven itself!) near the Minster and making mental notes of all the places I want to show my group in 2016.
And one last shot for laughs — this one just across from our hotel!
We enjoyed a late supper before retiring for the night. We would head back to London around 10am the next day, so I made plans to get up early once again and see if I could catch a song service at the Minster (third time’s the charm?). Next time I’ll share what I found on my last morning in York and what I did with my Thursday afternoon in London!