Part Three of Bronte Country

We drove on through the stirring countryside, now up through the moors, now plunging down again into the green hills. A light rain was falling, and a wintery haze, broken sometimes by the slanting sunlight that burst occasionally through the clouds above, seemed to hang about. As we neared our destination, a large reservoir came into view, reflecting the grey of the stern sky exactly, except that it added a feel of glossy silver. The rain pattered upon the glassy surface of the water, creating tiny splashes. And then Ponden Hall itself came into view; a long, sturdy grey building, with a slanted roof, and just below the roof a long line of windows clustered together on each side of the doorway, made of lots of tiny little pains. Directly above the doorway was a little arch-shaped crevice, with writing carved in it. I tried to read it as we drove up, and did not, alas, catch the words, ‘Hereton Earnshaw’. The doorway itself was classical in style, made of the same stone as the building, with a white door in it.

We stood on the step and rung the bell; we were not greeted either by a dark, glowering Heathcliff, or by a cascade of snarling dogs throwing us to the ground (these circumstances I regretted at the time, but found afterward were rather more of a relief) but instead by the very friendly owners of Ponden Hall who hurried us into the main room and gave us lots of cake and tea, which we were badly wanting after the cold and tiring walk back up to the car from Wycoller Valley, which had been particularly difficult for me as I was continually tripping over my long muddied skirts.

Being well lit, comfortable and not especially large, the room we were now in bore at first sight very little resemblance to the room in which the laughable Mr Lockwood is attached by dogs (it was this room that the “house” at Wuthering Heights, where the dog encounter occurs, must have been based on). But on looking more closely I noticed several things that bore, in fact, a striking resemblance to the room described in the book. One of the things I noticed was that the floor was paved with large slabs of stone, giving very much the feeling of Wuthering Heights, and actually described in the book (though in the book they are white; in reality grey). Indeed, take away the warmth and comfort of the room and place in it some rather more old-fashioned furniture, it was indeed very much as described in the book; excepting one thing, which was that it is rather smaller than I image the room in Wuthering Heights to be. We were told however by the owners of Ponden Hall (Steve and Julie) that the room used to be much bigger, and the Great Hall of the house. It was made smaller before Emily’s time, but still, she might have know that it used to be a Great Hall and transported the house back in time a little for her story.

After finishing our examination of the room and our cake and tea, we were shown upstairs into our rooms. The first room we were shown was comfortable-looking, but nevertheless it bore distinguished marks of Wuthering Heights about it. Among other things was the amazing ceiling. It was high and slanting, and covered with wooden planking as though it were the floor. Across the planking all the way up were a row of incredibly large, long beams, and altogether made an incredible sight when gazed up at from below. There were three beds; two singles and a double, and the double, the one that I was to share with my mother, was a four poster. It was not, however, one of those romantic sorts of four posters of which I generally dreamed; it was not a bed similar to that described by Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey, ‘and the bed, of dark green stuff or purple velvet, presenting even a funereal appearance’ No. It was a very comfortable bed with white sheets and pillows, and the hangings were of gauzy transparent stuff. By the bed stood an old rocking horse, with two little seats attached to it that rocked also. My brother Tassy pleaded to be allowed on, but Mum said we had to see the other room first. This other room that was mentioned was the one my aunt and grandmother (who were also come with us to Ponden) were to sleep in, and on seeing it I would certainly have had a shock, had I not already had suspicions of what the second bed was to be.

We passed out of the room, and from there through two doors. A bookcase was attached to the wall in the space of hall between the two. We then went on through a carpeted corridor, the walls of which were hung with pictures; we then passed the stairs we had come up, and continued down a new section of the corridor we had not yet passed through. The corridor ended – in front of us stood a low doorway of shiny dark oak, in shape more in the gothic style than roman (though it was not quite gothic, for though it had a pointed top, it did not curve round gracefully toward the point; it was like two strait planks on either side, and then two more on top of them leaning toward each other, forming above something like that triangle shaped thing that stands on Greek temples). We opened the door; as it creaked open, I got for the first time in the Hall a real feeling of Wuthering Heights. The room stood before us in all its majesty – and in it – I have already said that I suspected, but yet my heart jumped at the sight of it. But I will not suffer the readers of this to discover what that surprise so startling to me is until I have described the less prominent details of the room.

The walls were made of stone with a very Wuthering Heights aspect, of a pale warm colouring; the was floor polished wood with a glazing of black over it, and the ceiling was like that in the other room, only a little less spectacular, for the beams were smaller, the ceiling was lower and there was no planking. However, this ceiling had the advantage of some lower beams going from one side of the room to the other. There was a large fireplace, and in front of it a wooden chest. On either side of the chest was a chair; on one side an arm-chair and on the other a rocking chair, and facing it was a sofa, in the same pattern and with the same throw as the armchair. On the right-hand wall was a window with a window-frame of heavy stone, divided into three panes, the middle pane of which opened up. In front of the window was a little table on which lay some vases, jugs and bowls of blue pottery, and a old edition of Wuthering Heights. Now the minor details of the room have been described, we may describe the other thing, that shocking thing, the crowning of the room. We will take to describe it a paragraph out of Wuthering Heights.

“I fastened my door and glanced round for the bed. The whole furniture consisted of a chair, a clothes-press, and a large oak case, with squares cut out near the top resembling coach windows. Having approached this structure, I looked inside, and perceived it to be a singular sort of old- fashioned couch, very conveniently designed to obviate the necessity for every member of the family having a room to himself. In fact, it formed a little closet, and the ledge of a window, which it enclosed, served as a table. I slid back the panelled sides, got in with my light, pulled them together again, and felt secure against the vigilance of Heathcliff, and every one else.”

It was this ‘large oak case, with cut squares near the top resembling coach windows’ that now faced us. Sliding panel doors, little windows at the top, all was complete. Only the markings and shine of wear was wanting; this was no ancient box bed, but one placed in the room for Wuthering Heights tourists. But as this circumstance was not what I would have wished, I merely passed over it in imagination, added in my head the tatter and the wear, and that is what I mean the readers of this to do. But I did not bound toward it and enter at once – for one reason, I was to stupefied with amazement, thrill and a little of terror – for the other, I felt that it would spoil it to get in while the grown-ups were tramping round the room like buffalos, and chatting in a manner guarantied to ruin any romance. I would wait until the room was quieter, and until my mind was a little quieter also.

 

 

 

Photo 1 The rocking horse mentioned in text    Photo 2 The Box Bed Room

 

 

 

 

 

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Part one of Bronte Country

This narrative begins a few pages into the story of my holiday; I have written to this point in ink and paper, and I now continue my narrative on my laptop; for the inconvenience of writing with pen and ink is really very great. What has already happened can be explained with very few words, though with less detailed descriptions than the original first pages.

It must be understood that we went to Haworth for a surprise on my tenth birthday. On the morning of that day I received a real letter from Charlotte Bronte herself. I seem to be very cool; but were I not so I should fill the whole page with expostulations of incredulous joy and wonder, and this is not my intention. Instead, I will copy in my history.

 

The letter was an invitation to stay at Ponden Hall. (Ponden Hall, it must be explained, in the house upon which Emily based Wuthering Heights, and Anne Wildfell Hall. Charlotte’s writing also may have been inspired by it). I am so confused as to whether the letter was really from Charlotte or not; I cannot say what I really think. It seems impossible, she died so many years ago, and yet it was her real signature; it was written with a dip pen, and in the style of a Victorian letter. I shall remain puzzled on the point all my days, and for all my days too I will jump for joy at the recollection of receiving that letter.

On the bed I discovered a pair of pantalets, a yellow velvet spencer, a cream coloured regency dress and a choice between three rolls of ribbon for my sash. There was also a pair of black boots with laces, and a real period pelice and bonnet. Tassy had already received his regency and Victorian clothes; and thus attired, I, Tass, Mum and Dad set off on our journey.

Us, playing in the garden in our regency clothes, just before we left for Bronte Country

 

FERNDEAN

Ferndean is the old castle in which Jane meets Mr Rochester. It is ‘a building of considerable antiquity, moderate size, and no architectural pretensions, deep buried in a wood.’ Such is Jane’s description of the place. She says also that as Mr Rochester’s father purchased the estate for the sake of the game covers, Rochester could get no tenant for it, so it remained ‘uninhabited and unfurnished, with the exception of a few rooms fitted up for the accommodation of the squire when he went there in season to shoot.’ To continue with Jane’s narrative, she came to the house

“just ere dark on an evening marked by the characteristics of sad sky, cold gale, and continued small penetrating rain. The last mile I performed on foot, having dismissed the chaise and driver with the double remuneration I had promised. Even when within a very short distance of the manor-house, you could see nothing of it, so thick and dark grew the timber of the gloomy wood about it. Iron gates between granite pillars showed me where to enter, and passing through them, I found myself at once in the twilight of close-ranked trees. There was a grass-grown track descending the forest aisle between hoar and knotty shafts and under branched arches. I followed it, expecting soon to reach the dwelling; but it stretched on and on, it would far and farther: no sign of habitation or grounds was visible.

I thought I had taken a wrong direction and lost my way. The darkness of natural as well as of sylvan dusk gathered over me. I looked round in search of another road. There was none: all was interwoven stem, columnar trunk, dense summer foliage — no opening anywhere.

I proceeded: at last my way opened, the trees thinned a little; presently I beheld a railing, then the house — scarce, by this dim light, distinguishable from the trees; so dank and green were its decaying walls. Entering a portal, fastened only by a latch, I stood amidst a space of enclosed ground, from which the wood swept away in a semicircle. There were no flowers, no garden-beds; only a broad gravel-walk girdling a grass-plat, and this set in the heavy frame of the forest. The house presented two pointed gables in its front; the windows were latticed and narrow: the front door was narrow too, one step led up to it. The whole looked, as the host of the Rochester Arms had said, “quite a desolate spot.” It was as still as a church on a week-day: the pattering rain on the forest leaves was the only sound audible in its vicinage.”

Thus is Ferndean Manor as portrayed in Jane Eyre. The old manor and the valley it is set in is based on a real place, the name of which is Wycoler. We were to pass Wycoler during our journey, and the plan was to stop here and look at the famed Ferndean, the ruins of which still remained in the heart of Wycoler Valley. Like Jane, we stopped about a mile from the old house. We ought to have dismounted; instead we climbed out of the car. Tass made the best amends that could be made for the lack of horses by helping me down gracefully, quite in the character of a regency gentleman.

In terms of setting Wycoler is just as the book describes, therefore I need not really describe it; if any future reader of my history wishes to know what it looked like, they have only to read over Jane’s description with the changes of full daylight, and bleak winter landscape, dripping trees and muddy grass instead of ‘dense summer foliage’.

However, I will describe it at least a little, for these are not quite the only changes that must be made. We walked first over a few yards of flat, moorish scraggy grass, wet with recent rain, and then descended down into the valley. A wooden gate blocked us a little way down; probably in replacement of Jane’s ‘iron gates with granite pillars’. Once opened it led to a small path through the valley with little difference from the one outside the gate except that the bank rose higher on either side, and the trees spread wider overhead, to make the path somewhat tunnel-like. It was just the same as the ‘grass-grown track descending the forest aisle between hoar and knotty shafts and under branched arches’ that is described in the book. As also in the book the path soon widened and the trees thinned. The small grassy path spread into a wider, fully formed track. We passed a house and we continued along the track; Tass jumped up onto the wooden railing that now edged the track and shouted ‘ahoy!’ What reason he had for doing so God only knows.

Ferndean itself now stood before us, but half deserted in the Brontes time, it was now merely a mass of ruins. It had little similarity to the Ferndean in the book other than the description of the ‘dank and green decaying walls’ and the fact that it was clearly a ruined castle or manor-house. There was a long stone seat in the midst of the ruins with the remains of a dome roof over it. Upon this I took my seat, and looked out through the ruins at the countryside around.

 

The next part of this history will be published soon.

 

 

Me and Tass, exploring the ruined Ferndean, and me sitting under the ruined dome described.