Thursday 29 August 2019


The town is as proud of its Shrove Tuesday races...

... as it is of John Newton and William Cowper...

... with this image among the Newton memorials in the Parish Church...

... this playfulness in the grounds of the Cowper Memorial Church.... 

... and Cowper's writing shed ('not much bigger than a sedan chair')

... alongside lace workers' ingenious light amplifying...

.. which gives rise to our phrase 'flash light'.

Monday 19 August 2019

Brontë bits

A good Catholic friend of St Michael’s, Haworth (enthusiastic both as an diligent Deputy Lieutenant and as a volunteer tour guide in the church) has identified an article in the Leeds Mercury of 27th August 1879 by someone who visited the village while the Brontë era church was in the process of being demolished.  He had valued recent research on the grave, so shared his discovery with me.

The hand of the spoiler is at work.  Many of the old pews are gone, more will quickly follow, and the old barn-like edifice, which possess no feature of elegance but the stone arcading down the centre of the church, will soon be numbered with the things of the past.  The Brontë Slab has been removed to safe custody until it can be restored to its position in the wall of the new church, but here is the inscribed stone that covers the remains of the gifted family.

The Brontë Slab would be the monument which indeed now has a position on the wall of the 1880 church.  But the inscribed stone that covers the remains of the gifted family isn’t something I’ve come across referenced before.  He speculates as to whether it was a ledger stone.  My guess is that it might simply be an identification name on that part of the paving which could in theory be lifted for future additional burials in the graves beneath – although, if the conditions laid down in advance for Patrick Bronte’s burial had been followed through to the letter following his death sixteen years earlier, the space beneath the stone would in fact have been concreted in.

Meanwhile, I spent a couple of hours this morning in the Brontë Parsonage Museum library re-reading more thoroughly the first half of a little book Patrick Brontë owned; I’ll need to go back again next month and finish it.  He inscribed the book as just & excellent in all its parts which potentially gives it some importance in understanding the man.

It is an anonymous 1836 publication (by ‘a poor man’) An Earnest Address to the Working Classes about the aims and objects of the religious and political parties of the day.  I expect someone has worked on it generally or from a Brontë point of view but I haven’t in fact yet found it digitalised or referenced in any of the obvious places from search engines to Brontë Studies.  A couple of small connections which I’ve noted down might serve as a taste of those which could be made.

Patrick Brontë’s own 1835 tract The Signs of the Times showed antipathy to ‘the voluntary principle’, that is to say, the principle that ministers and places of worship should be maintained by the subscription of those who attended them.   It is very relevant that he was in the middle of disputes led by local nonconformists about setting a Church Rate.  I find the author of An Earnest Address waxes eloquent on the same subject with the same terminology – he asks what would minister to the poor if places of worship were in fact attended by those who could afford to finance them.

Charlotte Bronte’s 1843 letter to her sister Emma in which she tells of her curious venture into a Catholic confessional in Brussels (an incident replicated in due course in Villette) ends with her saying I think you had better not tell papa of this.  This would certainly have been wise if her father had shared the opinion of the author of An Earnest Address.  I find that he professes to be scandalised by the ideas which the priest might put in the minds of innocent young women and says How any Papist can make up their minds to allow their wives and daughters to pass through the pollution of a Popish confessional, I cannot imagine.

Finally, I got inside the near-by substantial but long redundant Brontë Cinema yesterday and took a couple of poor pictures; it was in use 1923 to 1956 so has in fact been a store rather than a cinema since before I was born.

Monday 12 August 2019

Wedding labour

I took my first wedding on 10th August 1985 - having been carefully tutored in the tasks of equipping myself with ‘registrar’s ink’ and then writing out the details four times (once each in duplicate registers, then on a certificate for the couple, and then on a ‘quarterly return’ copy for the local Registry Office).  It was a laborious process then and has remained so on the four hundred or so occasions I have repeated the exercise since. 

On Saturday, another 10th August as it happens, I did it for what might be the last time.  I’m not now due to take another wedding until after the date on which new legislation may be implemented to abolish the eighteenth century registration system.  All church registers in current use would be due to be closed off.  In future a single marriage document will need to be prepared (possibly on-line) to be signed at the wedding.  It will be the responsibility of the couple to lodge it at the local Register Office themselves, and it will be Register Offices which then issue wedding certificates in future.

It is going to save the Government quite a bit of money publishing and securely distributing church registers, and soliciting and processing quarterly returns (there is a team of people at the General Register office who key in the hand written returns they receive) – although I can see quite a few of the new documents going astray before they are properly lodged.

Part of me regrets the passing of the old system – perhaps both historic nostalgia and the loss of an area of very minor expertise play their part.  Part of me is greatly relieved not to have to go on putting so much effort in.

I told the couple of Saturday that the 250 years or so the present system has run covers perhaps only a quarter of the 1000 years in which Christian marriages have taken place on the site.  The eighteenth century reforms arose in part because of Government concern about clandestine weddings (could we really be sure who was married?), and the secure production and distribution of standard registers may not have been a practical option much sooner.  The twenty-first reforms arise in part because of Government concern about sham marriage and identity theft, and on-line options are quite new.

One feature of the new document will be that it records the name of the couples’ mothers as well as fathers.  The seventeenth century style which we are just about to lose comes from an era when the bride was moving from being the legal responsibility of one male person to that of another, and moving on from that perception in the registration process was certainly long over due.

The older photograph is from the 1911 history of the Cross Roads Co-Operative Society and shows the first shop.  The newer one was taken today.