A Halifax historian has unearthed intriguing evidence of author Charlotte Bronte’s links to Calderdale.
David Glover has researched the Jane Eyre writer’s connections to the area ahead of a planned talk on the subject at the Square Chapel, and believes Charlotte bought her wedding dress in the town and may even have written her most famous novel on Halifax-bought paper.
Charlotte apparently visited Halifax in June 1854 to purchase fabric for her bridal gown from a local draper. The author had been determined not to wear white to marry Arthur Bell Nicholls, but when shop staff told her that white muslin would suit her, she changed her mind.
“It is recorded that a young Halifax man was involved in the transaction over the wedding dress, for afterwards he was fond of relating to local residents how he had served the author of Jane Eyre. It would be fascinating to know for which local establishment he worked, but even the Bronte Society has no idea,” said Mr Glover.
A letter to Charlotte’s schoolfriend Ellen Nussey revealed that the soon-to-be bride was ‘too busy’ to unpack the dress for several days after it was delivered from Halifax to Haworth.
Another link to Calderdale was established at the wedding when the ceremony was conducted by the vicar of St James’s Church in Hebden Bridge, the Rev Sutcliffe Sowden, a close friend of the groom who was originally from Hipperholme.
Although the dress no longer exists, a replica has been displayed in the Bronte Parsonage Museum in the family’s home village of Haworth.
When Charlotte tragically died during pregnancy just ten months after her wedding, it was Sowden who was called upon to deliver her funeral, and he also conducted the burial of the sisters’ father Patrick in Haworth five years later, travelling from Hebden Bridge.
Mr Glover even believes that Charlotte’s original drafts and manuscript copy of Jane Eyre, her most famous work, could have been written on Halifax paper. She used supplies from the Haworth village stationer, John Greenwood, who would walk the ten miles to Halifax to purchase extra writing paper to satisfy Charlotte and her sisters’ insatiable demands.
“They used to buy a great deal of writing paper, and I used to wonder whatever they did with so much. When I was out of stock I was always afraid of their coming; they seemed so distressed about it if I had none. I have walked to Halifax many a time for half a ream of paper, for fear of being without it when they came,” he wrote.
An old newspaper which once served the area, the Halifax Guardian, was also dragged into a controversy involving the Bronte sisters when they published a series of letters between Charlotte’s widower and a woman named Sarah Baldwin, a vicar’s wife from Mytholmroyd.
The Bronte girls had been educated at Cowan Bridge School in Lancashire, which took in the daughters of the clergy. Charlotte was outspoken and critical in her opinions about the school, and wrote of the poor conditions there which she believed had permanently affected her health and led to her father withdrawing the sisters from its classes. Charlotte even thought the deaths of Maria and Elizabeth Bronte from tuberculosis were caused by their time at the school, which was the inspiration for Lowood in Jane Eyre.
Mrs Baldwin, who had also been a pupil there, wrote to the paper to dispute the claims. Arthur Bell Nicholls defended his late wife’s views and the exchange became so heated that the publication had to stop printing them after both parties were given a stern warning about their insulting language.
The Guardian had also been the first newspaper to publish Bronte poems in its pages, under the ownership of the Walker brothers - ironically, written by the girls’ only brother, Branwell.
“There are plenty of Bronte connections with Calderdale which should be far better known as the borough could capitalise on them much more,” added Mr Glover, of Baker Fold.
The historian’s presentation about Charlotte Bronte will take place in the autumn and further details will be confirmed by the venue.