Friday, 10 June 2016

A Week at Wuthering Heights with Compass Poetry Magazine

I confess I am all Bronte'd out.  I have reclined on Emily's death sofa, gazed from Cathy's famous window, sat on the rock where she had her love scene with Heathcliff, and wandered around the Top Withens ruined steading where Emily imagined her farmhouse to be situated.
Emily's sofa, from the BBC film set
the stepping stones at Ponden Kirk, where Cathy and Heathcliff met

Top Withens, which Emily chose as the location of Wuthering Heights, and both Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath wrote poems about. 
There's a curt plaque at Top Withens, posted  by the Bronte Society saying basically that Wuthering Heights this house is not.  And it isn't.

Emily used Ponden Hall as the model for her house, and Anne used the same house for Wild Fell Hall.
Ponden Hall - the real Wuthering Heights and Wild Fell Hall


Ponden Hall is just below Heathcliff's rock, a short walk from Top Withens.  It's the house the Bronte children sheltered in when they fled from the famous Crow Hill Bog Burst that caused such fear and consternation back in 1824.   Ponden is the house whose library they used to visit, to read books they couldn't get anywhere else.
Cathy's window, Ponden Hall
In one of the rooms is the window that Emily apparently imagined the ghost of Cathy knocking on, begging to be allowed in.
The Heaton family plaque at Ponden Hall

The reason we know it was Ponden Hall, is because both Mr Bronte and Charlotte's best friend identified it as the original for Wuthering Heights - Emily simply shifted its location up onto the moor at Top Withens.  The Hall was owned by the notorious Heaton family (Mr Bronte refused to bury one of them in the graveyard at Haworth) and Branwell was a frequent visitor. Branwell described the main room at Ponden in one of his own stories and it matches Emily's description of the Heights. So there's lots of evidence for the association. Some people think it must be the original for Thrushcross Grange - but it simply isn't grand enough.  It is a small manor house that has grown out of a working farm and doesn't even have a drawing room.  One of the most beautiful historic houses I've been in for a long time.

Julie and her husband Steve, who live at Ponden Hall, open it up for bed and breakfast and are very happy to host courses there - the food was fantastic and the atmosphere, especially for a writers' retreat, was electric!  If you want to go on a writers' week, I can also recommend the Compass Poetry retreats, run by Compass Magazine editors Andrew Forster and Lindsey Holland - we had a fantastically productive time there.

BBC film set  of Haworth in the process of demolition.

We went (courtesy of Steve) to visit the BBC set for the new series on the Brontes (written by Sally Wainwright).  They have had to relocate it up onto the moors because the Parsonage is now completely surrounded by houses - when the Brontes lived there the moors came right to the door.  So they've built the Parsonage, the school room, the church, graveyard and part of the main street up on the moors, out of MDF, plywood, plastic and scaffolding.

It looks spookily like the real thing, though minus the more recent extension to the house and the trees that were planted in the graveyard.
The real thing - Haworth Parsonage

Then Julie took us to Haworth Parsonage - she used to be a guide there so knows everything there is to know about the house and its history and the contents of the archives.  We learned a great deal we didn't know.  The Parsonage has just acquired the original dining table that the Brontes used, where they wrote their books.  The furnishings are all original and the decor is exactly as chosen by Charlotte, using samples of paper and fabric she sent to friends. No photographs allowed inside, unfortunately.

Steve took us walking on the moors, among the curlews and skylarks and the ghosts of Charlotte, Emily and Anne, but also of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath.  It's a landscape of mythology and poetry, and I loved every moment of it.

A stone called 'the chair' which the Brontes sat on, but Charlotte didn't carve her name!

The Bronte Falls

I've been able to get a lot of writing and editing done and it's been a brilliant week, in some very good company.




2 comments:

  1. I, too, was on the Compass Poetry Course and I must endorse everything that Kathy says here. If you have the opportunity to attend a subsequent event, seize it. You will not be disappointed by this imaginative and challenging course or by the warm hospitality at Ponden Hall.The company of like-minded people, whether established poets in full bloom or novices eager to learn their craft, is a delight too, or at least it certainly was in my experience.

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