The small village of Haworth in West Yorkshire is famous for being the home of the Brontë family. It’s a place I’ve loved to visit over the last few years, often accompanied by our lovely fluffy friend, Bob the bichon. Since Bob’s passing in April, I hadn’t felt able to return to Haworth because I have so many memories of Bob there, and I knew the fact he wasn’t with us as we wandered around one of his favourite places would be very difficult to cope with. He’s been everywhere from the parsonage shop to St. Michael and All Angels’ church, to the park and the station, and back again in Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. Strangely enough, I hadn’t even felt tempted to return to Haworth after we lost him.
One place I did want to visit however was the Brontë Bell Chapel in nearby Thornton where the Brontë patriarch, Patrick, preached from 1815 until 1820. Despite it being just six miles from Haworth, I’d never actually made the pilgrimage before. Knowing there was nothing there but a ruin and what is now a cafe named Emily’s, on a sunny Bank Holiday Monday, we got into the car and drove up to Yorkshire with the intention of a quick visit to the Brontë birthplace and Bell chapel before finding a quick bite to eat somewhere before heading home. It seems that someone, somewhere, had other plans for us though.
Needing to stop off earlier than we’d anticipated, it seemed silly to pass by Haworth, and cut short our trip to Thornton before rushing back towards home. Instead, it was tentatively suggested by one of our party that we stop off for a few minutes in Haworth to grab a bite to eat and find a bathroom. Strangely enough, just moments before this was suggested, I’d been reading posts on Twitter about International Dog Day, and posting my own tribute to my sweet boy, Bob, who is always on my mind, and even more so as we were so close to Haworth. I knew it would be difficult, but it was almost like Bob was giving me a gentle nudge to get back to the place I love, and the one in which I had so many happy memories of him. So we found ourselves parking the car in Haworth and retracing a path so familiar up to the church.
I expected to feel like something was missing as we walked around Haworth again, and although the weight of losing Bob still rests heavily on all of our shoulders, it really did feel like he was there with us that day. The two dogs that were being carried around the church by their owners certainly put a smile on my face. Their owners stopped uncertainly in the doorway before scooping the dogs up and taking them inside; perhaps Bob gave them a gentle nudge too. He did sneak in there himself once for a little stroll around. But hey, churches should be places for creatures all great and small; I’m sure Emily, Anne, and Patrick Brontë would agree.
Churches are places for reflection and in addition to reflecting about the Brontës’ lives and works in the place where they lie buried, the church is also a place where people can remember those closest to them who they have loved and lost. I’ve lost two grandparents and Bob since last year and had to cope with people making life difficult for us as a family, so wandering around the church certainly allowed me to think about everything. It was also a place I was able to leave the smallest of prayers for Bob on the little prayer tree that had been set up.
After this, it was in to the little craft shop opposite the church, past two dogs lounging on a tombstone in the graveyard, past the school room where Charlotte once taught, and into the parsonage garden. This is a place where Bob has also strolled around, following in the footsteps of Keeper, Grasper et al. The parsonage looks beautiful all year round, but never as much as in Summer when the sun is shining on it and the garden is in bloom.
The church also looked lovely when viewed from the garden. Following this, it was into the shop, across the car park, and then down Main Street where there were so many dogs like Bob, enjoying the sun, the atmosphere, and even an ice cream or two. It goes without saying that Bob made it into the Parsonage shop too. He loved a good bargain.
Main Street was bustling and beautiful in the afternoon sun. It’s a shame that the tourist information, and former Brontë Museum many years ago, had to close its doors a few months ago. However, a nice little shop has been set up in the premises. Bob was with us once again as we carried on in and out of shops, visiting the newly refurbished Black Bull (which he was partial to), the galleries and art shops, second hand bookshop, and finally finding a bite to eat.
We settled on Cobbles and Clay on Main Street. Despite it being busy, we were seated straight away and didn’t have to wait long for our tasty food. I’d definitely recommended it if you pay a visit to Haworth. It’s dog-friendly and there were a few pooches in there seeking shelter from the heat whilst their owners ate. It was nice to see on International Dog Day and I’m sure Bob would have enjoyed it.
After our spot of lunch, we decided it was time to head to Thornton to visit the Brontë birthplace and the Brontë Bell chapel. Patrick preached in the latter from 1815-1820 and lived in nearby Market Street where Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne were born. The church was actually named St. James’ and is now, sadly, nothing more than a ruin. The site dates back centuries, and before 1612, it seems to have been named St. Leonard’s. It is situated across the road from the modern St. James’ church and stands in the middle of a graveyard.
Despite never visiting here, Bob was no stranger to graveyards, sometimes helping with our graveyard restoration project back home. It was such a calm and peaceful spot and I really do feel like he was there with us, enjoying the serenity. He was with us spiritually, but I do wish that he could have been physically with us as we walked in the footsteps of the Brontës once again. I just wish he was still here full stop.
There is a sense that nature has taken over the chapel despite it being grade II listed, it’s sad that not long in the future, there will be nothing of this place left. I also had more proof that Bob was with us when I zoomed into a photograph that was taken by the old chapel and his fluffy face appeared.
With the roof stripped and the framework remaining, it reminded me a little of nearby Wycoller Hall, possible inspiration for Ferndean in Charlotte’s Jane Eyre. It’s beautiful and peaceful, but tinged with sadness at the same time at what has been lost since the Brontës were here. But nothing lasts forever, not physically anyway.
The dates 1612 and 1587 can be read on different parts of the stone (above right). This part of the ruin is opposite from that above. Inside the roof is badly damaged and the window is long gone.
Nature really has taken over the old chapel. I don’t think what is left of the roof will last much longer.
This beautiful and sad monument was also in the graveyard. It was too lovely and poignant not to include here despite having nothing to do with the Brontës. It’s a child’s grave, and sadly, has been damaged over time. The inscription “NO MORE PAIN” really struck a chord with me that day as I walked around and thought of Bob. We let him go to spare him pain, and perhaps he was trying to tell me to let go of mine. I never will but at least we can talk about him with happiness as well as sadness. I think Bob is trying to heal us from wherever he is now.
Finally, it was off to Market Street, birthplace of Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne. The site is a cafe these days, and I’m still not too sure how I feel about that. I just don’t see it as appropriate somehow. It was closed anyway. Sadly, there isn’t anything else in the immediate area, and all that commemorates the Brontës is a small plaque on the wall. There could be so much more here. Maybe there will be in the future.
Although it was a trip tinged with sadness, it was an unexpected one on International Dog Day that really did help the healing process, and I think Bob had a lot to do with that. He called me back to Haworth, and he continues to help and inspire me. What’s also really nice is that he continues to inspire others too; I’ve recently had more contact from people who have read about Bob’s adventures both in Haworth and closer to home, and they’ve been inspired to get out and about with their own dogs after reading about his journeys. Thank you, Bob.
In Loving Memory of Bob the Bichon (2007-2019). A lover of life, the Brontës, and Haworth who knows that I’m just going to write because I can’t help it.
Thanks for reading. I’d love it if you stopped by The Journal of Juvenilia Studies where you can read my essay, “Autobiography, Wish-Fulfilment, and Juvenilia. The ‘Fractured Self’ in Charlotte Brontë’s Paracosmic Counterworld”.
Tales of the Genii (edited by myself) is now available from The Crow Emporium – click here to buy.
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