Discontent in 'Brontë country' as Thornton takes on Haworth as the 'true birthplace' of the famous sisters
Monday 28 January 2013
Ever since the Brontë Parsonage Museum was founded in 1928 the Yorkshire tourism mecca of Haworth has been a the undisputed capital of "Bronte Country".
But now across the moorland that inspired Wuthering Heights there are whisperings of discontent that Haworth has for too long monopolised the story of Anne, Charlotte and Emily.
Six miles away the tiny community of Thornton, on the outskirts of Bradford, is staking its claim to be the "true" birthplace of the sisters and opening chapter in their astonishing story.
Thornton is seeking to regenerate itself and see the birthplace as key in what they call a "three pronged tourism attack" to make the village of traditional stone built houses "first port of call" for Brontë fans.
The quest by a handful of villagers to establish an alternative Bronte trail had appeared something of a pipe dream.
But it seems that the idea has struck a chord in Bradford, a city not exactly awash with popular tourist destinations.
There are calls for Bradford Council to step in and buy the house in Thornton where all the children were born before father Patrick upped sticks to take the living in the bustling town of Haworth.
As well as chasing the usual grants, new Brontë Birthplace Trust is also approaching celebrities such as David Hockney and Patti Smith - who is playing a benefit gig for the Parsonage Museum in April - for help.
Supporters of the idea have pointed out the property could be snapped up for £130,000 - substantially less than the Bradford Council forked out towards the Tour de France (an event not actually now coming to Bradford).
Local councillor Valerie Binney has made a personal plea to Council Leader David Green to preserve the birthplace on behalf of the new Bronte Birthplace Trust - until it can pay the council back.
She said: "The regeneration department let us down by not telling us last October that the property could not be added to the list of community assets under the community right to buy, which would have given us six months in which to raise the money.
"The asking price is about £130,000 which is not much in the scheme of things especially when the Council has given £347,000 to the Tour de France even though it is not going to go through the City of Bradford.
"For too long the fact that the Bronte sisters were born here and the Rev Patrick Brontë spent five happy years living and preaching in Thornton has been ignored.
"Preserving the Bronte Birthplace to be used has a museum is our heritage and would also help regenerate the village which a number of us have been trying to do for years."
The Trust suffered an initial set-back over a misunderstanding of the scope of the 2011 Localism Act.
Funding hopes were dashed when it became clear a residential property cannot be listed as a community asset under the terms of the legislation.
A number of years ago Brontë Society member Barbara Whitehead bought the house, intending to turn it into a museum.
But the project proved too much for Mrs Whitehead who was in failing health and has since died.
Locals say the house was then sold to a buyer in London who let it out to tenants before putting it back on the market.
Bronte Society Chairman Sally McDonald said: "The Brontë birthplace is a very special place for the Bronte Society but our commitments are such we're not in a position to financially support that building or a future museum in it.
"But we wish the trust every success. I would think the birthplace would be somewhere visitors would take in on route to the Parsonage.
"I would not see them being in opposition. I think they would compliment each other.
"I would not say the birthplace has been overlooked. While they were born there the Parsonage was where the novels were written and where they spent most of their lives.
"There is also the landscape which inspired the writing. So Haworth has a special claim in the world of Brontë admirers."
Trust chairman Steve Stanworth fears that the property at 72/74 Market Street, where the Brontës lived between 1815 and 1820, could be sold to one of two prospective buyers in the bidding unless the Trust can come up with the cash.
As well as the birthplace, the Trust is also hoping to woo visitors with the lovingly restored Bronte Bell Chapel - where the family was baptised - and the South Square arts project featuring a gallery, coffee shop, and other amenities.
He said: "Haworth have played their cards very well. They have not only got the Brontës but all the gift shops and cafes.
"But we have a three pronged attack for tourism. We do not want to take anything away from Haworth. We just want them to come to us first. We want to make ourselves the first port of call."
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