The history of Haworth
Haworth was first mentioned in 1209, and its name origin has various interpretations. One possible interpretation of this word is “hedged enclosure” or “hawthorn enclosure.” The earliest mention of ‘Haworth’ on record dates back to 1771.
The main industry in Haworth was the production of worsted yarn and cloth: worsteds were fine cloths using long-fibre wool.
The work was mainly carried out in factories: the biggest in Haworth was Bridgehouse Mills, on the Bridgehouse Beck in the valley below the village.
The mid-19th-century census returns show that many households had fathers, mothers, sons and daughters employed in the textile industry.
In 1851, the 60-year old John Mitchell and his wife, of Hall Green, worked as handloom weavers, a vanishing occupation by that time. They probably had their looms in their cottage. Their two daughters, however, worked as powerloom weavers in one of the local mills.
In addition, a son was a wool comber. This was the last process, which involved the combing of raw wool to produce fibres ready for spinning, was still carried out in the houses of the workers.
It was an arduous and dangerous occupation, for it required charcoal or coal stoves to heat the combs. These stoves were rarely extinguished, windows were rarely opened and fumes caused illness and death.
During the Bronte period
Historic Haworth is largely a product of the 19th century. The Brontë sisters knew it was a scene of constant building activity: new houses and shops were always in the course of construction and old houses were replaced by new.
The cottages are substantially built of local sandstone and gritstone, with dressed stone surrounds to the doorways and mullioned windows in characteristic Pennine style.
Some houses were built back-to-back and some had a main dwelling at one level and a cellar dwelling below. Not all of Haworth’s houses, however, were relatively new in the time of the Brontës.
The Old Hall at Hall Green is an excellent example of 17th-century Yorkshire Pennine housing and on North Street is another fine 17th-century house with its aisled barn alongside.
The wealthier or higher status inhabitants lived in houses which introduced new styles of architecture: the parsonage, built in 1779, has a symmetrical elevation and sash windows, in contrast to the mullioned windows of the cottages, and Woodlands, the home of the family that ran Bridgehouse Mills, has a fine restrained classical front.
The influence of religion
A very important part of life in 19th-century Haworth was played by religion. Patrick Brontë preached for forty years in St Michael’s Church, which in his time was largely an 18th century building, although retaining the tower of the chapel established in 1655.
Today’s church dates from a rebuilding of 1879-80. Patrick may have felt beleaguered in Haworth, however, for the Church of England was overshadowed by the Nonconformist denominations.
In 1851, Patrick could count on 500 adherents, but three times as many villagers attended the three chapels – Wesleyan and Baptist – which flourished in Haworth.
Competition extended to education: the Methodists ran a school from 1821 and in 1832 the Church of England responded by building a National School, close to the church and parsonage.
Patrick Brontë was instrumental in founding the school and Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell all taught there. Only with the building of the Central Board Schools in Butt Lane in 1895 was non-denominational education provided for the children of Haworth.
Societies and institutions
Despite the widespread ignorance which Patrick Brontë complained about, the village did enjoy a social and cultural life.
A Philosophical Society was formed in 1780 and orchestral and choral concerts were held in the church and the Black Bull.
Brass bands from the mills held concerts and the Haworth Brass Band, formed in 1854 and originating as the Springhead mill band, still meet today.
The improvement of the a Mechanics’ Institute in 1849, offering a library, a newsroom and a lecture hall. Both Patrick and Charlotte Brontë were staunch supporters of the Institute, which moved in 1853 to new premises, now the Villette Café, in Main Street.
The Freemasons were active in Haworth: Branwell Brontë was a member of the Three Graces Lodge, which met in rooms in Newell Hill (now Lodge Street).
Another form of association is represented by Victoria Hall, adjacent to the Hall Green Baptist Chapel. Built in 1854, the hall provided a meeting place for the Oddfellows Friendly Society, to provide help and support to its members.
Nearby, in Minnie Street, is the Drill Hall, built in 1873 to provide training facilities for the 42nd Company of the West Yorkshire Rifle Volunteers who were renowned for their shooting prowess, winning many competitions in the late 19th century.
Alongside the industry, religion and social life, death was the dominant presence at the time of the Brontës.
Haworth was a notoriously unhealthy place, as bad, it was reported, as the worst slums of London.
A poor water supply, no proper provision for sewage, harsh working conditions and perhaps even seepage from the churchyard burials were to blame.
Infant mortality reached horrifying levels in the middle years of the century: 41% of children died before they were six years old. In St Michael’s churchyard, one memorial records that Joseph Heaton buried seven infant children, and there are many similar gravestones in the burial grounds.
For those who survived infancy, life expectancy was around 44 years. The Brontë family itself illustrated the devastating impact of disease and sickness: none of the six children died in infancy, but none reached the age of forty.
For Haworth, nothing would be the same after the Brontës. Expansion took place after the opening of the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway in 1867 and many of the local mills grew into large steam-powered factories. Brow, curiously in the valley below the village, became a distinct settlement, industrial in character.
Literary pilgrimages soon became an important source of income, especially after the foundation of the Brontë Society in 1893.
Today, the Brontë Parsonage Museum and the preservation of the village largely as it was in the middle decades of the 19th century, make Haworth a popular and nostalgic place to visit.