The desolate location of Wuthering Heights in Emily Bronte's classic novel.
It was Ellen Nussey, a lifelong friend of Charlotte Brontë, who first said that Top Withens was the model for the farmhouse of Wuthering Heights.
The farmhouse remains at Top Withens bear little resemblance to the house described in Wuthering Heights, but the situation is likely to have been in Emily Bronte’s mind when she wrote of the setting.
There really is no better place to ponder the dark, brooding and immensely passionate nature of Cathy and Heathcliffe as they grew from youngsters into adulthood.
As well as being isolated, the weather too would have dictated so much of Emily’s thoughts and this is also reflected in the nature of her characters. Top Withens is therefore a must-go-to place of pilgrimage for Bronte enthusiasts from all over the world, no matter the weather. For some, the more wind-swept the better!
Top Withens is a location on our ‘Escape To The Moor’ guided walk which takes you off the beaten track to all the key Bronte beauty spots on Haworth Moor.
Self-guided Top Withens walk
Top Withens lies on the Pennine Way walk and is an invigorating 4 mile walk from Haworth, mostly on gravel or flagstone paths, via Bronte Waterfall.
If you’ve never been before, you’re better off staying on the main footpaths, and do go prepared. If the weather turns bad, as it often does, shelter is available in the bothy attached to the farmhouse. To prepare for possible harsh weather, please visit the Haworth Moor page for advice and further information.
Car parking for Top Withens
If you’re not visiting Haworth, please park (for free) at Penistone Hill Country Park and follow the path across the road. The walk to Top Withens takes just over an hour, depending on your pace.
Please do NOT follow SatNav or Google Maps for Top Withins as this takes you down a single track road and you’ll clog up the route and block access for locals to get to their houses and for farmers. We strongly suggest you park at Penistone Hill – it’s free!
Circular Top Withens walk via Stanbury
The return journey to Haworth can be via the same route you came or via the village of Stanbury. Whichever route you take, you should allocate at least 4 hours for the round trip, giving a little rest time.
The Stanbury route creates a circular walk back to Haworth or Penistone Hill Country Park and the village has a small park for the kids to play and benches for adults to rest. It’s opposite The Friendly pub which has terrific moorland views showing the path you followed. Try a pint of Goose Eye!
Fifty yards on, you’ll find The Wuthering Heights pub which serves hot & cold drinks as well as food all year round. You can also sit outside to enjoy the views, or if cold, the log fire inside is usually roaring to warm everyone up!
An extract from Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte
“Wuthering Heights is the name of Mr Heathcliff’s dwelling. `Wuthering’ being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather. Pure, bracing ventilation they must have up there at all times, indeed; one may guess the power of the north wind blowing over the edge, by the excessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house; and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun.”
The history of Top Withens
1567 – The first recorded owner of the land at Top Withens was Thomas Crawshaye and his sister Anne, when they sold it George Bentley in this year. The Bentley family relied on weaving to augment their farming income, transporting the finished woven cloth over rugged moorland to market in Halifax or Bradford.
1591 – On his death, George bequeathed his estate to his grandson William and the land was divided between William’s three sons, Martyn, Luke and John. It’s believed that they built the three individual farms at Lower, Middle and Top Withens. Top Withens was a well maintained laithe-house, a farm with an attached barn, and they would have kept cattle, rather than sheep.
A divided inheritance was common practice in the South Pennine area, but the unfortunate side effect of the practice was that each generation was forced to make do with less and less land. The consequence was growing poverty and great hardship.
Most farms relied on dairy farming for the bulk of their income, but those nearest the moors also kept sheep, while setting aside small tracts of land for pasture and cattle meadows, and to grow oats.
1813 – The next recording was where John Crabtree leased Top Withens to Jonas Sunderland who lived there with his wife Ann.
1833 – The house was passed on to their son, Jonas with his Mary Feather. This was, of course, the time of the Brontes who would have been known to them.
1888 – The house was passed to Ann Sharpe (formerly Sunderland) and her husband, Samuel who occupied it until shortly after 1890.
1893 It was reported in the Todmorden & District News on 18 May that Top Withens was struck by lightning during a thunderstorm. Holes were made in the wall, the roof was partially torn off and approx. 30 windows were removed.
1903 – The Keighley Corporation bought the now decaying farms as part of a water catchment area for a planned new reservoir, but their plan was delayed until the 1920’s due to World War 1.
1933 – John Bancroft and his family, who farmed sheep nearby, took on the lease for the land around the three farms from Keighley Corporation. During their time there, Middle and Lower Withens farm houses were demolished, and the doors and windows of Top Withens blocked to counter vandalism.
1926 – The Top Withens house was last inhabited by Ernest Roddy. He had been gassed during the war, so the authorities set him up at Top Withens where he was a poultry farmer. He had previously been a French polisher in Haworth, as well as a postman, a hawker of yeast and visited the outlying farms selling his yeast for bread-making at one penny per ounce.
1949 – An article in the Keighley News described the desperate condition of Top Withens with the headline: Bronte Homestead now in danger of collapse…. since then the house has received no attention and within the last five years in particular has deteriorated a great deal. The gable of the farmhouse that has for so many years borne the brunt of the elements is wearily leaning before the storms and is pushing the tie beams of the roof and causing the opposite wall to crack and crumble. The roof itself is breached severely in several places and where the chimney once proudly stood, there is just a cleft…whether it is malicious hooliganism, whether it is just thoughtlessness of those who have idly scrambled over the roof or whether it is the ravages of time and the weather that have brought about this destruction matters little now, for the damage is done. It is only a matter of time before the roof falls in and Higher Withens follows the fate of Lower and Middle Withens, which have long been mere rubble….Thus it seems that Higher Withens is doomed to rot; nothing can save it from ultimate destruction. Perhaps someday we may see some little inscription erected to the memory of a once happy homestead which inspired a noble poetess and moved her humble followers.’
1964 – The sentiments expressed by the Keighley News were carried out when the Bronte Society organised a plaque to be placed on what was left of the farmhouse.
1970’s – The farmhouse was crumbling into a pile of rubble, with most of the upper parts already collapsed. Remedial work was carried out to by Yorkshire Water, the owners
1990’s – Significant work was carried out to properly stabilise the remains of the building.
Today – Top Withens remains a place for putting the characters and storyline of Wuthering Heights into context of the life and times of a Yorkshire hill top farm in the 19th century. Maintaining this cultural landmark on the moorland hillside is important, but it is the remote, barren setting, not the existing ruined house that is of most importance.