Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Gawthorpe Hall and Charlotte Bronte

As a big Bronte Sisters fan I am on a mission to gradually visit and photograph all the places of connection with the sisters, both with their life and their work. Living in West Yorkshire where the sisters lived and wrote, I consider myself very lucky to be in a position to do so. It also makes for a special pleasure of marrying two loves of mine - the one for photography and the one for the great literary sisters.
The weekend of 8th and 9th October was reserved for a trip to Gawthorpe Hall in Lancashire. The Kay-Shuttleworth family who lived at the Hall in the 19th century came to hear about Charlotte Bronte, who was becoming a well known author, and invited her to stay, which she did on a couple of occasions.

Gawthorpe Hall is a beautiful, early 17th century Elizabethan mansion, and is the last stop on the Bronte Way - a 43 mile long footpath that starts at Oakwell Hall near Birstall. Charlotte described Gawthorpe as "grey, stately and picturesque, a model of old English architecture".
On the Saturday it was mainly cloudy and overcast so I thought I'd take advantage of that sort of lighting to create a desaturated, "vintage wash" effect photograph of the Hall.

It did brighten up towards the end of the day and there was even some late sunshine around, however short-lived. The two ladies lingered in the grounds for a long time clearly enjoying each other's company and pleasant evening. Up until fairly recently I would spot out any people in my photos of this kind, but then I realized that you can actually use people to an advantage.

This is a view of Gawthorpe from the east. In 1849 Sir James Kay-Shuttleworth commissioned the architect Charles Barry, a personal friend, to undertake a major restoration and improvement of the Hall, including redesigning the grounds. Barry worked exclusively in an Elizabethan style, intending any new work to enhance the old.

The Drawing Room. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside the Hall, so here is a photo courtesy of Gawthorpe Hall. When Charlotte visited the Kay-Shuttleworths for a first time in March 1850, she sat on the green sofa just visible in the photo "enjoying the dialogues (perhaps I should rather say monologues, for I listened far more than I talked) by the fireside". Charlotte was so very shy that it does not come as surprise when she says she didn't talk much. Her hosts were the heiress Janet Shuttleworth and her husband Dr James Phillips Kay whom she married in 1842. Sir James Kay Shuttleworth is the celebrated Victorian educationalist, now regarded as the founder of public education in England.

West entrance to the grounds. Autumn had arrived at Gawthorpe Hall. I was delighted to have got some autumn shots from the visit too.

The pretty gate of another entrance to the grounds - by the steps past the Estate Building.

The North Parterre. Charles Barry's 19th century radial parterre, with its shaped stone kerbs, gravel paths and stone parapet spiked with obelisks, has largely survived intact.

The ornamental flower beds are planted with blocks of golden privet, edged with dwarf purple-leaved berberis and punctuated with dots of common privet.

It was a glorious autumn Sunday morning; the Hall had not opened its doors for the day yet, but there were already quite a few people around soaking in the beautiful ambiance of the place.
Charlotte Bronte visited Gawthorpe for a second time with her husband, the Rev. Arthur Bell Nicholls, in January 1855 . She was eager to have a stroll around the grounds, and seemed to have caught a chill there. Her health seriously deteriorated afterwards, and, sadly and tragically, she died two months later.

On either end of the parterre terrace there are armorial stone seats of Elizabethan style designed by Barry's son Edward. They looked lovely in the autumnal surroundings.

The Great Barn situated in the Estate Yard. It may be hard to believe, but this spectacular aisled barn of 1603-5 is larger than the Hall itself, and is the largest aisled threshing barn in Europe. The barn is an important survival of a type uncommon in Lancashire. Aisled barns provided much greater width than the normal cruck-framed barn in order to accommodate cattle and farm equipment in addition to enormous quantities of grain, straw and animal feed. Today its interior is a versatile space for events.

The Coach House. It was built in 1870 onto a corner of the Great Barn. Its architectural features suggest a military Gothic style which is not otherwise seen at Gawthorpe. It is now used as a tearoom.

The west side of the Hall and the passageway toward the Lancashire County Council offices. The LCC manages the property on a day to day basis. A passing figure of an elderly man in a suit fits in well with the setting.

Behind the Estate Building there is a charming little picnic area. It was a lovely, mild and sunny, autumn morning, and all the tables were taken by people enjoying the last of agreeable weather.

Along the stone walls of the picnic area there were some delightful autumn blooms. I sneaked around the occupied tables to take a few shots.

Despite its awe-inspiring beauty Gawthorpe Hall is little known today, probably because of its location on the edge of industrial Lancashire, better known for its mills and factories than historic houses. It has belonged to the National Trust since 1970.
There are a couple of more things that must be mentioned when talking about Gawthorpe: it has a fine collection of 17th century portraits on loan from the National Portrait Gallery to represent family members who once populated the Hall.
And it has an amazing worldwide textile collection on display, created by the last family resident at Gawthorpe, Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth.
There is a temporary exhibition space too, currently occupied by a very interesting "Literary Lions" Exhibition that explores Charlotte Bronte's visits to Gawthorpe and her relationship with the Kay-Shuttleworths. This exhibition is part of this year's bicentenary celebrations of Charlotte's birthday, and finishes on the 6th November.


  1. That's interesting - and great photos as always. I've never visited there - better put it on my list!

    1. Thank you, Jenny! It is wonderful around there, more than worth visiting.