Haworth - West Yorkshire's Bronte Country

Nostalgia has become a way of life in Haworth as Janette Sykes reports PHOTOGRAPHS BY MATT DAVIS

Villagers in Haworth said Charlotte Bronte looked like 'a little snowdrop' on her wedding day more than 150 years ago. Fellow novelist, friend and biographer Elizabeth Gaskell conceded that her white embroidered dress, lace mantle and white bonnet trimmed with green leaves 'might suggest a resemblance to that pale wintry flower' - and the description certainly evokes someone who looks delicate, yet is sturdy.

Sadly, Charlotte's stoicism and strength of character was not enough to see her through the early stages of pregnancy, and she died at 38, less than a year after her marriage to her father's curate, the Reverend Arthur Bell Nicholls.

While locals rightly point out that there's much more to Haworth than the world famous Bronte Parsonage Museum, whose main exhibition space has just had a �120,000 facelift and the well-documented Bronte connection, there's no doubt that it remains one of the West Yorkshire village's main tourist attractions.

Each year, around 75,000 tourists from across the UK, Europe, Japan and USA flock there to find out more about the fascinating lives of talented Charlotte and her equally gifted sisters - and this year aficionados have more to see than ever before.

The Bronte Society has renovated its main exhibition space to showcase more of its collection of manuscripts and artefacts - some for the very first time, and to offer interactive exhibits that appeal to families and young children. 'The exhibition focuses on the Bronte's lives and works and hadn't changed for 25 years, so was beginning to look a bit tired,' explained museum director Andrew McCarthy.

'We've completely refurbished the area to give it a fresh, new look and bring together the historical and the contemporary, to offer visitors the very best of the old and the new.

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'There's also more information about the sisters' parents, Patrick and Maria - particularly Patrick, who was selfeducated and talented in his own right. He wrote poetry and had a passion for education that he instilled in his children - and we hope to convey that enthusiasm for learning to the young people of today.'

Wood panelling has been stripped away to reveal attractive architectural features and original windows that give a new perspective on the churchyard and parish church beyond. Some of the museum's exhibits, such as the rather grand clock on the staircase that Patrick used to wind every night at 9pm, are reassuringly robust and familiar.

However, others, such as a tiny baby bonnet, made by Charlotte's friend Miss Wooler, for the unborn child that tragically led to the author's premature passing, are new and rather more poignant.

On a brighter note, you'll also find costumes from the forthcoming ITV adaptation of Wuthering Heights, due to be screened in the autumn, dotted around the elegant Georgian parsonage this year.

The authentic-looking apparel is the work of BAFTA-winning designer Amy Roberts, who has previously worked on TV series such as the BBC's Oliver Twist and the film Brassed Off.

Nostalgia is something of a way of life in Haworth, where you'll find shops selling toys, books, furniture and objects of yesteryear that you'd forgotten had ever existed in the hi-tech 21st century, such as Oxo cube tins, kits for blowing bubbles and 33 rpm, 45 rpm and 78 rpm vinyl discs.

Visitors can take an instant step back in time by crossing the threshold of the apothecary, now a gift shop, where Branwell Bronte sourced the opium to which he was addicted, or call in at the Black Bull Hotel, where he was a regular and popular patron.

They can also linger for a quiet moment by the Bronte family vault in the church; see the graves of the household's servants Tabitha Ackroyd and Martha Brown in the churchyard and the Sunday school where Charlotte, Anne and Branwell taught.

Further down the hill, tourists can even travel as the Victorians did, on steam trains that run on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, and that have featured in such classic films as The Railway Children and Yanks. The renovated station at Haworth has a locomotive works that houses much of the railway's steam and diesel fleet, and visitors can watch trains being prepared for service from a nearby picnic and viewing area.

For those who really want to wallow in the warm bath of bygone days, the whole village will be staging a 1940s Weekend on May 16th and 17th. Everyone will don period dress, the Home Guard will be on standby and troops carrying kit bags will stride up Haworth's steep, cobbled streets.

Forties newspapers will bring the latest news from the front line, there'll be dancing to jump jive, swing and big band sounds and rumour has it that Winston Churchill and Royal lookalikes will make an appearance.

Gear up, too, for a 1960s weekend on June 20th and 21st; an intriguingly-named 'Scroggling the Holly' weekend on November 14th and 15th and panto, torchlight procession and Nativity Weekends throughout December.

It's a full-time job, keeping up with the past. Just one small tip, though - keep the 'no parking' rule, but ditch the double yellow lines on Main Street.

The Tourist Information Centre 01535 642329 or see www.haworthvillage.co.uk For more information about the Bronte Society and the Bronte Parsonage Museum visit www.bronte.info

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