At Roe Head and Blake Hall
  The Blake Hall Estate Today
Roe Head School - drawing by Anne Brontė (c.1835 - 1837)
Roe Head School
Drawing by Anne Brontë (c.1835 - 1837)
The school today (now called Hollybank) (1998)
The School Today

The drawing was created from a location close to the lower entrance to the school grounds. The photograph was taken from just a few yards further to the right (to avoid the trees on the left from obscuring the view!). Roe Head School opened in 1830, and when Charlotte arrived in January 1831, there were only ten pupils. Through the Brontës' time at this school, the top floor was uninhabited, the middle floor housed the sleeping quarters, and the ground floor contained the dining room, sitting room, and school room. The 'school room', where the girls were taught, was one of the large front rooms on the double-domed side of the building (left side as seen here),53n  and the windows on this side of the building give an open view (almost!) down the Calder Valley - see below. It is interesting to note how the trees, in both pictures, are inclining to the right - indicating that frequent and heavy winds must blow up the valley. (The wind direction is even further confirmed by the chimney smoke in Anne's drawing, though it does appear to be relatively clam on this particular day - the girls probably would not have been out sketching otherwise!)

View down the Calder Valley from front of the school

This is the view down the Calder Valley from the front of the school (the left side in the pictures above). Mirfield is beyond and over to the left. The row of trees has obviously been planted to act as a wind break! Anne's drawing (above) seems to indicate that a similar row of trees was also used then for this purpose - but they were located much closer to the building.

Plaque on 'Roe Head' school wall
The Brontë Society's plaque, mounted on the wall of the school, and indicating the Brontë connection with the premises.
Margaret Wooler - Headmistress of Roe Head School
Miss Margaret Wooler
Mary TaylorEllen Nussey - middle agedMargaret Wooler was both headmistress, and joint owner of the school at Roe Head (Roe Head being a hamlet situated at the north-western tip of Mirfield - about 18 miles south-east of Haworth). The first Brontë encounter with Roe Head School was when Charlotte attended as a pupil in 1831. It was here, amongst her fellow pupils, that she met the two girls who were to become her life long friends; Mary Taylor (pictured left), and Ellen Nussey (pictured right). Indeed, a life-long friendship also formed between Miss Wooler and Charlotte after Charlotte returned to the school in 1835 as a teacher, bringing with her Emily as a pupil. Emily soon became very ill with home-sickness and was replaced by Anne, who spent the next few years (October 1835 - December 1837) at the school. At the end of Anne's first year, she attained a prize for good conduct. The prize bore the inscription:
 'Prize for good conduct presented to Miss A. Brontë with Miss Wooler's kind love, Roe Head. Dec.14th. 1836.' 54n

Anne spent a longer period as a pupil at this school than either Charlotte, Emily, Ellen Nussey or Mary Taylor.

Miss Wooler also owned a house at Scarborough's very reserved North Bay, and when she heard of Anne's planned visit to the resort in 1849 in the hope of effecting a recovery from consumption, she offered the Brontë/Nussey party accommodation in that house. The offer was respectfully refused as Anne wanted to be in the area of Scarborough she knew and loved - the South Bay. As it transpired, Miss Wooler was also at Scarborough that week, and in addition to Charlotte and Ellen Nussey, she was the only other mourner at Anne's funeral. Five years later, in June 1854, she gave Charlotte away at her wedding; when Charlotte married her father's assistant curate, the Reverend Arthur Bell Nicholls. Miss Wooler lived a long life, making it to 93 before she died in 1885. Mary Taylor died at the age of 76 in 1893, and Ellen Nussey followed in November 1897 aged 80.

Elizabeth Firth (one of Anne's godmothers)Elizabeth Firth, born in 1797, welcomed the Brontës to Thornton when they arrived in 1815: the Firths subsequently formed a close friendship with Patrick and Maria. Elizabeth became one of the two godmothers of Anne (the other was Elizabeth's friend, Fanny Outhwaite). After Maria's death, Patrick made a proposal of marriage to Elizabeth: she declined, but the family friendship remained intact, and she continued to take an active interest in the Brontë children's welfare. In September 1825 she married the Reverend James Franks, vicar of St. Paul's church in Huddersfield. This was only about five miles away from Roe Head School, and on 17 June 1836, at the commencement of the girls' summer holidays, Charlotte and Anne went to stay, for a week, with the Franks at the Huddersfield vicarage. The girls were not totally enthusiastic about the visit as, naturally, they were anxious to return home to Haworth. Patrick pressured them a little to accept the Franks' invitation: he had earlier written to the Franks over his daughters' visit: 'I esteem it a high privilege that they should be under your roof, for a time - where, I am sure, they will see, and hear nothing, but what, under Providence, must necessarily tend, to their best interest, in both the worlds . . .'. Juliet Barker reports: 'The eldest child, John Firth Franks, recollected that Charlotte never spoke to him during the whole time she was there though Anne brought toys to him in the nursery.' 55n  Elizabeth Franks died in September 1837 at the age of 40.

Bishop James La TrobeThe Rev. James La Trobe (pictured right): Towards the end of 1837, and while still at Roe Head School, the 17 years old Anne suffered a very serious illness. Charlotte described her symptoms as 'pain' and 'difficulty of breathing', the latter was assumed to be a symptom of asthma, from which she had suffered since early childhood. Concurrent with her illness, she also underwent a religious crisis: 56  she was experiencing deep depression and fear on account of the hard-line preachings of the local churches: a circle of clergy that tended to follow the scriptures to the letter, and made great emphasis on the Calvinist doctrines of hell-fire and eternal damnation, with the suggestion that only the 'elect few' would earn themselves a place in heaven. This was far removed from the much milder convictions of her Wesleyan aunt, and those preached by her father; whose emphasis was on the 'goodness and infinite mercy of God', and the belief that salvation was attainable by anyone who sought it. With the acute illness she was experiencing, Anne must have felt that death was near, and desperately needed reassurance on these religious matters. In the event, she did not turn for help to the local Methodist churches, of whose clergy were known to her and her father, but to a stranger. The stranger in question was one reverend James La Trobe - the minister of the Moravian chapel at Wellhouse in Mirfield. The Moravian sect preached doctrines more akin to Patrick Brontë's, than those being advocated at Roe Head. They firmly believed in Universal Salvation, where, 'after a period of purifying purgatory, all men, however wicked, could attain heaven'.

Many years later, in 1897, La Trobe sent a letter to his friend and Brontë biographer, William Scrutton of Thornton, and in it recited the occasions he had attended Anne at Roe Head so many years earlier. The extract relating to Anne reads:

'She was suffering from a severe attack of gastric fever which brought her very low, and her voice was only a whisper; her life hung on a slender thread. She soon got over the shyness natural on seeing a perfect stranger. The words of love, from Jesus, opened her ear to my words, and she was very grateful for my visits. I found her well acquainted with the main truths of the Bible respecting our salvation, but seeing them more through the law than the gospel, more as a requirement from God than His gift in His Son, but her heart opened to the sweet views of salvation, pardon, and peace in the blood of Christ . . . and, had she died then, I should have counted her His redeemed and ransomed child. It was not till I read Charlotte Brontë's 'Life' that I recognised my interesting patient at Roe Head, where a Christian influence pervaded the establishment and its decided discipline.' 57

In December Patrick withdrew Anne from the school, and back at home she made a gradual recovery. James La Trobe went on to attain 'bishop' status: he died in 1897 at the age of 95.


Blake Hall, Mirfield  (c.1900)
Blake Hall - Mirfield
(c.1900) 58n
Joshua Ingham
Joshua Ingham
Mrs. Mary Ingham (nee. Cunliffe)
Mrs. Mary Ingham

In April 1839, at the age of nineteen, Anne acquired her first employment, becoming a governess to the Ingham family at Blake Hall, Mirfield. This was only about 2 miles from Roe Head School - the establishment she had attended a few years earlier. The Inghams were well known to Miss Wooler, and also had connections with the Nussey family, and it was probably through one of these avenues that Anne attained the post. As it transpired, the Ingham children were spoilt and wild, and persistently disobeyed, defied, teased and tormented her. She was not empowered to inflict any punishment, and consequently experienced great difficulty in controlling them, and had almost no success in instilling any education. On leaving for her Christmas holidays in December of that year, she was told her services would no longer be required.59n  The Inghams had decided they needed to find some other mode of care and tuition for their offspring. The whole episode was so traumatic for Anne, she reproduced it in almost perfect detail in her later novel, Agnes Grey; where Blake Hall became 'Wellwood House' (though the name was almost certainly taken from Mirfield's Wellhouse Chapel: where the Moravian minister, James La Trobe, came from when he visited her at Roe Head School - detailed above), and the Inghams were authentically depicted under the guise of 'the Bloomfield family'.

Joshua Ingham is reputed to have been a tyrannical father - ruling his children by fear. He, himself, had a Puritan and patriarchal upbringing where 'women were thought of as wholly subordinate' (he probably wouldn't go down too well in today's 'women's lib' circles!). His wife, Mary Ingham (nee. Cunliffe), while giving no support to Anne in the controlling and disciplining of their horrendous children, was otherwise, very kind to her.

Joshua Ingham died on 16 May 1866 at the age of 64; his wife, Mary, reached the ripe old age of 88, dying on 17 September 1899.

   The Blake Hall Estate Today  (including relevant quotes from Agnes Grey)

John Brown was the sexton at Haworth church for a twenty year period during the Brontës' time. He was also a stonemason, carving headstones for the churchyard, and he lived, for many years, in the house adjoining the Sunday School - just beside the church. His daughter, Martha, worked as a servant at the Parsonage for over 30 years. John Brown became a very close friend, drinking companion, and confidant of Branwell, who painted this picture of him sometime between 1835 - 1839. Brown died in August 1855 (just 4 months after Charlotte) at the age of 51.
John Brown - by Branwell Brontė
John Brown
(Oil on canvas - by Branwell Brontë)

Copyright © 1999 Michael Armitage

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