|(This item was posted to the Brontë Mailing List in October 1996)|
|This is an account of some of the more interesting things I saw, experienced
and learned on my long-awaited self-promised day trip to Thorp Green/Little
Ouseburn. For those who read through it I hope it proves of some interest!
As a re-cap, Thorp Green Hall was where Anne worked as governess to the Robinson children between 1840 and 1845. She was joined there in 1843 by Branwell who took over from Anne as tutor to the young Edmund Robinson (jnr.). Shortly after Anne resigned in 1845, Branwell was dismissed as a result of his affair with Mrs. Robinson being discovered by her husband, the Rev. Edmund Robinson (this incident is believed to have been the main cause of Branwell's decline which ultimately led to his death). The Hall became 'Horton Lodge' in Anne's novel 'Agnes Grey', and here Agnes became governess to the Murray children.
Before setting out, I had discovered that, sadly, the original 'Thorp Green Hall' had burned down sometime in the latter half of the last century, and consequently, was not sure what I would find on my arrival.
Armed with various O.S. maps, both current and Victorian; some appropriate Bronteana; a camera; a flask of tea and some sarnies, I set off in the old jalopy. After about an hour of travelling I approached the 'Thorp Green' area (now more commonly known as 'Thorp Underwoods') travelling eastwards along the narrow, 1·25 mile long, 'Score Ray Lane'. This is the lane that Anne and Branwell would have used on their journey to and from 'Thorp Green Hall'. After negotiating a tight 'S' bend about half way along the lane, I eventually approached the lane junction. Here, 'Score Ray Lane' makes a gradual 90° turn to the left and becomes 'Thorp Green Lane' - making its way northward to Little Ouseburn. On the right is the junction of 'Moss Hill Lane' which heads in a south-easterly direction.
My maps indicated that the area on my right - approaching, and up to the junction, was the site of 'Thorp Green Hall'. This whole area was enclosed by a large brick wall. Over the top of the wall I could make out what appeared to be a large old mansion surrounded by various other buildings. The main entrance was blocked by two large, solid-wood gates - the outside of the gates being monitored by a security camera. Several Plaques were mounted on the wall beside the gates. One indicated that these premises were (as I later found out - the relatively new) 'Queen Ethelberga's (who the hell is Queen Ethelberger?) private boarding college for girls'. Another Plaque indicated that this is where Anne and Branwell taught the Robinson children, and the place which she had re-produced in her novel, 'Agnes Grey'. A third plaque made it very clear that these premises were 'NOT OPEN TO THE PUBLIC'.
Consistent with my usual disposition of not letting such obstacles get in my way, I found a side entrance leading into the staff car park, and from there, a short pathway winding its way towards the 'Mansion'. The 'Mansion' was surrounded by many smaller, apparently more modern, brick buildings - the whole being set in very elegant grounds - winding paths weaving their way around beautiful flower gardens and lawns with several ornamental ponds and fountains. As I approached the 'Mansion' I was very aware of security camera's all around and was half expecting to be pounced on, at any moment, by an avalanche of security guys. There were quite a few young ladies moving here and there - some entering the 'Mansion' by operating a 'key-pad' security lock on the main door. I made my way to the door, rang the bell and waited. Presently a lady opened the door, and after informing her that I was on an 'Anne Brontë history tour', and could she give me any information about the area - she beckoned me inside.
The sheer elegance of the interior was stunning - I can only describe it as being like something that might match the interior of Buckingham Palace. Just inside the entrance were two full size stuffed tigers standing either side of a gorgeous antique grandfather clock. Beautifully coloured fitted carpets covered all floors in the building (I was later told some had been custom made so as to match the coloured pattern-work on the ceilings.) Fabulously carved fire-places, beautiful oak panelling lined many of the walls, elegant chandeliers hung from the ceilings. The place even had an indoor heated swimming pool. I got the stark impression that this was definitely a college for millionaire's daughters! The lady led me through the hall and up the stairway to the Principle's office.
After introducing himself, the Principle told me he owned the whole establishment, and from there he also ran the county's largest insurance company for horses and something else (can't remember what, now). After a brief chat about Anne and Branwell, he informed me that the original 'Thorp Green Hall' had burned down in 1898 and this current 'Hall' (now called 'Thorp Underwood Hall' - the building I have hitherto referred to as the 'Mansion'), which is a similar size but somewhat different in appearance, had been built a few years later adjacent to the old foundations. Many Oak beams from the original Hall had been used in its construction. He subsequently took me on a 'guided tour' around the college and grounds.
As already mentioned, many new buildings had been erected around the 'Mansion' - all part of the college. One of these buildings has been named 'Bronte Hall' to commemorate Anne's and Branwell's connections with the premises. About 40 yards to the east of the 'Mansion' stands an old brick wall about 40' long and 8' high. This currently acts as a dividing wall amongst the gardens. It seems this is all that remains of the original 'Thorp Green Hall' and was almost certainly part of the 'east side-wall' of the building. It is believed that Anne's bedroom was in this 'east wing'. She would have overlooked the ornamental 'fish pond' - which still remains. The pond is very formal - circular in shape, and about 30' diameter with crystal clear water which provides a home for around 20 large ornamental fish - very impressive. Not far beyond the pond (further to the east) and over the boundary wall runs 'Moss Hill Lane' (already mentioned). In 'Agnes Grey', Agnes' bedroom overlooks 'Moss Lane' along which she sees one of the local vicars - 'Mr. Hatfield' - walk on his way to and from the church. About 100 yards to the north of the fish pond, close to the lane junction, stands a smaller building known as the 'Monk's Lodge'. This is the original out-building in which Branwell lived while in the Robinson's employ (he didn't live in the main 'Hall' as Anne did!). The Principle informed me that it was currently his home and it had recently undergone total renovation, though its original appearance had been retained. I later realised that the current 'Thorp Underwood Hall' had been modelled on the 'Monk's Lodge' - appearing as a much larger and more elegant version of it.
After leaving the premises - I proceeded to survey the surrounding area: I had read in Anne's biography that unlike Haworth the area was relatively flat (which is quite true) and had imagined that this would have made it a rather boring place to explore; however, I made a point of walking along sections of the lanes and across various fields and paths that, no doubt, Anne would have walked along, and found it surprisingly pleasant. The area is very rural, and I suspect little changed since Anne's days. It comprises a mixture of open fields; some with grass, some farming fields with sheep or plantings of corn and the like. There are odd trees scattered around, and in some directions slightly more heavily wooded areas. Several streams meander through the fields and woods - making their way to the 'River Ouse' which passes by about half a mile to the east. Solitary cottages and farms are scattered here and there. Some of the lanes, which are quite narrow, have slightly raised embankments and various sized hedges. I found I was spoiled for choice as to which direction to take next. Here is Agnes' description of the area shortly after she first arrives at 'Horton Lodge':
As already mentioned, from the lane junction just outside 'Thorp Underwood Hall'' (the college), 'Thorp Green Lane' leads northwards, gently meandering its way between the fields in the direction of 'Little Ouseburn'. The lane is quite narrow - two cars could barely squeeze past each other. Some sections of the lane have slightly raised embankments, the heights of which vary from a few inches to a few feet, and some hedges varying from a few feet to about five feet high with the odd tree scattered along the way.
A little way along the lane, on the right, is the site of 'Stripe houses' - in Anne's time there were something like fourteen cottages in this area - no trace of which remain. These cottages were the property of the Robinsons who rented them out to local farmers. In 'Agnes Grey' they were occupied by poor farmers who were tenants of the Murrays. The Murray children used to visit some of these people and sometimes insisted that their governess, Agnes, accompanied them. Consequently Agnes made friends with some of the tenants and visited them herself during her free time. It is not recorded, but I suspect that this is another 'auto- biographical' aspect of 'Agnes Grey', and that Anne herself did likewise. Agnes writes:
I had clocked about one and a quarter miles when I reached the junction of a lane on the left which led into the pretty village of Little Ouseburn. Ignoring this junction and continuing along Thorp Green Lane for about another quarter mile brought me face-to-face with 'Little Ouseburn Church'. (Agnes states: 'We were situated nearly two miles from the village church, and, consequently, the family carriage was put in requisition every Sunday morning, and sometimes oftener.') At this point the lane turns sharply to the right - immediately passing over a small, Georgian, hump-back bridge. This bridge is believed to have been the subject of one of Anne's drawings. It does bear some resemblance to Anne's 'bridge' sketch, but some of the detail is different. It is possible that Anne drew it at some later date from memory - thus explaining the slight inaccuracies.
Immediately over the bridge the lane turns sharp left so it is, once again, leading northward; and it runs almost parallel to, and about fifteen feet from the small Ouse Gill 'beck' which flows beneath the humped-back bridge. It was from the grassy bank on this 'other side of the beck' where Anne did her drawing of the church. I found that by positioning myself such that the alignment of certain points on the church appeared the same as the corresponding points in Anne's drawing, it was possible to locate where Anne sat, sketching the scene, to within a couple of feet. I had to wade through a bed of nettles to reach this place - and got my legs stung in the process, but it was worth it to be able to stand on that very spot. In the churchyard, close to the church, is a small, impressive, dome-shaped mausoleum. Edward Chitham (Anne's biographer) states that Anne's sketch 'omits the Thompson mausoleum', but from this location it cannot be seen - being hidden behind the church. The view of the church from here is now partly obscured by some small shrubby trees that have sprung up in the boggy area surrounding the beck, which is now somewhat smaller than when Anne drew it, and is sunk into a slight ditch. Moving a few yards to the left gives an unimpeded view of the church. About ten feet behind the 'spot' where Anne sat is the lane - where I subsequently sat having my tea and sarnies!
Edward Chitham claims that the church must surely have pleased Anne - I'll go along with this - I was quite impressed with it myself. The structure itself, interior and out, along with the small surrounding graveyard can be described as nothing other than extremely quaint. The church dates from the twelfth century and certainly radiates a very ancient air - both inside and out. A small booklet inside the church gives a brief history of the building and indicates that this is where Anne and the Robinsons worshipped - as did Agnes and the Murrays in Anne's novel. It was here where Agnes first encountered the new vicar, 'Edward Weston', whom she falls in love with and - I could say more here but don't want to spoil the novel for anyone has not yet read it! The Robinsons had their own 'reserved' box pew, and a diagram in the booklet indicates where this was. Beneath this location is the vault where Edmund Robinson (jnr.), the lad who had been tutored, initially by Anne, and subsequently by Branwell, is buried, and a large wall plaque indicates that he was drowned in a boating accident while crossing the nearby river Ure at a time when it was flooded - during 1869. He was aged 37.
Despite the fact that I was alone in the church and had seen no other obvious 'tourists' - or just about anyone for that matter throughout the day (except at 'Thorp Underwood Hall'), a visitor book inside the church indicated that during the previous few weeks alone, there had been visits by people from many parts of the world - America, Canada, Australia - and quite a few from Japan. I was quite surprised to discover that so many Brontë pilgrimages are made to this area.
Originally, my plan was to travel to York after spending a few hours around Thorp Green, but the area proved so interesting I spent the whole day there - a very enjoyable day it was too!