I first conceived of the Brontë Stones project in October 2013 while taking a group of writers along another literary trail. I live in Thornton and have long wanted my village to receive recognition for its place in the Brontë story. All three literary sisters and their wayward brother were born here. I thought about the journey they took in 1820, over to Haworth. They were a happy family, but very shortly, after their move to Haworth, tragedy struck. First the death of Maria, the mother, then the two oldest siblings.
I was also aware that Anne Brontë was buried in Scarborough many miles away from the rest of her family and I wanted a stone to mark her return. Emily’s stone had to be somewhere suitably bleak, up on the moors. Charlotte would have had a living memory of her house in Thornton, and I wanted her stone to be part of the very fabric of the building. Then a fourth stone, somewhere obscure, perhaps marking Branwell’s act of painting himself out of the picture. And so I started to put the project together in my mind. There would be a linear walk, from the birthplace to Haworth. It would take in all four stones which would be carved with contemporary writing from some of the most prestigious writers around. Then there would be three linear walks to feature each of the sisters.
In February 1978 I had just turned seven years old and I was fascinated by the number one single at the time, the debut record by Kate Bush called ‘Wuthering Heights’. I’d just received a tape recorder for Christmas and I filled a C60 cassette with the song. I don’t really know why this song obsessed me so much. It must have been the lyrics. I wanted to know who Cathy was and why she wanted to be let in at the window and not the door like normal people. I must have sensed she was a ghost. But not much else. My mother, who had read the book, explained it to me. Like Nelly, telling the oral tale to Mr Lockwood, my mother, told the tale to me. I was gripped by this cuckoo in the nest narrative, but it wasn’t until my teens that I read the book for myself and fully connected with it. It has been my favourite novel ever since, leading me to write my own tribute, Ill Will, which describes Heathcliff’s missing years.
As for the Brontë Stones project, In 2014 I put a funding bid together and applied to the Arts Council. The first bid was unsuccessful, but I persisted. The Arts Council suggested that I collaborate with the Bradford Literature Festival, and I met up with the directors and discussed the idea. They were keen to support my project. I put together a list of writers I’d like to work with and slowly we managed to commission some of the most eminent writers around. Carol Ann Duffy, the Poet Laureate, would write for the Charlotte Stone. Jackie Kay, the Scottish Maker, would write for the Anne Stone. Jeanette Winterson, award winning writer, the Brontë Stone. Most excitingly for me, fulfilling a childhood dream, Kate Bush would write the text that would be cut into the Emily Stone. I wanted to commission a letter carver of some renown and my research led me to the work of Pip Hall. Pip has a long history of working on literary projects, such as the Stanza Stones, and Jane Austen’s House Museum, and seemed perfect for this project. I was delighted when the writers and Pip all agreed to come on board.
I approached Michelle and Mark De Luca, the owners of the Brontë Birthplace, and asked them if they would be interested in having a commemorative stone outside the building. They said they could do better than that. I could cut a window in the wall and place the stone there. I approached the Brontë Parsonage and asked if they would give permission for a stone close to the Parsonage. They had the perfect spot, a wild meadow behind the museum, close to the graveyard and the church. I searched the moors, looking for Emily’s stone. It had to be remote, it had to be somewhere Emily would stop and cogitate, far from the teeming streets of Haworth. I wanted the Brontë Stone, to be somewhere obscure, and I think I’ve found a very suitable place.
I then set about devising the walks, traipsing across meadow and moor, over and over again, until I was happy with the routes. Each of the walks had to be pertinent to each of the sisters. They had to reflect in some way, the essence of their personalities. I hope I’ve achieved that. I also wanted the walks to be different lengths and different levels of difficulties, so that they would appeal to a broad group of walkers, from family ramblers, to more seasoned trekkers.
I admire the maps of the cartographer Chris Goddard, who makes beautiful bespoke drawings, very much in the Wainwright tradition, and so I approached him and commissioned him to realise these maps in his exquisite style. The launch event will take place on Saturday 7th of July at The Bradford Literature Festival, and will feature an evening with the commissioned writers. The following day, on Sunday 8th of July, I will take a group of walkers along the linear walk from the birthplace in Thornton to Haworth, in the footsteps of the Brontës, recreating the walk they all took in 1820. A walk through the landscape, through literature and history. Look out also for lots of events during Emily’s Bicentenary weekend at the Parsonage. Details will be available soon.
More information and tickets here: https://www.bradfordlitfest.co.uk/events/
This project has been supported by:
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