Haworth, West Yorkshire – St Michael and All Angels

We had arranged to start 2019 by meeting friends at 11.30 for a ride on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway. We overslept. We met our friends off the train at 12.30, then realised the steepness of the hill in Haworth. There is a disabled parking space in the car park by the Parsonage, but no flat access out of the car park unless you push along the road. It wouldn’t be rocket science to get rid of these three steps. We found a café and had a good lunch – Haworth is busy, even in January.

We went into St Michael and All Angels – SE 030373. They have a website at http://www.haworthchurch.co.uk, and strive to have the church open all the time. I did have a smile that the first poster I saw was for a Burns’ Supper – now I’m really getting confused … We got a nice welcome, and had an explore. There’s some good photos at http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/yorkshire/west_yorkshire/haworth/index.html

There is written evidence of a C14 church on this site – there may well have been an earlier building. The bottom of the church tower dates to this period.

The church website says “In  1742 William Grimshaw, who was a close friend of John Wesley, became curate at Haworth. He was an enthusiastic and hard working curate, preaching as many as 30 times a week. He was also not averse to leaving his services and driving men out of the many public houses at the top of Haworth to listen to his long sermons. Haworth legend says that he even used a whip in order to encourage people out of the pubs into the church.” I must warn the Red Cow in Allestree that it will be my new technique (the CofE could list it as a “fresh expression”). “In 1755 the church was enlarged to accommodate the many people who wanted to attend” says the website, interesting definition of the word “want”!

Patrick Bronte became priest in 1820 and moved to the Parsonage with his family. His workload was incredible, and he was a conscientious parish priest. To quote the website “he baptised an average of 290 people per year, but due to the high mortality rate and the fact that the average life expectancy was just 22 years of age with 40% of children dying before the age of 6, Bronte also performed over 100 funerals per year.” As I commented in my magazine, I must not moan about my workload. Patrick Bronte died in 1861 at the age of 84, having outlived his entire family. He served the parish for 41 years, the longest serving incumbent they have had. In 1845 Arthur Bell Nicholls had been appointed as a curate. He later married Charlotte Bronte, and due to Patrick’s failing eyesight he soon took over the bulk of the official church duties.

By the 1870s the church was unsafe and unsanitary – water from the huge graveyard was seeping through the floor. It was decided to take down the old church building and build a new one, and there was a national outcry. The church had already become a place of Bronte pilgrimage.

The foundation stone of the present church was laid on Christmas Day 1879 by Michael Merrall, a local mill owner. He contributed £5,000 of the £7,000 needed. A couple of stained glass windows are dedicated to his memory – I think that these two figures in the West Window are members of the Merrall family (but I can’t find the guidebook).

I had a look at the rest of the stained glass as I worked my way round the church. The War Memorial window has Sir Galahad – don’t think I’ve ever seen him on a war memorial before. The East Window has some good glass with the Te Deum.

I liked the Epiphany window, the colours of the angels, a man handing out bread, and Mary serving at table – nice plaits.

Font and pulpit look like a pair, and there is an interesting painting high above the Chancel arch – it needs a proper clean and display. There’s one under the tower too, but I didn’t get a photo of it.

There are some Bronte memorials too. How many words on a memorial tablet? No doubt northernreader – and if you haven’t read my wife’s blog, have a look at https://northernreader.wordpress.com/ – can tell me if his daughters were paid by the word.

I had a good chat with the couple on duty, who turned out to be churchwarden and wife. We talked about the difficulty of staffing the church so it is always open, and the problem of finding a second churchwarden. Asking a parish to staff a major tourist attraction without enough resources to do it … are we ever going to work together to handle our tourism ministry? The Diocese of Leeds, covering one of the most tourist-areas of England, has nothing about “Visiting churches” or “Tourism” on its website.

I walked round the churchyard. Apparently there are estimated to be 42,000 burials in the graveyard. Many of the graves from the time of the Bronte family hold entire families including a number of infants – I cannot imagine the toll that must take on the clergy, and we forget the toll of living in a town like this. It was not a rural idyll.

We walked up past the Old School Room to the Parsonage Museum.

We went into the Parsonage Museum. It is not a Julie-friendly building, but the lovely staff did their best to get Julie into the ground floor. I have to say they could do a bit of work to make it more accessible, though I doubt fully accessible will ever work. You could imagine Patrick doing parish business in one room, the sisters writing in another – and their father telling them not to stay up too late as he walked up the stairs and wound the clock on his way to bed.

It is slightly ironic that normal admission to the Parsonage is £8.50. With that level of income they can afford paid staff and put a lot of money into the “visitor experience” (to use the jargon). Funny how we expect the church to be there, free to enter, but we’ll pay to visit the parsonage.

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