Thursday, 29 June 2017

Reflections on Branwell Bronte

Monday just gone was the bicentenary of Branwell Bronte, brother of of the famous Bronte sisters.
Those who know me, know that for most of the last two years, and for a not inconsiderable part of the years immediately preceding,  my life has been largely taken up by Branwell and his work - both his creative work, and his professional endeavours, including the years spent on the railways at Sowerby Bridge and Luddenden Foot, which formed the inspiration for my film, A Humble Station? Branwell Bronte's Calder Valley Years

Themed around Juliet Barker's acclaimed biography The Brontes, the film brings together contemporary Calder Valley artists, writers and residents to celebrate his local, and wider, legacy. I have written of the film elsewhere on this site, but suffice to say for here that its completion has been the summit of two tremendously industrious years on behalf of myself and my co-filmmaker Alan Wrigley, who filmed and edited A Humble Station?, and who wrote an original suite of majestic music for the film, as well as a beautiful song performed by Sowerby Bridge based singer and musician Amy-Rose Atkinson.  While Branwell's reputation as a heavy drinking black sheep of the family, and the tragedy of his early death, are well known, we wanted to re-focus public eyes on some of the lesser known aspects of his life, such as his poetry and paintings - and the film also centrally features railways and their significance to Branwell 


And interviews and poetry from Juliet Barker, Ann Dinsdale of The Bronte Parsonage, and artists such as actor and writer Caroline Lamb:

 and award winning poet Steve Nash, author of the Caterpillar Poetry collection The Calder Valley Codex: well as taking in interviews with other local people, such as at Luddenden's Lord Nelson, the 18th Century inn which Branwell frequented (and where he enjoyed the company of poets and musicians, taking advantage of the library which shared the premises, and was the first lending library in the Ridings area)

 ...while being, we hope, an apt tribute to the valley, its history and landscapes.

Branwell was born in Thornton, now part of Bradford, and, having launched the film in Halifax, it was here in the town of his birth that I brought it on the eve of his bicentenary.

The film was broadcast at St James Church, opposite the site of the original Bell Chapel, at which Branwell's father Patrick ministered from 1815 to 1820.


On the Branwell's bicentenary its self, we took the film to Haworth, where of course Branwell and his family lived for most of their lives.  I called in to raise a birthday drink for Branwell at his former haunt, The Black Bull:

...though I have no doubt he would have been disappointed in me for it was only a black coffee.



 The attractively patterned carpet at The Black Bull:

 And the carpet as Branwell would have known it:

Unexpectedly, at the top of a staircase in the Bull, can be found Branwell's old chair,  which - to quote poet Genevieve L Walsh in the film - "has a real shipwreck-like quality about it."

Tourists come in all shapes and sizes to Haworth:

 From the Black Bull, the Parsonage is only a short walk through the churchyard, and was a pefect location for the screening of A Humble Station? on Branwell Bronte's birthday.

 It is always a joy to visit the Parsonage, and to take a look at one of my favourites of Branwell's paintings - a copy of a picture by American painter Washington Allston, Jacob's Dream.

The original:

Branwell's version, in the Parsonage:

The Parsonage is currently host to a wonderful exhibition featuring clothes and props from Sally Wainwright's recent BBC Bronte drama To Walk Invisible, and Branwell's old room - featured in my film - is set out as it might have been when he was there.

But what was especially touching about the day, was that the Parsonage had arranged for staff and volunteers to plant a rose bush specially chosen for Branwell:

 I will be taking A Humble Station? on the road throughout summer and autumn, with our next screenings due to be listed on this site and  very soon.  A dvd will be available by the end of the year.  There are also continued activities planned here and further afield to continue the celebrations of Branwell's legacy.  But for my part, I think I will leave it for Branwell himself to have the final say, in one of my favourites of his poems.

Amid the world's wide din around
I hear from far a solemn sound
that says Remember Me

I when I heard it sat amid
The bustle of a town like room
Neath skies with smoke-stained vapours hid,
By windows made to show their gloom-
The desk that held my ledger book
Beneath the thundering rattle shook
Of engines passing by
The bustle of the approaching train
Was all I hoped to rouse the brain
Or startle apathy.

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