Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Harsh words

Juliet Barker, perhaps the Bronte's most respected biographer, doesn't seem to like modern Haworth. In her book The Brontes she doesn't mince her words:

"Haworth itself has become a monument to the grosser excesses of the tourism industry: the village, surrounded by a sea of car parks, is choked with coaches and cars; the shops, with a few honourable exceptions serving the people who live there, are full of tat, prostituting the Bronte name. It is the power of the legend, not the reality that continues to lure visitors to Haworth".

Usage of the Bronte name hasn't done her so bad though!


  1. Juliet Barker is, of course, spot on with her summing up of Haworth. The quote you have reproduced is from the first edition of her book, published in 1994, so hardly anything new - not sure why you've suddenly thought it was worthy of mentioning now. A revised edition of the book appeared in 2010. Juliet Barker told me she had considered re-writing the paragraph you refer to, given the passing of the years. So she had a walk around the village and came to the conclusion that nothing much had changed (though she did say she felt some of the shops had improved) - so she basically left the original 1994 description as was, inserting 'often' before "choked with..." and "and cafes" after "the shops". By the way, she also told me that the smell of chip fat on Changegate and the noisy buskers also irritated her - again, couldn't agree more. So, to sum up, she knows what she's talking about and you are using a quote that is from 1994. I am happy to expand on this if you like. As a resident of Haworth I have some strong views on the subject.

  2. THIS POST IS IN AT LEAST TWO PARTS DUE TO ITS LENGTH (4,096 characters is the limit per post)

    It’s 10 years since I wrote about my love affair with Haworth. My somewhat gushing thoughts almost filled a whole page in a regional magazine. That was just before we - my long-suffering wife, our over-indulged dog and ragbag collection of horses - moved from Oxfordshire to the wuthering heights of Bronte Country. A decade later we are still here.

    We still love the place, will always love Haworth – the breathtaking moorland, Top Withens when there’s no-one there but the sheep, the elevated ‘terrace’ at the Black Bull, the perfect place for a pint whilst spying on the “tea and wee brigade” (the label given to tight-fisted tourists by disgruntled, disillusioned Main Street traders).

    What me and the missus and the dog fell in love with back then was the ruddy Yorkshireness of it all. Whether you are a posh lass from the dreaming spires or some bit of rough from Sheffield it doesn’t matter. So when I said to her: “Why don’t we leave the South behind and bog off to wild West Yorkshire? Let’s buy a little shop” etc etc, she couldn’t say no. So we upped sticks, hit Haworth, didn’t buy a shop, did buy a little cottage near the old train station, then moved up the hill into the heart of the village. We’re glad we came. But there’s a but. And it’s a big ‘un.

    What I am about to say - nay to type - and what you, Dear Reader, are about to read, may shock and stun you: it’s just a shame about the people – yes, the very thing, the quintessential thing, that is supposed to make Yorkshire great. Its people. Those people who are the sodding backbone of God’s Own County, you know, like the bloody Pennines.

    I do need to qualify this – there are and have been some sound, kind, funny and lovely genuine people we have had the good fortune to meet. Curmudgeons, some, but loveable nevertheless and better for it (that’s you Gordon wherever you are! And anyway it takes one to know one).

    But we have encountered too many individuals on the cobbles (alright, setts you pedants!) who only reinforce the notion that this tiny part of the West Riding is indeed a misanthropist’s heaven. And don’t blame the infamous clampers – I’ve never met nicer people. Seriously. Yes, chief clamper George did have a big scary Rottweiler called Tyson but he was soft as sh*** and George was a gent once you got to know him. That ASBO never stuck anyway. More on ‘Carstoppers’ later!

    Emily Bronte wasn’t daft. She knew an a***hole when she met one. I do think if she was walking up and down Main Street with Anne and Charlotte today they would quickly do as they did back then – leg it back to the Parsonage as fast as their tiny feet would carry them, slam the door shut, lock it, double lock it, draw those lovely old damask curtains and get stuck into some escapism, or vodka. Or just go upstairs, open a window and shout some ‘poetic’ abuse at passers by. I don’t know if the Bronte sisters actually swore out loud (though I am certain they knew a lot of filthy stuff) but, God, if they encountered some of the people who populate Haworth these days, the F-word would have been resounding far beyond the boundaries of that dead churchyard.

    For us, the last decade has seen a lot of the people we knew leave the village, either on a bus or in a box. These were real characters who had been here much longer than us - people who weren’t perfect by any stretch, beautifully-flawed in fact. But they were genuine. They didn’t all come from Yorkshire – it’s not a pre-requisite. Chuffin ‘ell, imagine if a local bye-law existed that made it compulsory to be dyed in t’wool Yorkshire and everybody who lived here were all t’same. Now that would be some sort of Hell, like living on Pitcairn. Or in Todmorden. (to be continued)

  3. (continued from previous post...)

    The people who have replaced them have invariably been offcumdens (like us) and that’s fine but it’s not about where you come from, it’s what you’re like, your attitude, outlook, personality (if only) and probably some business acumen might help, like knowing what time to open your shop and what time to close it, and on which days of the week, and how many slaves to employ. It’s all become so bloody petit-bourgeois. Snobby. And too expensive. Of course everybody has had to cope with the recession, it’s been tough, and me and my good lady have run our own businesses and we know how hard it is, so don’t start!

    There are lots of dots on lots of maps that make Haworth look a bit rubbish. Hebden Bridge for instance. Bit of a drug-problem (allegedly) but what a brilliantly vibrant place to visit. You need diversity. It’s good for business and good for the soul. Too many folk round here live in a microcosm of mediocrity. They surreptitiously bitch and spit vitriol but expertly switch to a smile and hello as you walk by. The traders sabotage each other in the name of competition. Honest, passionate communication is lost, replaced by mealy-mouthed mutterings and pernicious rumour-mongering. There ain’t a wooden spoon big enough!!
    Good old-fashioned gossip is different, it’s endemic, an art form though now part of the Protection from Harassment Act (1997). Policing it in Haworth is futile, mind. So voracious is the tittle-tattle that if you fart at the top of Main Street, by the time you’re half way down, you’ve sh** yourself (lol!). What has happened to folks’ sense of humour? Nowt’s funny any more. I’ve tried everything – irony, sarcasm, self-deprecation - not a titter, except from my old mate Barry, but he laughs at owt.

    Haworth is in a sorry state – and I am not the first to suggest this (English Heritage for one and Barbara who used to live down the road for another, and she knew what she was talking about). Some of the shopkeepers, café owners and landlords don’t seem to care. Greed, selfishness and insularity permeate almost every crack on Main Street, where deluded claims of ‘homemade’ and ‘upmarket collectables’ translate as ‘Tesco cook-in sauce (Value range)’ and ‘Made in China’, bought off eBay.

    It’s not just the paucity of creativity. There are some basic practical things that are simply overlooked. Take the ‘infrastructure’– two shambolic footpaths which lead you uncertainly into the village from the top car parks. Might be a good idea to grit them in the winter and pick up the dog poo in the summer. Just a thought. It’s little wonder that so many tourists think Haworth is just a coach trip to the Edinburgh Woollen Mill with no need to go any further. There isn’t much to entice them, that’s the truth, apart from the smell of old chip fat maybe. It’s all too bland, too boring, unless you’re under the spell of the Brontes. (more follows...)

  4. (part 3, from previous post)

    And let’s lay to rest a Haworth myth: the clampers do not deter tourists. That’s just a red herring perpetuated by blame-culture traders and people with a grudge against someone who is actually running a successful business! I have no connection with Carstoppers owner Ted Evans and his crew other than they nearly clamped me once when I lingered too long in The (award-winning) Fleece. I won’t make that mistake again, mainly because I’ve been barred after a deeply philosophical debate with the mine host. I do miss me Ram Tam...

    Occasionally a bit of sun shines through the gloom – a new venture opens that isn’t a café or tacky gift shop, but not very often. Haworth has become an homogenized mess. Maybe one day that Bronte Bondage shop I’ve dreamed about will open its doors (with a section for ramblers of course), a nice Asian family will set up shop and receive a warm welcome from the Traders’ Association. And the Parsonage will be so packed they’ll be queuing down Changegate to get in. I can dream…

    You don’t have to take my word for it. Afterall I’m just a humble ex-BBC journalist who’s made a lot of mistakes along the way, and not just typos. But as an ace local reporter in my day (okay in Devon, my Pitman’s was a bit ropey and my ‘company car’ was a Morris Minor but it still counts) I have studied the human race in great detail, especially in peculiar little communities (you never forget Torrington, ever).

    Juliet Barker does observation and analysis a bit better than me. A revered author, historian - and very nice woman - she knows more than a little about Bronteland; she’s been immersed in it for most of her life and was curator and librarian at the Bronte Parsonage Museum for six years. And she went to University, a proper one.

    So this is her opinion, from her monumental book “The Brontes”, first published in 1994 and updated in November 2010. Juliet told me that one of the revisions she considered for the new edition was amending a paragraph describing her feelings about Haworth - but then she had a walk round to freshen her memory and decided to stick with what she concluded 16 years ago, which is this:

    “Haworth itself has become a monument to the grosser excesses of the tourism industry: the village, surrounded by a sea of car parks, is often choked with coaches and cars; the shops and cafes, with a few honourable exceptions serving the people who live there, are full of tat, prostituting the Bronte name. It is the power of the legend, not the reality, that continues to lure the visitor to Haworth.”

    Couldn’t have put it better myself. (She also told me she was “irritated by the buskers” but that’s not in the book!)

    * The Brontes by Juliet Barker (revised and updated edition) published November 2010, Abacus.

  5. I could not agree more.
    I posted the blog because I was researching Juliet Barker and thought the comment may attract reaction. I'm so glad it did.
    As another off cummed journalist, who briefly ran a shop here (without tac,)I identify with so much of what you have said.