Brontë Shirley Guide Launched To Boost Tourism In Kirklees

By Richard Moss | 20 April 2006
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a photograph of the front of brochure with a photograph of a building and an oval portrait of a woman

The new brochure traces Charlotte’s life and inspiration through sites across the Spen Valley and surrounding area, from historic Red House and Oakwell Hall to churchyards, pubs, hotels and mill sites. © Kirklees Community History Service

Charlotte Brontë will be returning to Yorkshire this summer when a new visitor’s guide is launched to promote her life in and around the Spen Valley together with the places that inspired her novel Shirley.

The guide, Shirley Country, is to be launched on Friday May 19 2006 with the arrival of ‘Charlotte Brontë’ and other costumed characters in a horse and carriage at Oakwell Hall. Here, the Mayor of Kirklees, Councillor Margaret Fearnley and invited guests will greet her.

A day of dramatisations from the novel Shirley together with visits to key locations, all of which are featured in the guide, will round off the day.

an oval portrait of a woman with neat centre parted blonde hair wearing a dress with a lace collar and a red ribbon around her neck

Charlotte Brontë was a regular visitor to the Spen Valley and many of its local people and locations later 'appeared' in her novel Shirley© Kirklees Community History Service

Local tourist chiefs are hoping the new guide will kick-start an increased interest in the area, which is a significant location for Brontë enthusiasts. Thousands of tourists already visit the Brontë family home at nearby Haworth, which together with its museum has become designated heart of Brontë country.

“The Brontës are a great asset to Kirklees,” said Helen Rowe, Senior Tourism Officer of Kirklees Council. “We hope this guide encourages people from around the region to discover more about the connections here and the wealth of attractions on offer in the area.”

Compiled by Kirklees Tourism in conjunction with the Kirklees Community History Service, the guide features information, directions and a map of 14 public sites that form the Spen Valley’s Shirley Country.

a photograph of a large Georgian period red brick house with sash windows set within a a formal garden

As the home of Charlotte’s close lifelong friend Mary Taylor, Red House played a significant role in Charlotte’s life and in the novel Shirley. © Kirklees Community History Service

Covering Birstall, Gomersall, Mirfield, Liversidge and Dewsbury, the guide also contains a wealth of information on local places of interest to tourists as well as a section on Brontë-linked locations that have been demolished or are part of private estates.

Charlotte Brontë was born in Thornton, Yorkshire in 1816. After the death of her mother she moved, together with her sisters, brother and clergyman father to Haworth amid the Yorkshire moors in 1820.

It was while at Haworth that the Brontë children created imaginary kingdoms, which in turn inspired them to write some of the most famous and successful novels of the Victorian era, among them Jane Eyre (Charlotte), Wuthering Heights (Emily) and Shirley.

a screen shot of a hand drawn map with a key numbers and dawings on it

A map in the guide features everything from museums and gardens to churches and pubs. © Kirklees Community History Service

Shirley caused a sensation when it was published in 1849 by presenting the British reading public with one of the first, fully developed, independent, brave and outspoken heroines in English literature. It has, together with other novels in the Brontë canon, gone on to sell millions worldwide.

20,000 copies of the Shirley Country guide have been produced to introduce Brontë fans to some of locations that inspired the novel. These will be distributed Yorkshire-wide with copies also available at Kirklees Council sites, including Oakwell Hall and Red House, which already boasts a Brontë exhibition.

The two locations are integral to the book. Oakwell Hall was the inspiration for Fieldhead, while Red House was the bricks and mortar muse for Briarmins – the family home of the Yorkes who were based on the Taylors. The latter were a family of cloth merchants and Charlotte was a friend of their daughter Mary.

a photograph of a large Georgian period stone house set within a manicured garden

The splendid Elizabethan manorhouse of Oakwell Hall inspired Charlotte’s description of ‘Fieldhead’ in Shirley, the home of heroine ‘Shirley Keeldar’. © Kirklees Community History Service

“This guide traces Charlotte’s links not only with Red House and Oakwell Hall but with churches, pubs, hotels and mill sites,” said Joanne Catlow of the Kirklees Community History Service.

“By using the map and the information in the guide visitors can create their own literary trail. We are delighted to have been involved in its production and to be hosting the launch at our museums.”

A public event to mark the launch of the Shirley Country guide is being held at Red House on Sunday May 21. For more information email Joanne Catlow at the Kirklees Community History Service: Joanne.catlow@kirklees.gov.uk

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