On the way home from Lytham I stopped off a Gawthorpe Hall at Padiham to see a Bronte location. I had a fried egg muffin and a coffee in the motorhome and strolled up the long drive to see the house. It was a sunny summer's day which made the place look fairly spectacular though I guess it would be in any season.
In March 1850 Charlotte travelled here stay with Sir James and Lady Kay-Shuttleworth at their magnificent Elizabethan home. Previously Sir James had been roused by her first novel Shirley and, hoping to get better acquainted with the 33-year-old ‘Currer Bell’, had turned up at the parsonage to Charlotte's vexation. Sir James was an effect social reformer fighting for the poor whether it being about hygiene, schools, libraries or education (he's known as the founder of English popular education.) Outside work he was interested in the arts and invited the novelist to travel the 20 miles from the parsonage. Charlotte was poor and I doubt she could refuse the invitation to such a magnificent home.
Anyone being invited to this private home would be overwhelmed the moment they pass the gatehouse at the road and head up the long drive that suddenly presents a captivating building. It was probably a bit too much for Charlotte. If it wasn't then its owners probably were. Her shy nature made her uncomfortable and she didn't bond with the couple: he was overpowering and she was lacking the grace incumbent on a titled lady. Though the couple often mixed with writers they probably didn't understand Charlotte's bashful nature when they invited her to stay with them in London (which she described as a ‘menace hanging over my head’.) She was nervous in foreign company and she didn't take up the offer. However she did stay with the couple at the home in Windermere and was rewarded with an introduction to Elizabeth Gaskill (who quickly noticed how petite Charlotte was (and missing a few teeth.) Elizabeth became one of her very precious friends.
Perhaps Charlotte's increasing fame gave her confidence as she returned this huge home nearly five years later with husband Arthur Nicols. During this visit she insisted on walking out in the grounds and caught a chill from which she never recovered. Sadly her health declined and she died two months later.
I had a stroll around the gardens and thought the house probably hasn't changed since Charlotte first visited in 1850. Walking around I remembered I'd read an article about the place in the newspaper following a drought. There parched square lawn had revealed the lines of the previous garden (see photos.) I didn't bother going inside the place but I looked up at the high balcony and wondered if Charlotte had stood up there looking across the surroundings (surely.) Also I strolled around the back gardens which look onto the River Calder and guessed she'd done that, too. I touched the door knocker and wondered if it was the original one.
The gatehouse is sadly unused...