High Sutherland Hall, Halifax

 

After 170+ years the romance novel Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte is still in print. Here I am in some fields at high altitude near Halifax where High Sutherland Hall once stood (since demolished.) Itís thought the external parts of the craggy, gaunt-looking mansion was the real Wuthering Heights in Emily's novel. For the book she picked it up and put it down at the site of Top Withens, a real location on the moors behind the parsonage at Haworth.

 

High Sutherland Hall is aptly named; the car door nearly blew off when I opened it to alight onto the road and walk up to the fields where the hall once stood. The photos I had of the place were almost snatched from my fingers by the winds. Thankfully the dirt tracks passing the house have not changed so I could quickly decipher where the mansion once stood. I was hoping there might be a few craggy foundations remaining but thereís just a small field containing a storage area for farm machinery.

 

Did Emily truly see High Sutherland Hall? From 1838 to 1839 she worked as a governess at Law Hill School for about six months. Did she see it once while passing in a horse carriage and itís frightening features burned into memory? Or did she visit it a few times? Two miles separate the locations (and 10 a minute drive in a car.) Roads are in place now but there were dirt tracks then. From what Iíve read Emilyís endured 17-hours days at the school and she had scant time or energy to go exploring but perhaps she did. All her girls were boarders from the local area so perhaps one of her pupils was connected to High Sutherland Hall and she visited it. The elaborate and grotesque carvings match the description of Heathcliff's wild moorland home. Emily wrote of the place, ďBefore passing the threshold I paused to admire a quantity of grotesque carving lavished over the front and especially about the principal door, above which, among the wilderness of crumbling griffins and shameless little boys, I detected the date 1500.Ē

 

There's nothing left of the mansion to see - not even the foundations. It was demolished in 1951 after falling into ruin. Mining in the area had weakened its foundations beyond repair and attempts made to save the place failed. Nowadays some of the decorative stonework lie in Shibden Hall Museum. Iím not sure why anyone would build a mansion up there as the winds are probably a near-constant battle for anyone.

 

I walked along the dirt tracks and climbed over a fence and strolled across the field the front of the hall looked onto. I noticed a Land Rover crawling along one of the tracks started driving in slow motion, the driver obviously trying to determine what I was doing. I suppose there're a few things to nick. Attached to the field where the hall stood there's a storage area for equipment used to farm the land.

 

I went back to the car so a coffee and a peanut butter sandwich could inject some warmth back into my fingers (the views across Boothtown and Lee Mount were smashing.) Perhaps I'd just been to where Wuthering Heights all started. What would Emily think today? Only 39 copies the first 1000 prints of her novel actually sold. Nowadays first editions sell for £150,000-£200,000.) I did a salute and left.