Law Hill School, Southowram, Halifax


Here I am outside what was Miss Patchett’s school for girls where Emily Bronte taught for a few months - the only real job she had in her relatively short life. She was never going to leave the secure life at the parsonage for long. She'd been away before to teach at her former school (Roe Head) but her sister Charlotte had arranged for her to come home due to wretched homesickness.


It was a stark surprise when Emily came to teach here in Southowram, a mile or two from central Halifax in September 1838. She was 20-years-old when she took a job as a governess and teacher and there're two plaques on the walls to mark her tenure. The building sits on at the top of a long steep hill and Emily's legs (or a horse's legs) would have been tired by the time she arrived at the front door. There was no real road in 1838, just a rough moorland path.


It's still quite rural and Emily probably compared the far-reaching views across hills with the moors back at Haworth. She rarely got time to consume the views as a typical working day lasted 17 hours. Nor would she have felt comfortable with the situation. She was intensely reserved and had little time to be alone - the natural state for the chronically shy. But what else could she do to earn a living? There were few respectable occupations available to the poor daughters of the clergy - you became a teacher, a governess or perhaps a bonnet-maker.


Emily wasn't an unpopular teacher, nor was she was a natural teacher due to her reserved temperament. She was devoted to the school dog than the girls who were all boarders. She probably arrived at the worse time of the year - in September. The autumn and winters at this altitude are probably particularly harsh (it's higher than Haworth.) Emily tolerated the loneliness and long days for six months. Her sister Charlotte had written to a friend, “This is slavery. She will never stand it.” She was right as Emily was soon back at the parsonage and never gained employment again.


I had a walk up and down the hill. This area is mostly green and there’re some cracking views across to Oxenhope and Kirklees. I wondered if the strength of the wind threatening to blow my hat off was a common or exceptional thing - probably the former. I got my camera out but the nice curtains at the house windows told nosey geeks like me that Law Hill School is now a private dwelling so don’t enter the grounds. I needed to see this place though, just to get a feel for the place. Over the black wood gate you can see through foliage to the set-back building that was the school. When Emily walked out through the gate posts for the last time she only had another ten years of life left. I did a salute and left.