Here I am at Holbybank School in a small town called Mirfield, Yorkshire. It was Roe Head School and horses and carriages would have brought Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë here between 1831 and 1838.
Much of the Brontë girls’ education had been carried out at home at the Haworth parsonage as their dad was reluctant to trust the health at schools. He’d sent his two eldest daughters Maria and Elizabeth to a clergy daughters’s school at Cowan Bridge and both had died. Roe Head was different though. Margaret Wooler was an inspirational headmistress and part-owner of the school offered a haven. Learning and respect for pupils was paramount.
Charlotte was the first daughter to arrive here in January 1831 aged 14. She met her great friends Mary Taylor and Ellen Nussey here and Miss Wooler became a lifelong friend too. While at this school she wrote a novella, The Green Dwarf. The school wasn’t cheap and Charlotte was under no illusions she was there to equip herself for the career of governess, one of the best careers open to such a girl.
Here Charlotte went from the bottom to the top of the class and was admired for her intelligence, analytic powers, unshowy neatness and deportment.
A year later she was back home in Haworth teaching her younger sisters but in 1834 she returned as a teacher. Part of her contract said she could bring a sister for free schooling. Emily was chosen as she was the oldest but soon became she missed the moors so much she had to be sent home. She was replaced by other sister Anne. As 1837 ended Anne contracted probably typhoid, a priest visited here abut she survived. Charlotte felt she’d neglected her younger enough to feel guilty for the rest of her life. This incident also caused friction between Charlotte and Miss Wooler and Charlotte left her job as a teacher (their friendship was rekindled later and Miss Wooler gave Charlotte away at her wedding.)
In 1838 Charlotte left Roe Head School - taking up a position as governess for which she had attended the school.
I got out of the car aware that Hollybank is now charitable school. To appear inconspicuous I stepped down into some ornamental gardens away from the main entrance where I saw a woman raking up leaves. I got chatting with her and the leaves she was sweeping covered the graves of kids who had died at the school. She was a volunteer there and said Hollybank was of one those rare magical places that provided education for people with severe disabilities and was a home to people from the cradle to the grave.
She had worked there for a while but had never gone and read the Bronte plaque on the old part of the school. I left her to seek out the plaque with a lad of about 14 watching my every move. It was obvious the place had been expanded many times but the old block was still easily outclassing the modern additions. I had a stroll around and found the plaque. There were barriers into and out of the place and I realised I was blocked in. I strolled around, felt watched from faces in window and received looks of people walking between buildings. The young lad stood on a ledge in the gardens and kept watching me.
I went and stood on the drive up which the horses and carriages would take nervous girls, away from their parents for the first time. I stood where the horse and buggy would have turned around to leave children with cases. A 14-year-old Charlotte alighted from a buggy with her case a belly full of nerves. She had a light Irish accent, wasn’t sure how the girls would be with her and cried once she took her case/trunk in through the main door.
I didn’t stay long and thought I’d have a coffee in the car once I’d got out of the grounds. The young lad who’d been watching me disappeared into the school and I thought he might bring someone out. There was a one-way system to exit the grounds and I’d seen another car stuck at a barrier wanting to get out. A barrier only lifted when they spoke into a box. I ended up doing a wheel-spin in my red breadbox of a car as I went the wrong way passed some “No Exit” signs and got out onto the main road.