The Salutation, former lodging house where Bronte's stayed, Chorlton, Manchester

 

The novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte has sold millions of copies. It was published in 1847 and is still in print (a first edition was sold at Bonhamís auction house for $62,000.) It was a pioneering piece of fiction when it was published - nobody had written a novel showing someoneís moral and spiritual advancement. Here I am amid tall university buildings and student accommodation blocks in Manchester at the pub where Charlotte started writing it. The photographs are a little ruined by a building site behind it (presumably another student high-rise block.)

 

After finding a rare parking space around the honeycomb of university dormitories I went to find The Salutation pub. Iím surprised itís still there and it looks out of place - old and small among what seems to be a dense campus village. I was surprised to find it was closed. Surely on a Sunday afternoon students would fill a watering hole like this?

 

There was a house here in 1846 when Charlotte and Emily Bronte first visited Manchester to see an eye specialist. Their dad Patrick was a busy vicar around Haworth but cataracts were hampering his duties. Theyíd left the parsonage for Manchester, leaving sisters Emily and Anne back at the parsonage to look after their brother Branwell who was drinking too much. The journey (probably by horse and carriage) was a bit of a waste. The eye man, Mr William Wilson, said their dad would have to visit in person for an examination. I'm sure the Bronte's could have found out this by letter but perhaps they wanted to meet Mr Wilson for themselves.

Three weeks later the 30-year-old Charlotte returned with her dad. At the time Chorlton, south of the centre, with its row upon row of grimy terraced houses, cobbled streets and mills must have beendense and smoky compared with the Haworthís vast unfenced moorland. They lodged here at the pub where Iím stood with an old servant of Mr Wilsonís. It was 83 Mount Pleasant then but is now 59 Boundary Street West. Good news from the eye man - Patrick's eyes sight could be improved with surgery but it was a week before the operation could be carried out and then about monthís convalescence would be needed.

 

As I walked around I found only student accommodation, campus buildings and a big aquatic centre. Not very pleasant - nor did Charlotte find it pleasant saying the lodging house was ďa not-pleasant-at-all small brick house facing a timber yard.Ē The house was run by a couple called Mr and Mrs Ball but the latter was away so Charlotte and her dad had to cater for themselves (they were used to help from servants.)

 

Thankfully the procedure on her dadís eyes was successful but for many days he had to be kept in a darkened room with bandages over his eyes (a screen had to be placed in front of the fire to block out the glow.) The evenings were dreary for Charlotte as there was nobody to escort her through the built-up streets. Manchester seemed so bustlingly big with its wharfs, canals, drinking houses and railways but she was confined to Boundary Street.

 

While staying here she suffered from toothache. Even worse she suffered the return of The Professor, a novel she'd sent to publishers in London with a curt letter saying it was too short. Undaunted she put it one side and started Jane Eyre. How much of it was written here is unknown but she and her dad lived here for about five weeks and she probably had ample spare time. She didn't go out exploring the city as it was unbecoming of a single daughter of the clergy and she had to tend to her dad so, being hemmed in, she probably had little to do but write.

Nobody I saw passing the pub even looked up at the blue plaque (I suppose the students are used to it.) The only person who looked up was a security man on the building site who looked up at me, a little puzzled by the pointing and saluting. I wouldn't be surprised if the owners of The Salutation sold it to developers who'd build yet more student bedsits.

 

Iím not sure if youíve ever read Jane Eye but itís about Janeís growth to adulthood and her eventual falling in love for Mr Rochester who lives at Thornfield Hall. I once visited North Lees Hall which was supposedly the inspiration for Thornfield Hall and the link is at the foot of this screen.

 

Despite Jane Eyre making Charlotte famous she died a few years later aged 38. Her dad - who outlived all six of his children - was responsible for the publication of The Professor, the rejected novel that arrived here at the former lodgings.