Here I am where novelist Charlotte Bronte got married aged 38. Sadly her immediate family had all died prematurely and only she and her dad Reverend Patrick Bronte remained alive. They lived together in the parsonage with two servants. Nine months later she died and was buried just feet away from the spot where she married.
She got married in her dad’s church which is about 50m from the front window of the parsonage on Thursday 29th June 1854. She married the church’s assistant curate Arthur Bell Nicholls who’d she’d known for a few years (he'd carried out the funeral for Charlotte's sister Emily.) Arthur had been in love with the famous, tiny and tormented novelist for about seven years when he first proposed a year earlier but Charlotte rejected him. I doubt it was love on her side so what propelled her to get married - the premature deaths of her five siblings, not wanting to be a spinster? Perhaps it was Arthur’s resignation from the church and imminent move to Australia. He’d been in the background for years. Charlotte considered herself facially plain (some teeth were missing), too short (4 ft 7) and so shorted-sighted she'd given up the piano as she could see the music sheets.
She was the provident type who only wanted a low-key wedding. A friend forced her to go shopping for bridal wear and made her select a simple white muslin dress. The wedding took place at eight o’clock in the morning. Oddly her dad who was going to conduct the ceremony said the night before that he was too ill to attend - it was probably a protest about the groom who thought was a gold-digger. Charlotte’s old teacher and friend Margaret Wooler walked her down the aisle and Reverend Sutcliffe Sowden conducted the ceremony (he’d soon return to conduct her funeral.) Apart from the vicar only five people looked on: the church warden, a friend of the groom (also best man), two servants from the parsonage and the bridesmaid Ellen Nussey. After the wedding breakfast the couple went by train to stay at an inn in Conwy for a week taking in the sights of north Wales. They boarded a steamer to Dublin where they were met by the groom’s elder brother who wrote of Charlotte, “A pretty lady-like girl with gentle English manners.” The stayed in Ireland for about a week and travelling around.
Charlotte had surprised herself by falling in love with her new husband and six months after the wedding she wrote to her friend Ellen about how happy they were together. She was soon pregnant. There’s no end to a good marriage as someone’s always left behind. It was to be Arthur: Charlotte was struck down by extreme morning sickness and there were no drips or medical solutions then and she died in the parsonage on Saturday 31st March 1855. The unborn baby was probably a few weeks old. There’s a stone in the wall in front the parsonage marking the gate through which the Bronte kids were carried to the church
I had a stroll around the big church which dominates Haworth. I stood at the church’s main door and wondered if the couple had stood on the stones I was now standing on. How many people attended? You can only think the day was tainted with sadness. None of Charlotte’s brothers or sisters who she shared the parsonage with had lived over 31 years and her dad refused to approve the union saying a poor Irish pastor shouldn't marry his famous daughter.
As I strolled around the graveyard adjacent to the parsonage you’d think all those trees would have been there when Charlotte got married. However they were planted a decade after the wedding. Haworth was one of the unhealthiest places to live in Victorian England. Decaying matter from the graveyard seeped into the stream which the town-folk drank from causing countless early deaths. 41% of children here didn’t reach five years old and the average life expectancy was 25 years. A report condemned the practice of covering grave with flats stones saying air couldn’t access the soil and promote plant growth which would hasten decomposition.
The wedding reception was held at the Sunday school building that lies between the church and the Parsonage. Charlotte and her siblings had taught here. How many were at the meal to celebrate the freshly-married couple is unknown. Charlotte had sent out over a dozen invitations for the celebration but only two to friends (Ellen Nussey and Miss Wooller.)
What happened to widower Arthur? He remained at the parsonage for a decade caring for Charlotte’s dad until his death. He was expected to succeed him as the incumbent minister but the church trustees voted against him and he resigned. He returned to his native Ireland where he remarried and left the clergy. He died of bronchitis aged 87.