Today thousands of visitors descend on the parsonage at Haworth where the Bronte family lived and died. Interest in their lives doesn’t abate with time. Oddly there isn’t a single known photograph of them (only of their dad the Reverend Patrick Bronte.) Could they ever guess the level of interest there'd be in them? The last time I visited Haworth there were people visiting from Canada, China and Algeria.
Two people who knew the Bronte's well are buried as close as you can get to the parsonage : John and his daughter Martha.
1) John was as a sexton and for twenty years he was responsible for maintenance of the church burial ground, digging graves and creating memorials. He was well known in society and was the Master of Haworth’s Masonic Lodge (he managed to get Branwell Brontë initiated into this lodge even though he was too young to join.)
Stone masonry was physical thirsty work and he and Branwell became close drinking companions. Branwell was 13 years younger but probably looked up to John as an older brother. Being a strong man it’s thought he taught Branwell how to box. There must have been a bond as when Branwell was dying it was to John that he cried out for as lived dwindled away. John died seven years after Branwell of "dust on the lungs" - either emphysema from years spent creating gravestones or tuberculosis. He left six children.
2) John’s daughter Martha must have seen the Bronte family at close quarters as she entered the parsonage as a servant aged 13 and remained there for twenty years until Patrick Brontë’s death in 1861. She started in a junior role that involved looking after the family but she gained more duties when the main servant Tabitha (“Tabby”) died. She was loved and respected by all the Brontës - Patrick left her £30 in his will which was equivalent to three years wages for her. Martha’s sisters worked at the parsonage intermittently but Martha was a consistent presence. She lived in the parsonage with the family even though her own family lived at Sexton’s House which is close by.
She must have witnessed boundless sadness at the demise and deaths of all the Bronte children (though Emily wasn’t the type to want much fuss), also Tabby the main servant. It’s a wonder she didn’t contract tuberculosis herself though she was often ill - Charlotte advised Martha not to undertake the heavier domestic duties.
There’s a bit of mystery surrounding her. After all the Bronte’s died its thought she left the parsonage and travelled to Banager in Ireland where she then lived as a servant to Arthur Bell Nicholls (Charlotte’s widow). Others said that she remained in Yorkshire and only visited Arthur as a friend.
Thanks to Martha the parsonage owns and displays many of the Brontë’s possessions. She’d been given them as, one by one, the family members got ill and realised they were about to die. Here I am at the grave which close proximity to the parsonage probably shows how highly they were thought of.
You can't get much closer to the parsonage...