The Brontes & Haworth: Patrick and Maria Bronte

The Bronte family were from Ireland – where the name was originally Prunty. It seems to have been Patrick’s father Hugh who changed it to Brunty. Hugh had a tough life, as a farmer on a small scale in Drumballyroney, County Down, but he was a capable man and was rising in the world. Patrick was one of ten children, and must have been recognised early for his outstanding abilities. He apparently set up a school when he was only 16, and in 1802 entered St John’s College, Cambridge as an undergraduate. Quite how this was achieved is not known. He was a mature student of 25, and he declared his name was not ‘Branty’, as it had been written in the admissions book, but Bronte – which just happens to be the classical Greek for thunder. It had never been written that way before: in one lightning stroke in the college porters’ lodge, a brand was born! Patrick, never returned to Ireland. Despite extreme shortage of funds, he gained his degree and became a clergyman in the Church of England, accepting jobs as a curate in Essex and Shropshire before settling in Yorkshire, where he met his wife-to-be, Maria Branwell who was assisting her aunt in running Woodhouse Grove school. They married in Guiseley on 29th of December 1812. Maria was from Penzance in Cornwall, where her family were moderately prosperous grocers in what was then a trading port: their house, 25 Chapel Street, still stands. After a couple of years as curate in Hartshead-cum-Clifton (between Brighouse and Dewsbury), where their first two daughters were born and where Patrick’s salary was 65 pounds a year, Patrick and Maria moved to Thornton, to the west of Bradford, where Charlotte (1816), Branwell (1817), Emily (1818) and Anne (1820) were all born. In 1820, Patrick was appointed to the perpetual curacy of Haworth – a position which in theory was a promotion with increased income, but which was fraught with problems because of disputes between the inhabitants of Haworth and the Vicar of Bradford, a huge parish of which the Haworth curacy was a small part. Genteel poverty would haunt the family for decades to come.

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