The Brontes-Top Withens

In 1872 Ellen Nussey suggested that Top Withens (or Withins) was Emily’s inspiration for Wuthering Heights. If so, it was only the location, not the building, since that is far smaller than what she describes. In 1841 Census shows a string of small farms extending out from Stanbury, including three Withens farms. Top Withens, the most distant, was inhabited by Jonas Sunderland (1768-1849) as well as his son, also Jones (c.1805-1888), his daughter-in-law and his grandson John (1833-1913). For decades the family continued in occupation of 20 acres, as farmers but also as hand-loom worsted weavers. When John married and started to farm nearby at South Dean, his brother James and later his sister Ann took over Top Withens, though the last mention of handloom weaving is in 1861. Ann, by then married to Samuel Sharp, was farming it in 1891, but by 1901 all three Withens were uninhabited. In 1913, Whiteley Turner said it was empty, but a ‘rudely constructed table and seats, a dinted enamelled kettle, and heaped-up ashes in the grate suggest occasional visits by shepherds.’ After the 1914-1918 war it seems to have been re-occupied by one Ernest Roddy, who ran it as a poultry farm. (Perhaps he was the Earnest Norman Roddy, born at Ingrow in 1883, called up in 1916, who married in 1924.) In 1926, ‘Wuthering Heights’ was abandoned for the last time. Except, of course, that is not Wuthering Heights! That only ever existed in Emily’s imagination – and in ours. However fascinating the stone-paved streets and moorland paths trodden by the Bronte sister, ultimately it is to their novels that we need to return. This booklet was written by Paul White

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