‘Wuthering Heights’, the house in Emily Bronte’s novel of that name, has long been associated with Top Withens, the derelict farmhouse on the moors near Haworth, yet this house bears very little resemblance to the house in the book. Law Hill House, Southowram, about 2 miles from Shibden Hall, was considered by Mrs Humphrey Ward (see Introduction to The Works of Charlotte Brontë and Her Sisters,) to be one of the possible models used by Emily Brontë in her creation of the house, ‘Wuthering Heights’. It is closer to it in size and the story of its original owner, Jack Sharp, is remarkably similar to that of Heathcliff. He too was a ‘cuckoo in the nest’: adopted by his uncle, and shown “excessive indulgence”, he came to dominate the family, despoiling their property and degrading a young cousin, in the same way Heathcliff attempted with both Hindley and Hareton (see Winifred Gerin’s biography, Emily Brontë, Oxford University Press, 1971, pp 76-81).
Emily Brontë spent a very unhappy time there as a teacher in 1837-8. It had been opened as a Girls’ Boarding School in 1825 by Elizabeth and Maria Patchett. Elizabeth Patchett was a fine horsewoman and she may, in part, have inspired the character of Catherine Earnshaw who “could ride any horse in the stables”. She knew William Priestley who lived at High Sunderland Hall, a highly impressive building about two miles away (now, sadly, demolished). It is possible that Emily Bronte was inspired by this building, or at least drawings of it which Miss Patchett had in her possession, for the entrance to the Hall was surrounded by some bizarre statues which may well have inspired the “shameless little boys” which surround the door of ‘Wuthering Heights’! (See my article Crumbling Griffins and Shameless Little Boys: the social and moral background of Wuthering Heights in Bronte Society Transactions, Vol. 25, Pt. 1, April 2000). Some parts of these statues found their way to Shibden Hall and can be seen in the grounds.
Shibden Hall itself could have been the model for Thrushcross Grange, the home of the genteel Lintons. It was a typical gentleman’s residence, built originally in the fifteenth century, although it was much altered by Anne Lister in the 1830s when Emily Bronte was living in the area. The Patchett sisters knew Anne Lister although they did not move in the same social circles.
It seems, then, that one way or another, Emily Brontë’s time at Law Hill had a profound influence on her – she certainly wrote some of her finest poems during this time. You can find out more on my walk on Saturday 27th April 2013: let me take you back in time and tell you the strange history of this mysterious house…
For further reading see:
Barker, Juliet, The Brontës, Weidenfield & Nicolson, 1994.
Brontë, Emily, Wuthering Heights, in The Life and Works of Charlotte Brontë and her Sisters, Vol. V., Smith, Elder, & Co., 1900 (The ‘Haworth Edition’).
Gaskell, Elizabeth, The Life of Charlotte Brontë, Smith, Elder & Co., 1900.
Gerin, Winifred, Emily Brontë, Oxford University Press, 1971.
Pollard, Arthur, The Landscape of the Brontës, Exeter, Webb & Bower, 1988.
Wilks, Brian, The Illustrated Brontës of Haworth, Collins, 1986.
All these books and more are available in the Bronte Collection of the Local Studies section of Bradford Central Library.