Both of these houses are now probably best known for their associations with the author Charlotte Brontė:
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The house was taken on in 1837 by Miss Margaret Wooler, to be a new home for the girls' school she had previously run at Roe Head.
"The new school was in a house that has interesting associations. Heald's House, Dewsbury Moor, had been used by the followers of George Fox, the Quaker, as a meeting place in an earlier period, and later it was the birthplace of the Rev. W.M. Heald, the clergyman who is supposed to have possessed many of the characteristics of the Rev. Cyril Hall [of Charlotte Brontė's novel Shirley]."Thomas James Wise and John Alexander Symington (eds), The Brontės: Their Lives, Friendships and Correspondence (Oxford: Basil Blackwell for the Shakespeare Head Press, 1932) vol I, p. 159
Charlotte Brontė had been a star pupil at Roe Head in 1831-32, and a teacher with Miss Wooler since 1835. Among the pupils were her two younger sisters, Emily and Anne.
According to Charlotte Brontė's biographer, Elizabeth Gaskell, the change was not for the better:
"About this time Miss Wooler removed her school from the fine, open, breezy situation of Roe Head, to Dewsbury Moor, only two or three miles distant. Her new residence was a much lower site, and the air much less pure and exhilarating to one bred at the wild hill-village of Haworth. Charlotte felt the change extremely, and regretted it not merely on her own account, but for the sake of her sister Anne. ...
[Charlotte] bent her whole energy towards the fulfilment of the duties in hand; but her occupation was not sufficient food for her great forces of intellect, and they cried out perpetually, "Give, give," while the flat and comparatively stagnant air of Dewsbury Moor told upon her health and spirits more and more. ...
She had another weight on her mind this Christmas . I have said that Dewsbury Moor was low and damp, and that the air did not agree with her, though she herself was hardly aware how much her life there was affecting her health. But Anne had begun to suffer just before the holidays, and Charlotte watched over her younger sisters with the jealous vigilance of some wild creature, that changes her very nature if danger threatens her young. Anne had a slight cough, a pain at her side, a difficulty of breathing. Miss Wooler considered it as little more than a common cold; but Charlotte felt every indication of incipient consumption as a stab at her heart, remembering Maria and Elizabeth, whose places once knew them, and should know them no more.
Stung by anxiety for this little sister, she upbraided Miss Wooler for her fancied indifference to Anne's state of health. Miss Wooler felt these reproaches keenly, and wrote to Mr. Bronte about them. He immediately sent for his children, who left Dewsbury Moor the next day. Meanwhile, Charlotte had resolved that Anne should never return as a pupil, nor she herself as a governess. But, just before she left, Miss Wooler sought for the opportunity of an explanation of each other's words, and the issue proved that "the falling out of faithful friends, renewing is of love." And so ended the first, last; and only difference Charlotte ever had with "good and kind Miss Wooler".Elizabeth Gaskell, Life of Charlotte Brontė
Heald's House was built in the eighteenth century. It certainly isn't 'low and damp' and unhealthy, as Mrs Gaskell suggests in her biography of Charlotte.
While I was in the area, I decided to make my first visit to Healds House - the building which became 'Dewsbury Moor School' when Charlotte and Roe Head School moved there in 1838. It took a great deal of finding, and when I eventually did, it hardly seemed it had been worth the effort - it is a very bland house on a very bland urban back-street: none of the pleasant rural atmosphere, and beautiful 'across-the-valley' views which adorn the Roe Head building - no wonder Charlotte got so depressed there and didn't stay long. BTW, Healds House is up for sale - if anyone wants to buy it!Mick Armitage Yahoo, Bronte group Wed Jul 4, 2001
Note that the 1854 Ordnance Survey map shows "Dewsbury Moor School" as another building altogether. Did the school move again after 1838; or could it have been another, earlier "Heald's House" that was sold to Miss Wooler?
Healds Hall, Liversedge.
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Charlotte Brontė's second novel "Shirley" draws closely on the area around Birstall and Gomersall, with accurate reflections of many local places and characters, set against a background of Luddite attacks which are very similar to real events experienced by her father Patrick Brontė as a local curate from 1809-15 in Dewsbury and then Harthill.
One of the book's main characters, Rev. Helstone, is based on Hammond Roberson, the owner of Healds Hall; another character, the vicar Cyril Hall, is a portrait of William Margetson Heald, vicar of Birstall.
Healds Hall was built in 1766 by Joseph Bilton, one of a wealthy family believed to have come to Spen Valley early that century. It was probably the finest residence in the area, and many parties and dances were held by the Biltons. Joseph Bilton died in 1781. The hall was bought in 1795 by the Reverend Hammond Roberson, who ran a boarding school for boys there. He lived at Healds Hall until his death in 1841. Samuel Cooke, the carpet manufacturer, was the next owner, and moved in in 1856. This photograph shows a rather delapidated buildings in 1924. Its future now seems assured after conversion to a hotel and restaurant, though many features have been lost through unsympathetic modernisation.'Spenvalley' web site (history @ spenvalley.co.uk)
Built in 1764, Healds Hall was the largest house in the Spen Valley. The Hall first became famous through links with the Bronte family, and was purchased by the Harrington family in 1978. Tom and Nora Harrington have sympathetically modernised, extended and upgraded Healds Hall to the highest standards expected of a 1st class hotel and restaurant.
Mr. Roberson, of Heald's Hall, a friend of Mr. Bronte's, has left a deep impression of himself on the public mind. He lived near Heckmondwike, a large, straggling, dirty village, not two miles from Roe Head. It was principally inhabited by blanket weavers, who worked in their own cottages; and Heald's Hall is the largest house in the village, of which Mr. Roberson was the vicar. At his own cost, he built a handsome church at Liversedge, on a hill opposite the one on which his house stood, which was the first attempt in the West Riding to meet the wants of the overgrown population, and made many personal sacrifices for his opinions, both religious and political, which were of the true old-fashioned Tory stamp. He hated everything which he fancied had a tendency towards anarchy. He was loyal in every fibre to Church and king; and would have proudly laid down his life, any day, for what he believed to be right and true. But he was a man of an imperial will, and by it he bore down opposition, till tradition represents him as having something grimly demoniac about him. He was intimate with Cartwright, and aware of the attack likely to be made on his mill; accordingly, it is said, he armed himself and his household, and was prepared to come to the rescue, in the event of a signal being given that aid was needed. Thus far is likely enough. Mr. Roberson had plenty of warlike spirit in him, man of peace though he was. But, in consequence of his having taken the unpopular side, exaggerations of his character linger as truth in the minds of the people; and a fabulous story is told of his forbidding any one to give water to the wounded Luddites, left in the mill-yard, when he rode in the next morning to congratulate his friend Cartwright on his successful defence. Moreover, this stern, fearless clergyman had the soldiers that were sent to defend the neighbourhood billeted at his house; and this deeply displeased the work-people, who were to be intimidated by the red-coats. Although not a magistrate, he spared no pains to track out the Luddites concerned in the assassination I have mentioned; and was so successful in his acute unflinching energy, that it was believed he had been supernaturally aided; and the country people, stealing into the field surrounding Heald's Hall on dusky winter evenings, years after this time, declared that through the windows they saw Parson Roberson dancing, in a strange red light, with black demons all whirling and eddying round him. He kept a large boys' school; and made himself both respected and dreaded by his pupils. He added a grim kind of humour to his strength of will; and the former quality suggested to his fancy strange out-of-the-way kinds of punishment for any refractory pupils: for instance, he made them stand on one leg in a corner of the school-room, holding a heavy book in each hand; and once, when a boy had run away home, he followed him on horseback, reclaimed him from his parents, and, tying him by a rope to the stirrup of his saddle, made him run alongside of his horse for the many miles they had to traverse before reaching Heald's Hall. One other illustration of his character may be given. He discovered that his servant Betty had "a follower;" and, watching his time till Richard was found in the kitchen, he ordered him into the dining-room, where the pupils were all assembled. He then questioned Richard whether he had come after Betty; and on his confessing the truth, Mr. Roberson gave the word, " Off with him, lads, to the pump." The poor lover was dragged to the courtyard, and the pump set to play upon him; and, between every drenching, the question was put to him, " Will you promise not to come after Betty again? " For a long time Richard bravely refused to give in; when" Pump again, lads!" was the order. But, at last, the poor soaked "follower" was forced to yield, and renounce his Betty. The Yorkshire character of Mr. Roberson would be incomplete if I did not mention his fondness for horses. He lived to be a very old man, dying some time nearer to 1840 than 1830; and even after he was eighty years of age, he took great delight in breaking refractory steeds; if necessary, he would sit motionless on their backs for half-an-hour or more, to bring them to. There is a story current that once, in a passion, he shot his wife's favourite horse, and buried it near a quarry, where the ground, some years after, miraculously opened and displayed the skeleton; but the real fact is, that it was an act of humanity to put a poor old horse out of misery; and that, to spare it pain, he shot it with his own bands, and buried it where the ground sinking afterwards by the working of a coal-pit, the bones came to light. The traditional colouring shows the animus with which his memory is regarded by one set of people. By another, the neighbouring clergy, who remember him riding, in his old age, down the hill on which his house stood, upon his strong white horse--his bearing proud and dignified, his shovel hat bent over and shadowing his keen eagle eyes--going to his Sunday duty, like a faithful soldier that dies in harness--who can appreciate his loyalty to conscience, his sacrifices for duty, and his stand by his religion--his memory is venerated. In his extreme old age, a rubric-meeting was held, at which his clerical brethren gladly subscribed to present him with a testimonial of their deep respect and regard.Elizabeth Gaskell, Life of Charlotte Brontė
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