Saturday, February 7, 2015

Shirley Country: A Visual Tour

Gomersal and the Spen Valley

" They looked down on the deep valley robed in May raiment; on varied meads, some pearled with daisies, and some golden with king-cups. Today all this young verdure smiled clear in sunlight; transparent emerald and amber gleams over it. On Nunnwood - the sole remnant of antique British forest in a region whose lowlands were once all sylvan chase, as its highlands were breast-deep heather - slept the shadow of a cloud; the distant hills were dappled, the horizon was shaded and tinted mother-of-pearl; silvery blues, soft purples, evanescent greens and rose shades, all melting into fleeces of white cloud, pure as azury snow, allured the eye as with a remote glimpse of heaven's foundations. The air blowing on the brow was fresh, and sweet, and bracing.
'Our England is a bonny island,' said Shirley,' and Yorkshire is one of her bonniest nooks.'

Shirley is set in the Spen Valley around the village of Gomersal in West Yorkshire. Six miles south of Haworth it was an area Charlotte knew well as her friend Ellen Taylor lived there at The Red House which is now a museum. In Shirley it is called Briarmains and is the home of the Yorke family.

The Red House, Gomersal, West Yorkshire

" It whitened the pavement in front of Briarmains ( Mr Yorke's residence), and made silent havoc among the tender plants in his garden, and on the mossy level of his lawn. As to that great tree, strong-trunked and broad-armed which guarded the gable nearest the road..."

" Those windows would be seen by daylight to be of brilliantly stained glass, purple and amber the predominant hues, glittering around a gravely tinted medallion in the centre of each, representing the suave head of William Shakespeare, and the serene one of John Milton."

A great many of the novel's characters were drawn from life, including the Yorkes who Charlotte based on the Taylor family she knew so well. If she thought she was safe in her anonymity she was mistaken and it didn't take long for the community to recognise themselves. Described as ' a large, gloomy censorious woman ' it is not surprising that Mrs Taylor took offence.

Also now a museum is the Elizabethan manor, Oakwell Hall, - Shirley's home, Fieldhead.

Oakwell Hall, Birstall, West Yorkshire

" If Fieldhead had few other merits as a building, it might at least be termed picturesque. It's regular architecture, and the gray and mossy colouring communicated by time, gave it a just claim to this epithet. The old latticed windows, the stone porch, the walls, the roof, the chimney stacks, were rich in crayon touches and sepia lights and shades. 

"Mr and Mrs Helstone were ushered into a parlour: of course, as was to be expected in such a gothic old barrack, this parlour was lined with oak: fine, dark, glossy panels compassed the walls gloomily and grandly."

" As to the mill, which was an old structure, and fitted up with old machinery, now become inefficient and out of date he had from the first evinced the strongest contempt for all its arrangements and appointments. His aim had been to effect radical reform.....

......He never asked himself  where those to whom he no longer paid weekly wages found daily bread; and in this negligence he only resembled thousands besides, on whom the starving poor of Yorkshire seemed to have a closer claim."



  1. I just LOVE these posts (have I said that already?) Oakwell Hall looks like it has such history to it. As for Shirley, I haven't read it yet, but I think it's on my Classics Club list, so perhaps this year???

    1. I know many readers don't like it but I did and I hope you will too.

  2. Still working my way through Shirley. Thank you for the pictures!

    1. A book that responds to being read slowly I found - took my time with it and really enjoyed.