Not one but TWO fantastic writers will be here at Ponden Hall on the evening of Saturday August 31 from 7-9pm to talk about their new books over a glass of bubbly. Sunday Times bestselling novelist Rowan Coleman’s new novel ‘The Girl at the Window’ is a ghostly love story told across time, set right here at Ponden Hall, and woven in with its real-life history. Sharon Wright’s new book ‘When Maria Met Patrick: The Mother of the Brontës’ is the first ever biography of the Brontës’ mother Maria Branwell, and has uncovered startling new information about the family’s connections with smuggling. Both Sharon and Rowan will be here to talk about their books, answer your questions, and sell some copies over a glass of Prosecco. Tickets are FREE, but you MUST reserve a place – first come, first reserved – since places are limited and demand will be high. To book email Julie at email@example.com or ring 01535 648608
We can sometimes miss the fact that we are appearing in the national prints! Which is why we were delighted that our Peat Loft guests Stuart and Pat emailed us a copy of last Saturday’s ‘Times’, with this great feature in it by Fiona Wilson – mentioning us! Thank you, Stuart and Pat, and a big thank you too to Fiona Wilson, who wrote such a great piece.
“Before we leave Haworth, there’s one more Bronte house that must be visited. And so we spend a morning with the Akhurst family at their grade II listed home, Ponden Hall, a three-mile walk from Haworth. Julie and her husband, Steve, tell us how they saved the dilapidated home and restored it to its former glory. In many ways this house has more claim than most to have inspired Wuthering Heights. Emily and Branwell visited the Heaton family home, as it was then, to use its library, which was one of the best in the area. Branwell even used it as the setting of a short story, The Thurstons of Darkwell. Others have suggested it is more likely to have inspired Wildfell Hall in Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
The Akhursts have turned part of their home into a bed and breakfast. One of the rooms stands out; Julie points out their Cathy window in the Earnshaw room, which it is suggested, inspired the scene where Cathy’s ghost struggled to get in as she searched for her lover, Heathcliff. Next to the window they have placed an 18th-century box bed, a copy of the one described in Wuthering Heights, and by the window a copy of the family Bible where Cathy wrote her name. For the Akhursts, bringing this scene to life has been a labour of love. Does it even matter if it’s true, I think as I lean on the bed. Where else has a village come together to bring works of literature to life?”
Our guest Jim returned on Saturday night for Haworth’s 40s weekend with his wife Caroline and son Damon, and left us another verse. He is rapidly becoming our poet in residence!
Imagining the Past
Ponden Hall, the Heaton suite,
Amazing history at your feet.
Using imagination and your mind’s eye,
Visualising events of times gone by.
Three Bronte sisters admired this view,
Frequent visitors to the Hall – its library too –
Along with Branwell, when they were young,
The track well worn as they laughed and sung,
Up the hill from Haworth, over the falls and bridge,
Up and down hills, and along the ridge,
Sign posts point to Top Withens, Upper Heights,
Could have given Emily her foresight,
‘Wuthering Heights’ based on these names,
While they walked along, playing their games.
I’m sitting here thinking of times long gone,
Imagining lives and what went on.
A glass of wine, a roaring fire –
What more could a man desire?
Thank you again, Jim! You’re a marvel xxx
There are just a couple of tickets left for a ghostly Brontë evening this Hallowe’en, Saturday October 31, at 7pm, here at Ponden Hall.
Actress Caroline Lamb will read ghostly extracts from the Brontës’ work, we’ll enjoy a pie, pea and parkin supper around the fire – then you can share YOUR ghostly experiences, as we chat on into the spookiest night of the year, in this most atmospheric of houses…
To book one of the last remaining tickets, ring 01535 648608, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jim Murphy from Wigan stayed last night with his wife Caroline and son Damon in the Heaton Room, and as he left handed me a folded piece of lined paper. Intrigued, I opened it to find he had been inspired in thie night to write us a poem!
‘Can I post it on our website?’ I asked him, and he agreed I could, so, with great pleasure, I present to you Jim’s poem about his stay at Ponden Hall! Thank you, Jim – we are honoured!
An exciting family trip, to Ponden Hall.
Not open for inspection, said the sign on the wall.
This national treasure, now in safe hands
With Steve and Julie doing what it commands.
As well as the Hall they have a family too.
With these responsibilities they have a lot to do.
It’s well documented the Brontës used to visit the Hall.
Julie tells the stories, excited by it all.
She worked in the old Parsonage not long ago,
Gathering information. In doing so,
Before you know it, you’re back in the past.
This window in time makes history last.
Young Kizzy and Noah, brought up in the Hall,
In these rolling hills they will always walk tall.
An odd thing about the hamlet of Ponden, is that, although tiny, it seems to have been involved in one way or another with many of the major happenings of the area. Most people, of course, think of Haworth in the context of the Brontës, but there are other fascinating histories connected with this old-fashioned Yorkshire village, not the least of which is the story of balloonist Lily Cove, which has a tragic Ponden connection.
Lily was one of a sad and little-known group of women who lost their lives in the pursuit of aeronautic display. Most seem to have been managed and their careers masterminded by a variety of shadowy men sporting military titles, some dubiously earned. But ballooning was all the rage, and the thrill of witnessing a woman ascend, then parachute to the ground, drew thousands of paying spectators. Imperilled women were big business.
- Adelaide Bassett died in 1895 at Peterborough, aged 36, when forced to jump from an ascending balloon without her parachute after it was damaged by a telegraph wire
- Edith Brookes died in 1902 in Sheffield, aged 23, while jumping from a balloon using a parachute damaged the day before in a jump by her older sister Maude
- American Jeanette van Tassel was about 28 when she landed in a tree during a descent near Dhaka, India, in 1892, and, upon being rescued by a bamboo pole, crashed to the ground and died a few days later from her injuries
- Frenchwoman Sophie Blanchard, first woman to fly solo in a balloon, was 42 in 1819 when fireworks attached to her balloon to illuminate it during a night-time ascent set fire to hydrogen in the balloon, leading to a rapid descent and death on a roof top above Paris
- And Edith Maud Cook, first woman to pilot a plane, and veteran of over 300 parachute jumps, died aged 31 when a gust of wind blew her parachute on to a factory roof in Coventry in 1910, then dashed her to the ground.
Then there was Lily, born ‘Elizabeth Mary Cove’ to a working-class family in London’s east end in 1886, who threw in her lot with so-called ‘Captain’ Frederick Bidmead (although nothing is known of his military connections), and ended up dying a dramatic death behind our house, here at Ponden.
Lily was scheduled to appear at the Haworth Gala, rising in a trapeze attached to a balloon from what was then the football field (now the cricket ground) on West Lane, Haworth. The first time she tried to make the ascent the balloon would not rise. Captain Bidmead announced that the coal gas – from a local factory – was not high-quality enough to raise the balloon, but on inspection a tiny tear was found in the fabric. The descent was postponed until two days later – Monday June 11, 1906 – when once more Lily prepared to ascend from the same field.
This time the balloon was able to lift. As she usually did, Lily theatrically tore off her skirt, revealing bloomers beneath, then strapped herself into her harness, and began to ascend on the trapeze.
The wind began to blow her towards Ponden, while Captain Bidmead followed along below by road in a horse and cart. But as Lily neared the vast expanse of Ponden Reservoir, she was seen to shrug out of her harness and plummet – not into the water, but to the ground – in a field behind Ponden Hall. Although there was sensational speculation that Lily may have committed suicide, it is likely that her known fear of water and drowning prompted her to try to escape before she was over the water.
A Mr Cowling Heaton, who ran the Scar Top Refreshment Rooms, in a now vanished building adjacent to Scar Top Chapel, gave evidence at Lily’s inquest that he had seen her falling body, rushed to the spot and gathered her dying body into his arms, saying, ‘My good woman, if you can speak, do’. But, though, Lily’s eyes were open, there was no answer, and she died immediately from multiple fractures and internal injuries. She was just 21.
Lily’s body was laid out in the room she’d been staying at in Haworth – room 7 at the White Lion Hotel – and hundreds attended the funeral, with her father brought from London to attend by Captain Bidmead, who also bought him a black suit for the occasion.
When I walk to the edge of the reservoir and glance over towards Scar Top Chapel, I often think of Lily, and how terror drove her to make a jump she surely could never have believed she would survive. This house has stood so many centuries that it’s no stranger to death, but Lily’s is surely the most dramatic death associated with this spot. Her ghost is said to walk at room 7, at the White Lion, but I do sometimes wonder if she ever pops back to Ponden.
Photo: courtesy Jayne Clinton
Coffee cakes are a love them/hate them thing – I rarely make one for guests, since those who dislike coffee flavouring really dislike it – for a while they even tried to get rid of coffee-flavoured Revels, for goodness’ sake! Those who love them, meanwhile, really love them…
I was fortunate enough this weekend to have lovely Jayne, Mark and their son Harry staying, and I know from previous visits that they are proper cake lovers. Given that we’ve got pretty comfortable with each other over the last few months, and this was their fourth visit – God bless them! – I was confident enough to risk the excellent, and, I think, bomb-proof coffee-and-walnut recipe passed on to me by my friend Helen, who is what I think of as a proper cook.
Jayne took a photograph and was kind enough to say I could use it, so I thought it was time to share…
It apparently originated with the Two Fat Ladies, by the way.
Ingredients: for the cake
175g/6oz self-raising flour
pinch of salt
175g/6oz soft marge or unsalted butter
175g/6oz caster sugar
1tsp instant coffee granules
2tsp hot water
Ingredients: for the icing
1 tsp instant coffee granules plus extra to sprinkle on top (although cocoa powder also works a treat, I’ve found)
2tsp hot water
55g/2oz unsalted butter, softened
115g/4oz icing sugar
40g/1 1/2 oz walnuts for decoration
Great two 18cm/7in sandwich tins and line with greaseproof paper.
Beat together flour, salt, margarine and caster sugar. Dissolve the coffee in the hot water, then add this and the walnuts to the cake mixture. Divide evenly between the tins and bake in a preheated oven (170°C/350°F/Gas 3) for 25 mins.
To make the icing dissolve the coffee in the hot water, then cream together with the butter and icing sugar. Spread half the icing on top of one of the cooled cakes, and sandwich them together with the other half. Decorate with the walnuts and sprinkle with coffee granules (or cocoa powder!).
I’ve wanted to cook with lavender for as long as I can remember. A few years ago I experimented with a lavender sorbet – our priest, Father Ben, kindly donated the flowers from a bush growing outside his front door in Haworth – and it tasted so much better than I’d dreamed that I decided I’d grow our own in the garden and use it for further cooking adventures.
Fast-forward to last month, past several failures to make lavender thrive in our garden’s soil, to our ‘Tea With Mrs Brontë’ event, for which I decided I’d make lavender-cream-cheese-and-ham sandwiches – that Regency period was full of flower recipes and flavours, and I thought Mrs Brontë might well have eaten something similar.
Oh my goodness! – that lavender-and-cheese mixture was addictive. Despite using the barest couple of teasspoonfuls of flower heads, it charged the whole sandwich with a depth of flavour I would never have expected. Herbes de Provence (also including lavender, of course), white pepper and sea salt completed the mixture.
I’d given up on growing the stuff by this point, and settled for the perfectly serviceable, much easier, cheaper option of buying a bag of it online. Those sandwiches, though, used only a few teaspoons of flower heads, and I now had an enormous bag to use up.
Which is why I came via a circuitous route to something I’ve been meaning to make for ages: a delicious sounding Swedish recipe called lavendel drömmar (lavender dreams) – crisp, yellow, buttery biscuits flavoured with lavender.
I’ve made them twice now – once to accompany vanilla icecream at a dinner party for friends; once to eat with coffee at a business meeting. Both times they were thoroughly appreciated.
Here’s the recipe if you’re interested in trying it yourself:
Lavendel Drömmar (Lavender Dreams)
175g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
60g caster sugar
175g butter or margarine
3tsp lavender flowers, stripped from their stalks
Cream butter and sugar, mix in flour and baking powder, and finally the lavender. Form into balls the size of a walnut, spaced apart on a greased, lined baking tray, and bake at 180°C (350°F, gas mark 4) for about 10 minutes or until the edges start to brown. Slide off and leave to crisp up on a flat surface as they cool. Makes about 24 biscuits.
Photo: Courtesy Anneleen Lindsay www.anneleenphotography.com
We live here at Ponden Hall, and we’ve been here for 16 years. Although we fell in love with the house the moment we set foot over the threshold to stand in the long, L-shaped hallway sloping down into the house a little like a hobbit’s burrow, we’ve grown shamingly used to the place over the years.
We see the astonishing landscape of Ponden Reservoir, hills beyond, mist floating above, herons swooping, oystercatchers perching, every time we do the washing up. The ‘wily, windy moor’ is just minutes away up the hill past our neighbours’ very down-to-earth working farm. The window that inspired Emily Bronte to write of Cathy’s ghost frantically smashing and scratching to get in to her lost love Heathcliff is just one of several in a room that until recently was simply the place we went to sleep in every night and got up in every morning.
A few months ago, though, we opened the house as a B&B, and Carolyn Mendelsohn’s photographic residential was our first big workshop venture. Obviously Carolyn’s expertise was the top draw for workshopees, but ‘Come and photograph Wuthering Heights’, was next on the list. There’s no doubting the wealth of Brontë links in this historic house, but you still do wonder – does anyone really want to take pictures in my front room enough to pay for the privilege?
They did, it turned out. And they properly, deeply fell for the place. Like leafing through old wedding pics, it reminded both me and my husband Steve of why we ourselves had first fallen for this gracious, stone-flagged corner of West Yorkshire with all its attendant stories and legends.
Watching these experienced photographers honing their skills in our front garden; perched on the 18th century chest in our upstairs bedroom; ranged around the log fire or the long table in the hall – was a lesson in seeing differently, and not taking any of this beauty for granted. Our confidence grew each day, as we realised these people loved the Hall and could see aspects of it that were hidden even from us. Just as in all good photography, they had the skill to take that vision and share it, so that for a moment we saw it through their eyes.
There’s a magic about the place that draws interesting people here and infects them with the desire to return. There are the Brontë connections, certainly, but there are the legends of the family who built the house, the Heatons, some of which seem to have leached into Wuthering Heights. There are the numerous celebrities who’ve visited over the years and fallen under its spell. There are the strange coincidences, tales, juxtapositions, fascinating facts. There’s a great story about the Heatons hiding the Hall from Oliver Cromwell. Hell, trouser-splitting singing phenomenon P J Proby even lived next door for a while!
But the temptation to take it all for granted was blown away by the three days we’ve just experienced. Thank you, all of you, for your skill in helping us see again. And thank you especially, Carolyn, for the vision to see that this would work.
We got back from a week’s holiday in the early hours yesterday, to discover that in our absence the moors had exploded in colour! I don’t know whether it’s last year’s mild winter, or the gorgeous sun we had earlier this summer, or the rainiest August for ages, but we think the heather this year is more beautiful than we’ve ever known it.
These pictures were taken yesterday, between Oxenhope and Stanbury. Have a look and see what you think…