The main Hall was built in 1634 by the land-owning Heatons, originally from Lancashire. The east end of the house dates from the 1500s. In 1680 the ‘Peat Loft’ was built at the west end, and in 1801 was joined to the house in a huge modernisation, which also saw the library created and a grand new entrance built.
The Brontës’ association with the Heaton family at Ponden is well documented:
- In 1824, during the great Crow Hill Bog Burst (a huge mudslide caused by a thunderstorm after days of rain), Anne, Emily and Branwell were walking on the moor with their servant Sarah Garrs, and took shelter at Ponden Hall. Their father Patrick later wrote a famous sermon about the incident.
- One of the Robert Heatons served as churchwarden to Patrick Bronte, and fell out with him – the reason is unknown. Correspondence shows that the quarrel ended in Patrick refusing to bury him.
- Both Emily and Branwell, certainly, and probably the other Brontës, used Ponden Hall library, at that time reputedly ‘the finest in West Yorkshire’. A catalogue still exists, containing law, local history and Gothic romances, any of which might have influenced Wuthering Heights. The library also contained a Shakespeare First Folio. The books were sold at Keighley marketplace in 1898 after the last of the Heatons died. Unsold books were reportedly torn up to wrap vegetables. The Shakespeare First Folio – the first published edition of his plays, published in 1623, seven years after the playwright’s death – vanished. Today there are only 219 copies extant.
- Ponden Hall has traditionally been identified with the Lintons’ home Thrushcross Grange in Wuthering Heights, and some details – the long, tree-lined drive which then existed, the large upstairs room with a window either end – correspond with that house. Ponden is, however, more like Wuthering Heights in size, style and detail, though not in geographical location. In an account by William Davies (published 1896) after a visit to Haworth in 1858, he tells how, after meeting Patrick Brontë (“a dignified gentleman of the old school”), he was taken on a tour of the area:
“On leaving the house we were taken across the moors to visit a waterfall which was a favourite haunt of the sisters… We then went on to an old manorial farm called ‘Heaton’s of Ponden’, which we were told was the original model of Wuthering Heights, which indeed corresponded in some measure to the description given in Emily Brontë’s romance.”(For more information on links between WH and Ponden Hall see www.wuthering-heights.co.uk.)
- On the east gable end of the house, a tiny single-paned window is, according to local tradition, the window where Cathy’s ghost, memorably, scratched furiously at the glass, trying to get in. “I muttered, knocking my knuckles through the glass, and stretching an arm out to seize the importunate branch; instead of which, my fingers closed on the fingers of a little, ice-cold hand!”
- Branwell wrote a ghost story about a ‘gytyrash’ – a local dialect word meaning an evil spirit which takes on various forms, usually a black dog – but, Branwell writes, the Darkwall gytrash takes on the form of, ‘an old dwarfish and hideous man, as often seen without a head as with one’. The story had originally been named ‘Heatons at Ponden’, and was later retitled ‘Thurstons of Darkwall’, presumably so as not to libel the Heaton family, and is based at the Hall. He also sketched a hunting party in front of the fireplace in the main hall, and frequently attended pre-hunt gatherings here.
- The date plaque above the main entrance identifies the rebuilt house as dating from 1801, the date that begins Wuthering Heights.
- Behind the Hall are the withered remains of a now-dead pear tree, supposedly the gift of a lovesick teenage Heaton to an older, uninterested Emily. There is also a family story that Emily was visiting, drinking tea at the table in the main hall, when a litter of puppies was born at her feet. Robert Heaton was apparently embarrassed, but Emily laughed and thought nothing of it.