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.