Christmas ghost stories were a tradition for the Bronte family in Haworth, West Yorkshire, says ADAM SARGENT from Haunted Haworth
Each year, as Christmas comes around, I find myself wondering whether the Bronte family gathered around the Christmas fire on an evening and shared in the age-old tradition of telling ghost stories.
After all, when Charlotte’s closest friend Ellen Nussey came to stay at the Parsonage in Haworth, she recalls being horrified by ‘stories of wild horror’ and ‘fearful stories of superstitious Ireland’ which made her turn pale and cold.
If the Reverend Patrick Bronte was recounting tales of his childhood Ireland to his children at breakfast, his own father, Hugh Prunty, was known to have been something of a storyteller in the oral tradition himself, and William Wright in his ‘Brontes in Ireland’ recounts a number of haunting and ghastly tales from Hugh’s own younger days, including not a few encounters of his own.
I like to think that maybe the family might like to tell some of these old stories around the flickering firelight on a chill Christmas evening.
A Murdered Maiden’s Revenge
The Glen on the edge of which the young Hugh Prunty lived with his family was known to be haunted to all who lived for miles around. The story was told in the area that many years ago a woman had been murdered in the Glen by her faithless lover. Hugh is said to have recounted this tale in such detail, and local colour, that everyone knew it by heart. We can comfortably assume that his son, Patrick, knew it as well as everybody else.
The false lover lured his lady to a local fair on the pretence of choosing the wedding ring. Once there, he got her alone and attempted to strangle her, but she escaped his grasp and fled back across the fields. Williams says that Patrick even wrote an unpublished ballad;
‘Over hedges and ditches he took the near way
Until he got before her on that dismal day.’
Our villain, knowing well the lay of the land and taking a shortcut, waylaid his victim in the Glen and brutally killed her. That night, as he lay in his bed, her ghost rushed upon him and dragged him screaming from his bed, through the window and down into the very depths of hell. The Rev Bronte’s ballad is said to have continued;
‘This young man he went to his bed, all in a dreadful fright,
And Kitty’s ghost appeared to him; it was an awful sight:
She clasped her arms around him saying, “You are a false young man.
But now I’ll be avenged of you, so do the best you can.”’
To have been sung in a mournful fashion at social gatherings. Just the stuff for a spooky Victorian Christmas gathering!
Hugh’s Own Encounters
Hugh Prunty seemed to be the kind of man to attract a certain amount of mystique himself. There was a haunted mill at one end of the Glen. No one would approach it after sunset. Strange wailing noises, lights flitting at night. When the terror was at its height, Hugh armed himself with sword and Bible and went to confront the source of the haunting himself.
His neighbours watched him march into the darkness. Unearthly noises were heard and everyone could tell that a great supernatural contest was taking place. After a considerable time, Hugh returned, battered and exhausted, but he gave no account of what went on during that time.
This secrecy gave rise to further stories, with people saying that he was bested in the battle, and only survived by making a pact with the ghost or devil. It was whispered thereafter that he was in league with the forces of darkness.
There are other tales too… headless horsemen, a figure carrying a child asking for lodging… but I might save these as other stories for another time. I hope I have given you enough to allow you to at least imagine for a moment that the Bronte family might have enjoyed the odd spooky tale around the fireside at Christmas.
Find out more about Haunted Haworth with Adam Sargent.