A museum celebrating the life of one of England’s great literary families has received help from the estate of one of England’s poetic greats.
The Haworth Bronte Parsonage Museum, based in West Yorkshire, has taken a substantial hit, and according to the Independent, has set up a fundraiser to generate the £100,000 that is required to keep the museum from closing outright.
The centre works to celebrate the life and works of Charlotte, Anne and Emily, the Bronte Sisters. Together, they worked on some of the most heralded works of Victorian literature, including Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Villette, Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
Three of their novels made it into the BBC’s list of the 100 greatest British novels, with Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights making it as high as the top ten list. Both are also critical parts of literature teaching in schools and colleges across the UK.
Within the museum are many manuscripts, letters and early editions of their works protected in display cases. Along with this, the original design and layout of the parsonage has been renovated and maintained, with display cases containing clothing and other artefacts belonging to the family.
Upkeep is a consistent problem for museums and requires a regular level of footfall that was halted for months by the lockdown. Many of the manuscripts, in particular, are centuries old and require particular conditions to avoid further damage, such as cool rooms with no direct light and display case hire.
The parsonage further struggles even with the lifting of regulations due to limited space within the building, the former family home of the Bronte Sisters.
The Estate of TS Eliot helped substantially by donating £20,000 to the effort, which itself was available because of the long-running success of the TS Eliot-based musical Cats, which also had a recent big-budget film adaptation.
Clare Reihill, who is the trustee of Eliot’s estate noted that it was “crucial” that other literary establishments should be helped if they end up in trouble in order to preserve the literary history of the UK.
This comes alongside a range of other crowdfunding activities, which have helped to generate additional funding. This includes Bronte2020, an online virtual festival celebrating the trio of authors, which successfully raised £6000 over the past week.
The Bronte Society, which manages the Parsonage, announced to its staff that it is entering a period of consultation on how to sustain the museum’s future, which could lead to potential reductions in staff numbers to manage in the wake of reduced visitor numbers for the foreseeable future.
The generous donation by Eliot’s estate will help in the short term to keep the building from any direct threat of closure, but depending on the length and long term impact of the present circumstances, may have simply bought more time.
The Parsonage is a vital part of literary history; it is a walk-in time capsule to the conditions that brought the world some of its finest literary works, and its preservation is of utmost importance.