The Mother of the Brontës

A large audience at Keighley Local Studies Library on Saturday 18th January was treated to a wonderful talk by author, journalist and screenwriter Sharon Wright about her recent publication: ‘The Mother of the Brontës.

Sharon Wight display


It was a joy to welcome Sharon back to Keighley where she started her journalistic career at the Keighley News.

Sharon Wright library steps

In the talk Sharon shared her journey of discoveries about the mysterious Mrs Brontë through her thorough original research which took her to many locations from Cornwall to West Yorkshire. The historical detail and the compassion for the Cornish gentlewoman who fell in love with the poor Irish curate Patrick Brontë and gave birth to 6 children was enlightening. The joy of finding new discoveries in the story of Maria Branwell was an inspiration.

Sharon wright talk

‘The Mother of the Brontës: when Maria met Patrick’ is published by Pen and Sword, ISBN: 978-1526738486



Branwell was the second best poet in the Brontë family and some of his poems are worth studying in their own right.
(Tom Winnifrith in The Poems of Patrick Branwell Brontë)


The year 2017 was the bi-centenary of the birth of local lad, Branwell Brontë, born Thornton 26th June 1817. It was also the year that Routledge published the three-volume complete literary works of Branwell Brontë, which the Library purchased for Keighley’s Brontë Collection.

Like his sisters, Branwell Brontë wanted to be a published writer and thanks to the local newspapers, he succeeded. Indeed, Branwell was a published poet five years before his sisters published their book of poems in 1846 and their first novels a year later. In all, eighteen of Branwell’s poems are known to be published in his lifetime (1817-48), the last just six months before the publication of Jane Eyre in October 1847, and six published a second time in other newspapers. “Given that his sisters’ 1846 volume of poems sold only two copies in its first year, it is safe to say that Branwell’s poems enjoyed significantly wider readership.” (Neufeldt, v.3., p. xx)

All Branwell’s poems were published pseudonymously under the name ‘Northangerland’ except one, which was just signed ‘PBB’. Thus at no time did Branwell’s name appear in print. Why this is so remains a mystery. What is also a mystery is whether his sisters knew of his success. Getting poems published in local newspapers was no easy achievement at that time. There was great competition between newspapers and it is to Branwell’s credit that not only was his work accepted, but also reprinted in rival newspapers.

It has taken a long time for the full extent of Branwell’s poetic success to be realised. In Winnifrith’s edition of Branwell’s poems published in 1983, he wrote that the poem ‘The Afghan War’ was “the only composition of Branwell’s which is known to have been printed during his lifetime.” (p.140). Yet only fourteen years later, Professor Neufeldt, in the US edition of The Works of Patrick Branwell Brontë 1837-1848 (the Routledge edition noted above is a UK reprint) noted twenty-six publications.* More remarkable was the re-discovery, reported in 1999 by Professor Neufeldt, in the Halifax Guardian for October 1847, of an outstanding piece of art criticism on the illustrator Thomas Bewick by … ‘Northangerland’! This, plus Branwell’s success as a published poet, not to mention the mass of his hitherto unpublished writings now made accessible, has caused scholars to modify the hitherto largely negative view many had of Branwell.

With the acquisition of his complete works by the Library, we can now read for ourselves Branwell’s writings, published and unpublished. Listed below are his published poems (together with the page numbers in Volume 3 of Neufeldt’s edition).

‘Heaven and Earth’   Halifax Guardian, 5 June 1841 (p. 335)

‘On the Melbourne Ministry’   Halifax Guardian, 14 August 1841 (p. 340)

Sonnet I: ‘On Landseer’s Painting’   Bradford Herald, 28 April 1842 (p. 365)

Sonnet II: ‘On the callousness produced by cares’   Bradford Herald, 5 May 1842

also Halifax Guardian 7 May 1842 (p. 366)

‘The Affghan War’   Leeds Intelligencer, 7 May 1843 (p. 367)

Sonnet III: ‘On Peaceful Death and Painful Life’   Bradford Herald, 12 May 1842

also Halifax Guardian 14 May 1842 (p. 369)

‘Caroline’s Prayer – On the change from childhood to womanhood’   Bradford Herald, 2 June 1842

also Halifax Guardian 4 June 1842 (p. 370)

Song: ‘Should Life’s first feeling be forgot’   Bradford Herald, 9 June 1842

also Halifax Guardian, 11 June 1842 (p. 371)

‘An Epicurean’s Song’   Bradford Herald, 7 July 1842

also Halifax Guardian, 9 July 1842 (p. 372)

‘On Caroline’   Bradford Herald, 12 July 1842

also Halifax Guardian, 14  July 1842 (p.374)

‘Noah’s Warning over Methuselah’s Grave’   Bradford Herald, 25 August 1842 (p. 375)

‘On Landseer’s Picture: The Shepherd’s Chief Mourner ‘ A Dog Watching alone by his master’s grave’   Yorkshire Gazette, 10 May 1845 (p. 407) Revision of Sonnet 1, above.

‘Black Comb’   Yorkshire Gazette, 10 May 1845 (p. 408)

‘The Emigrant – Two Sonnets’   Yorkshire Gazette, 7 June 1845 (p.406)

‘Real Rest’   Halifax Guardian, 8 November 1845 (p.471)

‘Penmaenmawr’   Halifax Guardian, 20 December 1845 (p. 473)

‘Letter from a Father on Earth to his Child in her grave,   Halifax Guardian, 18 April 1846 (pp. 479-80)

‘Speak Kindly’   Halifax Guardian 19 September 1846 (p. 512) The authorship of this poem is disputed.

‘The End of All’   Halifax Guardian, 5 June 1847 (pp. 504-508)

Also: ‘Thomas Bewick’ [Prose review article] Halifax Guardian, I October 1842 (pp.397-400)

Branwell died in Haworth on 24th September, 1848, aged 31.

Haworth Church (Before it was rebuilt)

While no great claim can be made for the excellence of Branwell’s poems, they are no worse than many others that were published in the newspapers of the time, and some were considerably better. They range from comments on the political events of the day such as the introduction of the self-adhesive postage stamps and the First Afghan War, to the heartbreak of child deaths – a frequent occurrence in the Haworth of Branwell’s time.

Branwell’s habit of using a pseudonym once caused Library staff a problem when an Australian professor wanted photocopies from the newspapers themselves. She gave us precise references and we managed to find the poems in the Halifax Guardian, Yorkshire Gazette and Leeds Intelligencer, but annoyingly, not in the Bradford Herald, which the library did not have.  A request to the British Library Newspaper Library was returned ‘No Trace’ despite being given the correct dates and page numbers. The reason? We gave the poet as ‘Patrick Branwell Brontë’, whereas the poet’s name in the paper was … ‘Northangerland’!

Bob Duckett

*Neufeldt states that there were 26 publications, though I can find only 24. BD

Selection of Bronte books inKeighley Local Studies Library

Keighley Local Studies Library: Branwell Brontë

BBKeighley Local Studies Library holds a nationally important collection of books and articles on the Brontë family, Society and Museum.

This year marks 200 years since the birth of Patrick Branwell Brontë, the brother of the Brontë sisters. To summarise the life of any of the Brontë children is to put in stark relief the struggles faced by these talented young adults with little money and few connections, trying to make a living from the few employment opportunities available in any early nineteenth century Yorkshire town. The subsequent toll on their brilliance and creativity, necessarily frustrated by having to pursue work beyond their scope of interest, their subsequent lack of time, inhospitable surroundings and health concerns, led to thwarted ambition in all cases but, in that of Branwell, to the ultimate early destruction of body, mind and spirit.

The following is a short summary of Branwell’s tragic life, highlighting some of the publications and resources available for further study in Keighley Library’s newly extended Brontë collection.

Patrick Branwell Brontë was born in Thornton on the 26th June 1817, fourth child and only son of Patrick and Maria. Largely educated in the classics by his father, he was soon making his own contributions to the Glasstown/Angrian saga and became an early avid reader of Blackwood’s magazine of satire, political commentary, prose stories, book reviews, pictures and poetry. In fact, Branwell pursued literary publication throughout his life, experimenting with all forms of the written word but was especially successful with poetry which was published in newspapers of the time.

Branwell also received art and music lessons locally. He showed early promise as a painter and received lessons from John Bradley, a founder of Keighley’s Mechanics’ Institute and William Robinson, a professional Leeds portrait painter. In 1836, in pursuit of a career as a painter, he went to study at the Royal Academy schools with letters of introduction from Robinson. He returned after a few days, penniless, however, apparently having got no further than The Castle Tavern at Holborn.

Branwell took early music lessons from Keighley’s parish organist, Abraham Sunderland, and eventually played the church organ, though he seemed to prefer the after service entertainments in the Black Bull to more serious spiritual contemplation. However, one should always remember that he was hardly out of his teens at this time (1836-1838). Branwell frequently sought out the company of John Brown, Church sexton, in the neighbouring Black Bull pub and here his conversation was known to be entertaining and witty. He also became a Freemason and secretary in the local lodge.

Between 1838-1839, Branwell became a portrait painter in Bradford, but apparently only got sufficient commissions to cover his basic costs. For the professional challenges he faced in terms of established competition, please see Juliet Barker’s The Brontës, (Abacus, 2010), p.354. He returned home but in 1840 became teacher to the sons of Mr Postlethwaite of Broughton-in-Furness. He continued to write poetry. He was dismissed in June 1840 and recent researchers have speculated that it was perhaps for fathering a child out of wedlock.

Following this dismissal, Branwell became Clerk on the Leeds and Manchester Railway, first at Sowerby Bridge, then Luddenden Foot but following the theft of money by an employee in Branwell’s charge, he was dismissed in March 1842. Nevertheless, this period had been a creative one with the publication of poetry in the Halifax Guardian and he had made a lifelong friend in Francis Grundy, to whom we owe one of the few thoughtful descriptions of Branwell’s character by a personal friend of his own.

Between December 1842 -1845, Branwell was tutor to the Robinson family of Thorp Green, York but, in June 1845, he was dismissed, this time thought to be as a result of an affair with Mrs Robinson.

After this dismissal, Branwell attempted to find another job, wrote more poetry and attempted to write a novel, based on his earlier Angrian writings. Mrs Robinson’s husband died in 1848 but Branwell was unable to forge any kind of a reconciliation with her and his health declined at home rapidly. Branwell died on 24th September 1848, just 31 years old. His death certificate stated death due to, ‘Marasmus’ which is ‘physically wasting away’, The Brontës by Juliet Barker, 92, p1093.

Select Bibliography of books and articles relating to Branwell Brontë at Keighley Local Studies Library


  • Branwell Brontë by Winifred Gérin (Hutchinson & Co (Publishers) Ltd, 1961)
  • The Infernal World of Branwell Brontë by Daphne Du Maurier (Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1960)
  • The Brontë Family with special reference to Patrick Branwell Brontë by Francis A. Leyland (Hurst & Blackett 1886)
  • Pictures of the past: Memories of men I have met and places I have seen by Francis H. Grundy (Griffith and Farran, 1879)


Many articles have appeared in the Brontë Society Transactions from 1895, including subjects such as Branwell and his connections to the Freemasons, and his possible contribution to Wuthering Heights as well as discussions on his letters and works and life generally. For a full list of articles, please ask to see the index. Keighley Library has a near complete run to date of the Transactions, available for reference.

Brontë Scrapbooks of news cuttings are updated regularly in Keighley Local Studies Library.  They are indexed and include articles and news reports from local newspapers and magazines covering all the latest research, Parsonage Museum acquisitions, film, theatre, radio and television productions.

Works of Branwell Brontë


  • Brother in the Shadow, Stories & Sketches by Patrick A Branwell Brontë, Research and Transcriptions by Mary Butterfield, Selection and Editing by R.J. Duckett (Bradford Libraries, 1988)

In 2017, Keighley Library should acquire new publications of Branwell’s letters and works.

Art works

Books in Keighley Library that show Branwell’s art works most clearly and comprehensively:

  • The Art of the Brontës by Christine Alexander and Jane Sellar (Cambridge University Press, 1995) shows the most comprehensive collection of works, for reference only.
  • The Brontës and their World by Phyllis Bentley (Book Club Associates by arrangement with Thames & Hudson Ltd, 1972)
  • The Brontës by Juliet Barker, photograph of the lost oil painting of sisters with Branwell, ‘gun’ portrait, plate 16.

Portraits of friends and places frequented

William Robinson of Leeds from a self-portrait, Branwell Brontë (Winifred Gerin), plate 7
John Brown, Haworth sexton and Hartley Colderidge, Joseph Bentley Leyland of Halifax, sculptor, one of Branwell’s closest friends; The Black Bull, Haworth photo in the Brontës’ day; Lord Nelson Inn and Luddenden Inn, all in The Brontës and Their World (Phyllis Bentley).

National & Local Archive Collections

Search for Branwell Brontë for a comprehensive listing.

Haworth Parsonage’s Museum and Library holds amongst other items the Bonnell Collection. Henry Houston Bonnell was a life member of the Brontë Society and collected Brontë material from the 1890s. It includes manuscripts, letters and drawings by Branwell Brontë and annotated books owned by the family. Leeds University also has a collection of note:

Please ask staff for the catalogue and new information booklet.

Download the factsheet here.