How the famous literary society began
Founded in 1893, and one of the world's oldest, most respected literary societies, the Brontë Society is still preserving Brontë items today, growing the collection and teaching visitors about the lives and works of the three famous sisters.
Even before Charlotte died in 1855 enthusiastic visitors were making their way to Haworth to spot the famous author around the village. Mr Brontë's Sunday afternoon congregations were sometimes swollen with sightseers, eager for a glimpse of his daughter, or, failing that, happy just hear her father preach.
Towards the end of the century, when cheaper editions of the novels appeared, and after Mrs Gaskell's 'Life of Charlotte Brontë' made popular the story of the three doomed and tragic sisters, interest in the Brontës boomed. Anyone who had known them was besieged with requests for anecdotes and souvenirs. Mr Brontë had died in 1861, at which point the Parsonage contents had been sold off and moved out. Many items had gone with Charlotte's husband Arthur Bell Nicholls to his new home in Ireland; others had been given to friends and servants as keepsakes. The sisters' manuscripts, letters and personal belongings began to appear in salerooms, and many fetched high prices on the American market.
In 1893 The Brontë Society was founded to organise a permanent home for these treasures, and to keep them together as a collection.
The first Museum opened in 1895 above the Yorkshire Penny Bank on Haworth Main Street. The Society began to purchase Brontë treasures at auction, and many others were loaned or donated. By the following summer 10,000 visitors had passed through.
In 1928 the Church put up for sale Haworth Parsonage at a price of £3000, and it was bought by Sir James Roberts, a Haworth-born wool merchant and lifetime Brontë Society member, who handed the Society the deeds. It was, of course, the perfect home for their collection.
The wealthy Philadelphia publisher Henry Houston Bonnell bequeathed to the Society his extensive collection of Brontë manuscripts, letters, first editions and personal effects, which arrived at the Museum upon his sudden death in 1926. From then on the Museum could boast the world's largest collection of Brontëana, and many subsequent bequests allowed them to bid successfully for Brontë items coming up for sale at auction.
Today the Brontë Society is one of the world's oldest and most respected literary societies, with a worldwide membership of around 1800.