Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Haworth Through Time - A review

Our thanks to Amberley Publishing for providing us with a copy of this book.

Haworth Through Time
by Steven Wood and Ian Palmer (Photographer)

* Publisher: Amberley Publishing (30 Jun 2009)
* Paperback: 96 pages
* ISBN-10: 1848685092
* ISBN-13: 978-1848685093
A few days ago we quoted Elizabeth Gaskell's description of Haworth at the time when she visited the village. She described a grim, remote place, something which Charlotte Brontë had also done before, perhaps trying to make physical the psychological alienation she and her siblings had mostly felt with the local folk. And yet, through other less subjective accounts we know Haworth to have been a busy, bustling place, hardly a remote spot at all. All this to say, that it's easy to travel with the imagination, but what about the real thing?

Haworth Through Time helps in that quest to see Haworth as the Brontës would have recognised it. It remains an intriguing question whether the Brontë family would recognise today's cheerful, colourful Haworth as the place they inhabited for so many years, a place to which Emily Brontë, whenever she went away, was longing to return to and a place where Charlotte, whenever she spent long, fruitless stretches of time in, was longing to leave.

Photography wasn't a widespread format until the latter half of the 19th-century, which actually makes it hard for us to see Haworth through the Brontës' eyes. But it has the advantage of having remained mostly untouched for at least a couple of decades after the Brontës' deaths. Thus, the oldest pictures seen in Haworth Through Time date from the 1860s spanning until the 1960s-1970s, during which years there was, in the words of Steven Wood, a 'clearance mania' which affected many well-known spots around Haworth.

Steven Wood and Ian Palmer (photographer) document all these changes remarkably well, drawing attention to the tiniest details which are both curious - in that they are sometimes quirky and funny - and interesting - in that they serve to tell of Haworth's social history throughout the years. Who can resist finding out about people named Manasseh Hollindrake, Zachariah Booth or Zerubabbel Barraclough?

A sample page of the book would have the oldest picture on the top of the page, the brief explanation in the middle, and then the modern pictures at the bottom, taken from as similar an angle as the old one as possible. One of our favourite pages, for nothing in particular, is page 11, which is about Dean Street, with the oldest picture dating back to around 1970.
Here we see local builder Tom Laycock pushing his bicycle (his only form of transport) up Dean Street on the way to a job. The streets of the Brown climb steeply up the valley side. Many of them were never surfaced for cars and are now attractively grassed over. Other changes of the past forty years are visible [in the modern picture below]: cars for bicycles, wheelie bins for dustbins and satellite dishes instead of TV aerials. Washing lines survive unaffected.
The pictures - both old and new - are of good quality, making the endless process of gazing at them and inevitably looking for differences and similarities very easy on the eyes. Certainly, residents as well as visitors - both past and future - will find it a delightful, entertaining book. Residents will no doubt discover new things about the place and perhaps will even be tempted to take the book on a ramble or two in order to see Haworth with new eyes. Past and future visitors will discover the village of the Brontë sisters as they have never seen it before and will be very tempted to jump on the first train/bus/airplane in order to be able to explore for themselves.

On this last note - visitors - we would have welcomed a map of Haworth. Returning visitors who have spent days roaming about the place will know the places mentioned for sure, but other visitors who have focused on the Brontë Parsonage, the moors, the Black Bull, the church, Main Street and such will find it hard to place Sun Street or Acton Street. A map would have been very helpful, both for navigating the book and - why not - for navigating Haworth itself with the book in hand, which is no doubt what many will do.

When we first heard of Haworth Through Time - which is part of a series of similar books about differente villages - we wondered whether it wouldn't cover the same ground as Ann Dinsdale's lovely Old Haworth. Our surprise, then, is that they are both capable of going over the same place and yet approach it from totally different points of view. While Dinsdale is concerned about the Brontë connection of the places, using mostly images - not always photographs - of places where we know for a fact that the Brontës went to, Wood and Palmer are more focused on depicting the life of the village as a whole, regardless of whether the place has any Brontë connection, which of course is not to say that the Brontës are ignored in this book. Only about four pictures are the same in both books, the rest, even if a given place is mentioned in both - are different, which is very enriching.

Haworth Through Time is a wonderful opportunity to get to know better the place that surrounded the Brontës during most of their lives and which certainly helped shaped their narratives in one way or another.

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