While we were worrying about St Mary's churchyard in Scarborough housing a carpark, we were overlooking something much more important - the seriously decaying state in which Anne Brontë's headstone is.
A few days ago, Mick Armitage - webmaster of The Scarborough Connection - posted graphic evidence on the Yahoo! Brontë List of the sad state of the headstone and wondered what the Brontë Society might be doing towards saving it, while pointing out that this headstone was comissioned and visited by Charlotte Brontë herself.
The Brontë Society have now responded:
The deterioration in the condition of Anne Brontë's headstone, that many commented on in 2009, worsened through the long hard winter of 2009-10. Concerned about the deterioration only seven years after conservation work had been carried out on the headstone, the Brontë Society commissioned a second professional conservator to undertake a condition survey at the end of 2009. That report agreed with the 2002 report that once the laminated surface of the stone has been penetrated, as has occurred on Anne's stone, further erosion is inevitable and so long as the stone remains in its exposed salt-laden environment, even constant treatment will only slow the rate of physical loss. This summer, the Brontë Society received a third professional opinion, this one from a senior church buildings officer with the Diocese of York, that confirmed that restoration in situ would be no more effective than was Canute against the tide.We would think that saving the headstone would be first and foremost, even if it meant removing it and - as Mick suggested - displaying it indoors (inside St Mary's or at the Brontë Parsonage, even). Also, we don't see how Anne's remains removal to Haworth would affect the conservation of the headstone.
Throughout this summer, the Brontë Society has been engaged in broad consultation with parties concerned about the future of Anne's headstone. These have included many of its own members, bloggers to the Brontë Parsonage web site, local and tourist visitors to the grave, the Vicar of Scarborough, the St Mary's Parochial Church Council and Diocesan officers. Options presented included leaving the original headstone to decay where it stands, its replacement by a replica, and the removal of Anne's body to Haworth. The consensus that emerged from the consultations was so overwhelming that the Council of the Brontë Society voted unanimously at its meeting on 18th September to leave the original headstone to decay where it stands but to commission the cutting of an interpretive plaque to be installed at the headstone's base. The exact wording of the original stone would be engraved on the plaque together with some brief historical interpretation. The plaque would be of slate, slate being native, durable and as hospitable as is sandstone to the local flora such as lichens. The Scarborough St Mary's Parochial Church Council supports the installation of such a plaque and the necessary permission will be sough from the Diocese of York Consistory Court. If the Court consents, it is hoped that the slate plaque can be engraved and installed during 2011.
Brontë Society Trustee for Heritage & Conservation
28th September 2010
We are no experts of course but removing the headstone before it is too late - which it might be already - or even sheltering it somehow, ANYTHING should be better than just stand back and let it crumble away. A sad, sad loss for future generations and a decision which - unanimous or not - will be sorely regretted by future Brontë scholars.
The plaque plan is fine, but why can't it be a replica instead to be put there and save the actual headstone we simply don't understand.
We have found this announcement saddening and upsetting.
The image above was taken in 2007 and does not reflect the current state of the headstone.
Categories: Anne Brontë, Brontë Society, Brontëana