It was unfortunate that Cameron was unable to leave his new job and spend a few weeks in England but we did have a few other visitors, especially our daughter.
Carina would catch the bus from London to Birmingham where we picked her up after navigating the notorious Spaghetti Junction approaching the city.
On one occasion we drove to Haworth where the Bronte sisters lived. In 1998, on a previous trip to England, we had driven from Aberdeen to York and then on to Haworth, arriving just as the Parsonage closed for the evening. I sat in the cemetery next to the church where Charlotte, Emily and Branwell lie. I was probably overwrought because I had arrived late but I wept as the sadness of the family’s loss pressed down upon me in that gloomy setting.
It was a sunny, cheerful day when we drove to Haworth with Carina, a fellow Bronte fan. This time we were able to go inside the Parsonage and take as much time as we wanted. Thirty nine years after it was built in 1778, Patrick Bronte was appointed to the St Michael and All Angel’s Church in Haworth, arriving with his wife Maria and six children. The following year Maria died of cancer and her sister Elizabeth came to run the household until 1846 when she too died. In 1824 the four oldest sisters left home to attend the Clergy Daughters’ School at Cowan Bridge. The following year Maria, the eldest came home to die at age 11. Shortly after Elizabeth aged 10 met the same fate. Branwell, the only boy, died at the age of 31 of TB, after developing a dependence on alcohol and opium, Emily died of TB aged 30, Anne at age 29 and Charlotte at 38 in the early stages of pregnancy.
What must it have been like for Patrick Bronte to lose his wife and all his children while he lived on to the age of 84, cared for by the husband of Charlotte?
It is astonishing how much work they produced in their short lives. Charlotte is best known for her novel, Jane Eyre, Emily for Wuthering Heights and Anne for The Tenant of Wildfell Hall but they wrote many other books and poems.
Wandering around the Parsonage gives you an idea of what their life must have been like. Their treatment at boarding school amounted to child abuse. Patrick regretted sending his children away but thought at the time he was doing the right thing by their education.
On another visit from Carina we travelled to Kidderminster to catch a train on the Severn Valley Railway to Bridgnorth. It was the annual 1940s Revival event where many people who love dressing up looked the part for the occasion, wearing WW2 military uniforms (Allies and the enemy), pin stripes, polka dot belted dresses, head scarves and hats.
At Kidderminster a large display of second-hand goods near an air raid shelter invited people to replace their bomb damaged furniture. The entire railway was transformed into a rose coloured snapshot of wartime Britain, with activities, re-enactments and entertainment along the way. Bands and singers performed on platforms at each end of the 16 mile line. A cinema sign advertised “Gone With the Wind” and further down the track “Winston Churchill” was kidnapped by the nazis from the steam train in a battle re-enactment.
Arriving at Bridgenorth we explored this fascinating town. It was a royalist stronghold but in 1646 Cromwell’s Roundheads arrived and demolished the castle which survives today, inclined at an angle of 15 degrees.
There is a High Town and a Low Town linked by a funicular railway as the town is situated on the slopes of a narrow valley through which the River Severn runs. Although the Castle Hill railway is well over 100 years old, its use of water and gravity for propulsion was changed to electricity in 1943. New cars containing up to 18 people were installed in 1955. The other way down is by using 200 steps or by roads which greatly increase the distance travelled.
After exploring the town we returned by train to Kidderminster, picked up our car and drove Carina to Birmingham, where she caught the bus back to London.
At the time Carina was enjoying her job as a PA for Unilever. She was asked to organise a conference at Cliveden, an English country house in Buckinghamshire currently used as a five-star hotel. It is famous for being the setting of the notorious Profumo Affair in the 1960s when it was owned by the Astor family. Her six flatmates stared in wonder as she was picked up from Shepherds Bush by a chauffeured limousine. After the event was over she retired to her room exhausted and rang for room service. I still recall her calling us to say, “I’m sitting in bed eating lobster and drinking a milkshake”.
Carina admits that she saw more of England on her visits to our house than at any other time. On her first visit we explored Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire. Built from local red sandstone, it showcases five centuries of castle architecture. Oliver Cromwell did his best to ruin it in 1649 as he feared it would be used as a military stronghold. The stone Great Tower is thought to have been the castle’s earliest surviving structure, built around 1120.
We also took her to the Black Country Museum in Dudley which “tells the story of the creation of the world’s first industrial landscape”. (Trip Advisor). It was formed in an area including an old railway goods yard, disused lime kilns, an underground canal and exhausted coal pits. It is close to the site where Dud Dudley first smelted iron with coal turned into coke instead of wood charcoal (1622). Like Ironbridge, it lays claim to being the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.
The highlight for us was the trip on the Dudley Canal and through the Dudley Tunnel’s historic limestone mines and caverns. A teenage boy on our boat was shown how to “leg it” and moved our boat along the tunnel with the use of his legs.
Workshops, mills, forges and other equipment have been rescued from demolition sites and are in full working order. Houses, shops and public buildings have been dismantled and rebuilt to create an early 20th century village.
Of course we had to take Carina to my favourite place, Ironbridge. After crossing the bridge, poking around the local shops and looking at the remains of Bedlam furnace we drove to the Blists Hill Open Air Museum. Looking at the current website it appears to have developed considerably since we were there in 2004 but we found it interesting just the same. Many buildings have been added to the original ones on the site and it is now called The Blists Hill Victorian Town. The original Madeley Wood Company blast furnaces produced pig iron from 1832 to 1911.
The Hay inclined plane linked Blists Hill with the River Severn via a short stretch of the Shropshire Canal. Box shaped tub boats were taken up and down the plane using full and empty boats as counterbalances. A small steam engine kept it all under control.
We also saw the half scale model erected by BBC Timewatch in the year 2000. They used the same methods indicated in Elias Martin’s painting and successfully installed three ribs. Much was learnt about how the bridge was constructed, with techniques based on timber joining techniques such as dovetails, wedges and mortise and tennons giving the bridge greater flexibility.
We also spent a day in Birmingham with our daughter, exploring the shops and squares, posing in front of the “Floozy in the Jacuzzi”. I have read that in 2013 the fountain began to leak and so the whole thing was filled with soil and plants. There are plans to restore it to its former glory by 2022.
Carina was to return to Australia three months after us. As for “the interested one” only time would tell. More on that later.