This Story Has Only Just Begun For The Brontë Birthplace

Christa Ackroyd tells Mag North that the successful acquisition of the Brontë origin home is ‘inspiring passion she hasn’t felt since being a child’
Evie Whitaker
April 18, 2024

Undeniably the most famous sibling writers in history, the legacy of the north may be everlasting when it comes to the literary works of the Brontës. Engraved within our landscape alone - the fairies of Penistone Crags, the chalky-white cliffs subject of Helen’s paintings - our county has thrived somewhat due to the worldwide success of the three sisters. 

While Haworth has been the poster child of Brontë locations, an unsung gem nestled in the village of Thornton, Bradford, holds a magical essence and origin story of where the sisters were born and spent their early years and adolescence over 200 years ago.

Unsurprisingly setting the scene with steep cobbled roads, a Bell Chapel and Viaduct, Thornton is unique in its significance - an understated and almost concealed stone terrace that looks very normal, while being everything but.

Derelict for five years and facing the usual maintenance mishaps that come with grade II listed buildings, the Brontë birthplace was in desperate need of being saved and brought back to life. With the helping hand of substantial grants from Bradford City of Culture 2025 and The UK Government’s Community Ownership Fund, Brontë Birthplace Limited, a committee set out to transform the home into an aspiration building hub for children, managed to successfully acquire the building.  

Bronte birthplace cafe in Thornton
A Glimpse Into The Brontë Birthplace Image: Mark Davis Photography

Bradford raised journalist and broadcaster, Christa Ackroyd, is now paving the way as part of the Brontë Birthplace Ltd committee and drives the sentiment of such a project by sharing a very personal affinity for the cause. 

Christa tells us: “I was once a Bradford schoolgirl, aged 10, adopted and wasn’t quite sure what my place was or what I was good at. Then my dad told me the story of three girls from Bradford who faced problems that were seemingly insurmountable as women and yet achieved worldwide success. If they can do it at a time of great upheaval and great poverty and also a time when women were held back, then anyone can. And that was the lesson. 

“It's so important that we remember the ills of the past tackled by three Bradford girls. Prejudice, Luddite uprisings, unemployment, domestic violence were all huge themes - they didn’t pussyfoot around it, they were no Jane Austens. Fast forward to a recent St John's University York study which revealed nine out of ten children in Bradford suffer from lack of well-being due to poverty, lack of aspiration, self-belief, bullying, etc. That’s a terrible tragedy. If this little house can convey to those people that ‘you can escape that reality through your own imagination’ using the Brontë narrative, then that’s our job done.

“It’s also about Bradfordians being proud and believing in their city again. Bradford is much maligned and yet historically, it's been at the centre of some of the greatest social changes. Free school meals started here, The Labour Party itself was formed here, the Education Act, the Children's Factories Act - out of great difficulties felt first-hand by Bradford, came great changes. Now, in tough times again, it’s time to add the Brontës to that list too.”

As part of the  Bradford City of Culture 2025 celebration, ‘BeMoreBronte’ will come into play, inviting children across the region to enter the education programme where they can visit the birthplace, enter into age-appropriate learning and be inspired by the three sisters and their unique paths. 

The birthplace also plans to open a cafe hosting a hub of arts and creativity for visitors far and wide, as well as creating resident places to stay in the Brontë sister’s bedrooms, which will all be decorated to reflect the vivid and different personalities of all three. 

Charlotte Bronte self-portrait in the Thornton property
Charlotte Brontë Portrait By George Richmond Image: Mark Davis Photography

In a quest to write a more aspirational future for the youth of the region, there is still much work to be done, Christa explains: “We’re so grateful for the support we’ve had so far, but there’s a long way to go, we need all the support we can get. The building is grade II listed, which means leaks, mould, wood rot and rewiring all need to be done with a ‘mend rather than replace’ approach. We still need to work with our education experts to build the programme too.

“It’s going to take a lot of graft. People laughed at us and told us we couldn't do it; well that’s like a red rag to a bull for me -  watch me! If I have to be there on 31 December, with a paintbrush in hand, I will be. It’s that simple though, it cannot be lost and we all have a part to play.”

To get a flavour of what’s to come and hear more about the impact the programme will have on those involved, the public is welcomed to visit the house at an open day on Sunday 21 April. Expect to hear more about cloaks of courage and ambition walls from an intensely passionate committee, bound to create change for our future generations.

Header Image: Christa Ackroyd by Mark Davis Photography.