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Ponden Hall, near Stanbury, is often cited as the model for Thrushcross Grange. It was the home of the Heaton family and had an extensive library which may well have been seen by the Brontës who visited it regularly. However, it is far less grand than Thrushcross, more similar in size and shape to Wuthering Heights itself (as noted on the Wuthering Heights page), and does not sit in any sort of park.
by Steve Brown and Julie Akhurst (owners of Ponden Hall) 2012
The main body of Ponden Hall was built in 1634 by the Heaton family, originally from Lancashire, but who appear to have settled on the hill below the moors, above the small lake of Ponden, in the 1500s.
At some point they built another house opposite, Ponden House (now the site of a guesthouse built on the original house's foundations) – whether that was before, during or after the building of the Hall no one is sure: the evidence we have is ambivalent.
In 1634 a new house was built onto the older 1500s building. As far as we know, it had an entrance facing east across the water. In 1680 a 'peat loft' – a freestanding, two-storeyed building, designed to take peat upstairs, and cows below, the heat from which would rise to dry the peat – was built alongside it, and, as far as we can understand, in 1801 the house was refurbished and modernised at some expense.
A new section of house was built between the Peat Loft and the main house, joining the two together. Downstairs in the new section was the new, south-facing main entrance, standing in a small, paved courtyard; upstairs was the grand, new library [see photo below], built in a then-modern style, and designed to show off the owners' wealth – they had made money from Ponden Mill (situated at the bottom of the hill) manufacturing cloth used by the army in their uniforms. During the Napoleonic wars (1803–1815) the Heatons' fortunes continued to boom as a result, but later, cheaper imports of cloth from the Indian sub-continent meant they could no longer sustain the mill, and it was eventually sold off, beginning the Heatons' slide into relative poverty.
Ponden Hall in a map of c.1850
Linking the house with the mill was a long, tree-lined driveway, passing through the area now occupied by the reservoir. The library had a fine collection of books (a catalogue still exists), including a Shakespeare First Folio, and was supposedly the finest library in the West Riding. We know that Emily visited and read here, and scholarly studies have been made of the catalogue, working out what she might have read that could have influenced her work. It's highly likely that Anne, Charlotte and Branwell visited too, as the Heatons (together with the Taylors at the Manor House in Stanbury) were one of the foremost families in the area: for generations they acted as JPs and churchwardens at Haworth Church.
In the back garden are the withered remains of a now-dead pear tree, supposedly the gift of a lovesick teenage Heaton to an older, uninterested Emily.
Another famous story about the Hall concerns Oliver Cromwell's supposed visit to Stanbury. The Heatons heard he was looking for property to commandeer and, so the story goes, covered the house with bracken, cut from the moors, so that no-one would be able to spot it from the village.
There has long been a tradition that Ponden Hall is identifiable with Thrushcross Grange in Wuthering Heights, although none of the sisters left evidence of making such a link themselves. In part this is due to its situation, on the way up to the moors; in part to the fact there were so few larger houses in this area.
The house may well have seemed grand to the Brontës, and the tree-lined drive may have made it seem more of a 'great house' like Thrushcross Grange, but actually, the fairly humble Ponden Hall is far more identifiable with the house "Wuthering Heights". The date plaque above the main entrance identifies the rebuilt house as dating from 1801 – also the date that begins the story in Wuthering Heights. And many have pointed out the similarity between the names Heaton and Hareton, though that may be pushing similarity too far.
There is another, important link between Wuthering Heights and Ponden Hall. In an account by William Davies (published in 1896) after a visit he made to Haworth in 1858, he tells how, after meeting Patrick Brontë ("a dignified gentleman of the old school"), he was taken on a tour of the area:
"On leaving the house we were taken across the moors to visit a waterfall which was a favourite haunt of the sisters … We then went on to an old manorial farm called 'Heaton's of Ponden', which we were told was the original model of Wuthering Heights, which indeed corresponded in some measure to the description given in Emily Brontë's romance."
Readers and visitors must, of course, make up their own minds.
The Heaton family dwindled to three brothers, one a widow who had lost his wife and children in one of the great Haworth cholera epidemics; the other two bachelors and childless. The last of these bachelors died in 1898, and the household was broken up, much of the furniture being sold at auction. The books from the library were reputedly sold in the market in Keighley. What didn't sell was torn up for vegetable wrappings.
No-one knows what happened to the Shakespeare First Folio, one of the world's most sought-after rare books. Only 228 known copies still exist. The last to be sold, at Sotheby's in 2006, fetched a price of £2.5 million.
Today the acres and acres of land once owned by the Heatons, running right up to the Lancashire border, have mostly been divided up and sold. Now the land belonging to the Hall extends down to the reservoir (filled in where Ponden water once stood, in the early 1870s), with an impressive view over the Worth Valley.
Steve Brown and Julie Akhurst moved into the Hall in 1998, 100 years after the last Heaton left, and undertook extensive, vital restoration work, including insulating and relaying the impressive stone slate roof and installing underfloor heating throughout the ground floor. The 1680 Peat Loft is now a stylish, self-contained cottage, with English oak flooring, extensive kitchen, two bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms and underfloor heating throughout.
To visit Ponden Hall, see the section below.
Ponden Hall in the 1920s
Although Ponden Hall is a private house, the owners Steve and Julie welcome visitors who wish to see inside the Hall by appointment, and are happy to give them a quick tour. To arrange a visit email them by clicking on firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Hall can be reached following the road around Ponden Reservoir (note: it is not in a good state of repair so drive very slowly). There is little room to park by the Hall so you should park further back and walk the final short distance. A bus runs past the Ponden turn off. A location map of Ponden Hall is here and it is also marked on the Google Map of Emily Brontë/Wuthering Heights locations.
|53° 49.8′ N||2° 0.9′ W||SD 990 370||245 m|
Aerial View of Ponden Hall (© Google Maps)
(A) the Hall; (B) path from the main road; (C) space to park; (D) path to Ponden Kirk