Friday, March 26, 2010

Aunt Elizabeth Branwell

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Elizabeth BranwellBorn 1776 in Penzance, Cornwall
Died 29th October 1842, in Haworth, Yorkshire


Aunt Branwell
She left her native Cornwall after the death of her sister, to help bring up her nieces and nephew.
Born: ante1793 Baptised:
Died: c.1842 Buried:Haworth

[ Patrilineage | Matrilineage | Options ]


Ann Carne



There were 11 children altogether. Maria was the eighth.

Cousins of the famous Brontes of Haworth


In the 1700s, the Branwells of Penzance were builders, grocers and general merchants. In 1807 they acquired the Vellanhogan Mills at Gulval and thereafter the flour business of R.M. Branwell and Sons provided the main base for their prosperity. By 1880 J. R. Branwell (the owner of Penlee House) was head of the family business, which was listed in 1883 as "wholesale and retail grocers, steam millers, and corn and flour factors". The mill at Vellanhogan was no longer the small water mill leased by Robert Branwell in 1807, but an imposing six-storey building operated by steam power.
Messrs R M Branwell and Sons, Millers and general Merchants,
The Granaries, Penzance.
Mills: The Penzance Steam Flour Mills, Gulval.
Telegraphic Address: "The Branwells, Penzance".
Messrs R M Branwell and Sons trade on a large scale as millers and general merchants, having an extensive connection of an exclusively wholesale character. The business has descended from father to son during many generations, the headquarters being the large block of three and four storey buildings near the Great Western Station, known as "The Granaries". The buildings are of granite and familiar to all residents of Penzance and to many of the occasional visitors. Behind the granaries are commodious and well appointed offices, which have been built within the last ten years. The milling operations are carried on at the Penzance Steam Flour Mills, at Gulval, about a mile to the east of Penzance. The mills have been altered and re-arranged from time to time, and are well built and well planned structures. They comprise a group of buildings of varying heights, the principle ones being of three and four storeys, while extending to a greater altitude is a square water tower, and adjoining it is a tall chimney stack and engine boiler houses. From the tower a splendid view of the sea and the surrounding countryside can be obtained. The milling plant is of modern construction, on the roller system which has for some years almost superseded the older millstones, with the best technical, practical and commercial results to the milling interest, and to consumers of flour. With a good plant of roller mills, supplemented by an adequate complement of purifying and dressing machinery, the resources and capacities of modern flour mills are far in advance of the best millstone mills of twenty years ago or less.
J.R.Branwell c.1890
J.R.Branwell c.1890
Elizabeth Branwell - The Brontë Soul

Elizabeth Branwell looked after her dead sister's children. By the time she came to Haworth she was forty-five years old and presumably a confirmed spinster. Her background in Penzance had been privileged and comfortable. She had been used to polite society and balls, and, despite the break up of her family in 1811, she still had a private income of £50 a year. There were times when Aunt Branwell had wanted to leave the cold and draughts of Haworth and return to Penzance, but she never did. In her twenty one years in Haworth she had no social contact with the village, and if her staunch Methodism probably had an influence on Ann..

She liked a pinch of snuff, wore a false front of curls under her huge caps, read to Rev. Bronte and held her own in lively discussions. She supported herself from her own funds and set out money to educate the girls. She ran the house like a tight ship, regularly and on time.

On the 25th October 1842, she suffered a constriction of the bowel, and died four days later.

It is Branwell who has left us the warmest testimonial to his aunt. Writing to his friend Grundy on the day his aunt died, Branwell concludes " I have now lost the guide and director of all the happy days connected with my childhood."

Maria and Elizaberh branwell's Cornish home in Penzance

Intimate details of Aunt Branwell gleaned from old accounts of those who knew her.

Miss Branwell was a very small, antiquated little lady. She wore caps large enough for half-a-dozen of the present fashion, and a front of light auburn curls over her forehead. She always dressed in silk. She had a horror of the climate so far north, and of the stone floors in the Parsonage. She talked a great deal of her younger days — the gaiety's of her dear native town Penzance, the soft, warm climate, &c. She gave one the idea that she had been a belle among her own home acquaintance. She took snuff out of a very pretty gold snuff-box, which she sometimes presented to you with a little laugh, as if she enjoyed the slight shock of astonishment visible in your countenance. She would be very lively and intelligent, and tilt arguments against Mr. Bronte without fear."

So Miss Ellen Nussey recalls the elderly, prim Miss Branwell about ten years later than her first arrival in Yorkshire. But it is always said of her that she changed very little. Miss Nussey's striking picture will pretty accurately represent the maiden lady of forty, who, from a stringent and noble sense of duty, left her southern, pleasant home to take care of the little orphans running wild at Haworth Parsonage. Henceforth their time was no longer free for their own disposal. They said lessons to their father, they did sewing with their aunt, and learned from her all housewifely duties. Patrick Branwell was the favourite with his aunt, the naughty, clever, brilliant, rebellious, affectionate Patrick. Next to him she always preferred the pretty, gentle baby Anne, with her sweet, clinging ways, her ready submission, her large blue eyes and clear pink-and-white complexion. Charlotte, impulsive, obstinate and plain, the rugged, dogged Emily, were not framed to be favourites with her. Many a fierce tussle of wills, many a grim listening to over-frivolous reminiscence, must have shown the aunt and her nieces the difference of their natures. Maria, too, the whilom head of the nursery, must have found submission hard ; but hers was a singularly sweet and modest nature. Of Elizabeth but little is remembered. Meanwhile the regular outer life went oh — the early rising, the dusting and pudding-making, the lessons said to their father, the daily portion of sewing accomplished in Miss Branwell's bedroom, because that lady grew more and more to dislike the flagged flooring of the sitting-room.

Every day, some hour snatched for a ramble on the moors ; peaceful times in summer when the little girls took their sewing under, the stunted thorns and currants in the garden, the clicking sound of Miss Branwell's pattens indistinctly heard within. Happy times when six children, all in all to each other, told wonderful stories in low voices for their own entrancement.

Miss Branwell took care that the girls should not lack more homely knowledge. Each took her share in the day's work, and learned all details of it as accurately as any German maiden at her cookery school. Emily took very kindly to even the hardest housework ; there she felt able and necessary ; and, doubtless, upstairs, grimly listening to prim Miss Branwell's stories of bygone gaiety's, this awkward growing girl was glad to remember that she too was of importance to the household, despite her tongue-tied brooding.

Miss Branwell kept her niece's love of animals in due subjection. Only one dog was allowed, who was admitted into the parlour at stated hours, but out of doors Emily made friends with all the beasts and birds. She would come home carrying in her hands some young bird or rabbit, and softly talking to it as she came. " Ee, Miss Emily," the young servant would say, "one would think the bird could understand you." "I am sure it can," Emily would answer. " Oh, I am sure it can."

Miss Branwell continually bemoaned the warm and flowery winters of Penzance, shivering over the fire in her bedroom ; Mr. Bronte was ill ; outside the air was filled with the mournful sound of the passing bell. The curate, William Weightman, was a favourite at the vicarage, a clever, bright-spirited, and handsome youth, greatly in Miss Branwell's good graces. He would tease and flatter the old lady with such graciousness as made him ever sure of a welcome ; so that his daily visits to Mr. Bronte's study were nearly always followed up by a call in the opposite parlour, when Miss Branwell would frequently leave her upstairs retreat and join in the lively chatter.

She always presided at the tea-table, at which the curate was a frequent guest, and her nieces would be kept well amused all through the tea hour by the curate's piquant sallies, baffling the old lady in her little schemes of control over the three high-spirited girls.

Miss Branwell funded the girls....

September 29, 1841. " Dear Aunt, " I have heard nothing of Miss Wooler yet since I wrote to her, intimating that I would accept her offer. I cannot conjecture the reason of this long silence, unless some unforeseen impediment has occurred in concluding the bargain. Meantime a plan has been suggested and approved by Mr. and Mrs. and others which I wish now to impart to you. My friends recommend, if I desire to secure permanent success, to delay commencing the school for six months longer, and by all means to contrive, by hook or by crook, to spend the intervening time in some school on the Continent.

They say schools in England are so numerous, competition so great, that without some such step towards attaining superiority, we shall probably have a very hard struggle and may fail in the end. They say, moreover, that the loan of £ ioo, which you have been so kind as to offer us, will perhaps not be all required now, as Miss Wooler will lend us the furniture ; and that, if the speculation is intended to be a good and successful one, half the sum, at least, ought to be laid out in the manner I have mentioned, thereby insuring a more speedy repayment both of interest and principal.

" I would not go to France or to Paris. I would go to Brussels, in Belgium. The cost of the journey there, at the dearest rate of travelling, would be £$> living is there little more than half as dear as it is in England, and the facilities for education are equal or superior to any place in Europe. In half a year I could acquire a thorough familiarity with French. I could improve greatly in Italian and even get a dash at German ; i.e. providing my health continued as good as it is now. . . .

"These are advantages which would turn to real account when we actually commenced a school ; and, if Emily could share them with me, we could take a footing in the world afterwards which we never can do now. I say Emily instead of Anne ; for Anne might take her turn at some future period, if our school answered. I feel certain, while I am writing, that you will see the propriety of what I say. You always like to use your money to the best advantage. You are not fond of making shabby purchases ; when you do confer a favour it is often done in style ; and depend upon it £50 or ;£ioo, thus laid out, would be well employed. Of course, I know no other friend in the world to whom I could apply on this subject besides yourself.

I feel an absolute conviction that if this advantage were allowed us, it would be the making of us for life. Papa will perhaps think it a wild and ambitious scheme ; but who ever rose in the world without ambition. When he left Ireland to go to Cambridge University he was as ambitious as I am now."

That was true. It must have struck a vibrant chord in the old man's breast. Absorbed in parish gossip and his ' Cottage Poems/ caring no longer for the world but only for newspaper reports of it, actively idle, living a resultless life of ascetic self-indulgence, the Vicar of Haworth was very proud of his energetic past. He had always held it up to his children as a model for them to copy. Charlotte's appeal would certainly secure her father as an ally to her cause. Miss Branwell, on the other hand, would not wish for displays of ambition in her already too irrepressible nieces. But she was getting old ; it would be a comfort to her, after all, to see them settled, and prosperously settled through her generosity.

" I look to you, Aunt, to help us. I think you will not refuse," Charlotte had said. How, indeed, could Miss Branwell, living in their home, be happy, and refuse ?

On Miss Branwell's death, Branwell writes.... I am incoherent, I fear, but I have been waking two nights witnessing such agonising suffering as I would not wish my worst enemy to endure ; and I have now lost the pride and director of all the happy days connected with my childhood. I have suffered such sorrow since I last saw you at Haworth, that I do not now care if I were fighting in India, or since, when the mind is depressed, danger is the most effectual cure."

Miss Branwell was dead. All was over : she was buried on a Tuesday morning, before Charlotte and Emily, having travelled night and day, got home from Belgium. They found Mr. Bronte and Anne sitting together, quietly mourning the customary presence to be known no more. Branwell was not there. It was the first time he would see his sisters since his great disgrace ; he could not wait at home to welcome them. Miss Branwell's will had to be made known. The little property that she had saved out of her frugal income was all left to her three nieces. Branwell had been her darling, the only son, called by her name ; but his disgrace had wounded her too deeply. He was given the Japenese dressing case in the will..

auntbran.jpg picture by geraldean_2008lacqueredjapandressingboxbelongedto.jpg picture by geraldean_2008The Japanese Dressing Case

Aunt Branwell

aunt.jpg picture by geraldean_2008pattens.jpg picture by geraldean_2008

Aunt Branwell's teapot and pattens.
pin.jpg picture by geraldean_2008smellingsaltsbottlebelongingtoAuntE.jpg picture by geraldean_2008

Pin cushion and Smelling Salts Bottles

wwwopac.jpg picture by geraldean_2008Aunt Branwell's shawl.

Aunts teapot

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