Parsonage to reveal secrets of Brontës on paper

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As redecorating jobs go it is way beyond the talents of the average painter and decorator.

A project to turn the clock back more than 150 years at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth by recreating the interiors of the 1840s has begun in earnest and only experts with worldwide reputations have been invited to take part.

The museum closes every January so that essential work can be carried out without disturbing visitors.

As well as all of the usual tasks undertaken, this year a team of experts visited the museum to carry out decorative analysis which it is hoped will provide new evidence of the scheme of decoration in the parsonage during the Brontës’ residence.

The work involves taking samples from walls, mouldings and woodwork and analysing these using advanced scientific techniques. This is the first time that such analysis has taken place at the parsonage and could lead to exciting new discoveries about the Brontës’ décor and the history of their parsonage home.

Information relating to the project will be made available to visitors and the museum will be putting together a plan to redecorate the parsonage next year.

Conservation expert Allyson McDermott, who is investigating the wallpaper and historic designs, said: “It’s absolutely thrilling, discovering little fragments of wallpaper. We have taken a significant amount of samples and now the hard work begins in the laboratory analysing them. Our intention is to try to understand the interior of the parsonage by using historic analysis of the paints and wallpapers used during the occupancy of the Brontës.

“So far our results are very exciting and give us a much better understanding of how the house would have looked while the Brontës were living in it. This kind of work is very much like forensic evidence – there’s always something there that gives the game away and we have gathered enough evidence.

“Using polarizing microscopy you can work out what the colours are. It’s always a voyage of discovery – when you put it all back together it all makes sense.

“You have to imagine Charlotte sitting in those rooms and the clothes she and her family were wearing. It all helps the interpretation of the museum and brings the Brontës closer to us.

“If we do get to redecorate the parsonage I would like to introduce workshops so the public can see what is being done and how.’’

Following six weeks of historical and laboratory research, Ms McDermott and fellow conservation experts Crick Smith who are analysing the paint, will produce a report for the museum.

Andrew McCarthy, museum director, said: “You would have thought that all the analysis that could be done would have been done but over the years the house has played second fiddle to the Brontës and it has not been of historic interest in its own right. Now we are hoping to turn our attention to the house and make it more accurate in its presentation.

“We are very lucky that we have three or four samples of wallpaper that are very well provenanced that they were there when the Brontës were there. A great deal of work goes on at the museum in January and we’re very much looking forward to re-opening our doors in February. There have been lots of changes to our displays and we hope that visitors from near and far will come along and see what’s new.”

The museum reopens on February 1 after a hectic month of activity including maintenance, cleaning, conservation, revaluation of the collections, decorative archaeology and installing new displays.

Visitors will also be able to see a variety of new displays, with more of the museum’s collection on display than ever. Items on display for the first time will include the original screenplay for the 1943 Hollywood film of Jane Eyre starring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine.

It was acquired by the museum last year and will be screened at the West Lane Baptist Centre in Haworth on the evening of February 18.

The public’s fascination with the Brontës shows no sign of abating. New film versions of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights are expected to be released later this year.

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