Video: Just a week to save Bronte church

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TOURISTS from all over the world may come to visit it but time is running out for campaigners fighting to save the church where Jane and Emily Bronte lie buried.

Fundraisers at St Michael and All Angels, Haworth, say they just have a handful of days in which to raise the money to guarantee builders can start £1.25 million of vital works to the famed place of worship.

John Huxley, secretary of Haworth Parish Church

John Huxley, secretary of Haworth Parish Church

English Heritage has offered £100,000 towards the scheme to repair its badly leaking roof but to secure it fundraisers were told they needed to raise a total of £65,000 in match funding.

And although polite Victorian society, including the Brontes, would no doubt have not approved, these are desperate times.

So well-wishers of the church, agreed to bare almost all in charity calendars to raise thousands of pounds to help the appeal.

By Boxing Day the amount needed was £31,000 but with the calendars selling well, John Huxley, who is spearheading the fundraising, said he thought D-Day - January 20 - was within sight.

“Both men and women of the Worth Valley agreed to take part in calendar shoots entitled Haworth Couldn’t Wear Less - with the male version outselling its female counterpart by a factor of three to one at the moment.

“Overall, we have been overwhelmed by public support though the clock is starting to tick rather urgently.

“We have had donations from as little as £1 to donations of £1,000 and it is all very much appreciated. We have held master classes in cake making, fundraising talks and Haworth Primary School’s gardening club even gave us £500.”

As things stand the fund is still £21,500 shy of its target but Mr Huxley is optimistic the final few days will see his letter box bulging with envelopes stuffed with cash and cheques.

The roof of the church is badly damaged and water leaking through has now damaged the church’s original wall paintings.

Once the roof has been repaired it will be possible to rectify the rest of the damage in a process which is set to take place in phases over several years. Work is also needed to ensure the church meets 21 century standards of worship.

News of its plight prompted celebrated artist Stella Vine to offer to paint a portrait of the Bronte sisters to raise funds for repairs.

Ms Vine, is well-known for portraits of figures ranging from Princess Diana to heroin addict Rachel Whitear

She said she will sell prints of the sisters after being “greatly saddened” to see the church in a “terrible state”.

The new artwork will feature Charlotte, who wrote Jane Eyre, along with Wuthering Heights author Emily and their younger sister Anne, who wrote Agnes Grey. The church has also been targeted by lead thieves three times in the last 18 months.

The Bronte family came to Haworth in 1820 and the church, where Charlotte and Emily were buried, attracts thousands of visitors a year.

Their father, Patrick, was vicar at the church from 1820-61 and the sisters wrote their masterpieces in the nearby parsonage.

Mr Huxley said the church had also approached the Bradford Diocese, the Sir George Martin Trust, Ilkley, Yorkshire Historic Churches Trust and the National Churches Trust for help.

“Personally, I had never heard of Stella Vine but we are very, very grateful for her offer and everyone else who has promised help,” he said.

“My main concern at the moment is if we are left with a £15,000 shortfall - that would be a major problem though there is always the possibility that we could apply to English Heritage’s shortfall fund.

“The situation is that we love the fact that this is our church but we also understand it is an iconic feature of Yorkshire tourism and we are looking at making the building last for another 75 years.

“The church treasurer - Averil Kenyon - my partner and myself spend hour upon hour from getting up in the morning to going to sleep at night constantly thinking about how we can reach this total and get on with this vital work.

“And every day brings a fresh cheque or two so I am a lot more optimistic now. We are very pleased with what’s happened and we have all worked very hard to get to this stage and we are going to get through this though it is true that we are nervous with so little time left, that is true - we are nervous. We had a meeting of the Future group on Tuesday and it was very positive.

“The church is open 364 days a year and is very well frequented by tourists including many from Japan and Korea. We also get plenty from Australia and New Zealand and even the Americans are reappearing.”