Appeal launched to bring home 'lost' Brontë treasures and save great literary works for public to enjoy

A treasure trove of lost British literature, featuring astonishing Brontë finds, could be saved for the nation as appeals are launched to raise bids of £15m.

Ann Dinsdale, the Parsonage museum’s principal curator, looking through poem manuscripts of Emily Bronte in the dining room..  Picture Bruce Rollinson
Ann Dinsdale, the Parsonage museum’s principal curator, looking through poem manuscripts of Emily Bronte in the dining room.. Picture Bruce Rollinson

The Honresfield Library, which also features letters and poems from Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott, was set to be sold from next month.

Sotheby’s has now decided, in a “fitting” move, to postpone the auction and there are hopes the collection can be preserved for the benefit of the public.

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The consortium is led by The Friends of the National Libraries (FNL) and among its members are Leeds University’s Brotherton Library, the British Library and The Brontë Parsonage Museum.

Ann Dinsdale, the Parsonage museum’s principal curator, looking through poem manuscripts of Emily Bronte in the dining room.. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Rebecca Yorke, interim director of the Brontë Society, said: “This is wonderful news – particularly for Yorkshire

She was thrilled to be working with the region’s biggest institutions to bring the Brontë treasures home and added: “The sums involved are significant, but we are now a step closer to ensuring these treasures of English literature will be saved to inspire readers, writers, scholars and visitors to Yorkshire for years to come.”

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The Honresfield Library collection, inaccessible to all but the most trusted scholars, was amassed at the end of the 19th century by self-made Victorian industrialists William and Alfred Law, who lived between Rochdale and Haworth. The bulk of the library has been retained in family ownership.

Brontë family copy of Thomas Bewick’s A History of British Birds. Image by Sothebys, which has said it is pleased to play its part in postponing sales if it results in a shared outcome for the great library.

The jewel in the collection is a rare, handwritten manuscript of Emily Brontë’s poems, while there are precious ‘little books’, letters by members of the family and first editions of novels, with many of the treasures, unseen for 80 years, long believed lost.

The library also houses Jane Austen’s letters to her sister, and two of the most significant Scottish manuscripts remaining in private hands – Scott’s Rob Roy and Burns’s First Commonplace.

The FNL aims to buy the collection, so rare to the market it may never be seen again, before passing ownership to places that could share it best.

A 'crucial' endeavor

A rare Emily Brontë and Anne Brontë, Autograph manuscript birthday notes, with sketches by Emily, 1841. Image by Sothebys, which has said it is pleased to play its part in postponing sales if it results in a shared outcome for the great library.

This is “cultural levelling up”, FNL treasurer Charles Sebag-Montefiore said, with riches to be spread from Yorkshire to Edinburgh under a “crucial” national endeavor.

Trustee John Scally added: “Once in a generation, a collection of books and manuscripts appears from almost nowhere that is met with a mixture of awe and stunned silence, followed by concerted action to bring it into public ownership. The UK-wide consortium is determined to raise the funds to ensure we can save the library for everyone to share and enjoy.”

The ambition is for works to be shared among regional, national and specialist institutions that could bring them to the wider public.

Apart from Yorkshire organisations, the consortium members include Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries, Jane Austen’s House in Hampshire, and The Robert Burns Birthplace Museum.

Richard Ovenden, Bodley’s Librarian, said: “Literature and the creative use of the English language and its dialects have been among the great contributions made by the people of these islands.

“Now is a time to act together, to preserve and share some of the greatest examples of this heritage.”

To donate click here or visit www.fnl.org.uk

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