Literary treasure

Main Street in Haworth decked in bunting last year to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charlotte Bront�.  Picture by Tony Johnson
Main Street in Haworth decked in bunting last year to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charlotte Bront�. Picture by Tony Johnson
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IT has many of the facilities associated with small or even medium-sized towns and a profile to match, but the Brontë village of Haworth remains just that... a village.

Nestled in the Worth Valley in the eastern Pennines, Haworth has a population of just over 6,000, but on a sunny day in summer the number is multiplied several fold as tourists swarm into Main Street.

Haworth's Main Street in 1976

Haworth's Main Street in 1976

They come by steam train - the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway will celebrate its half-century as a private line next year - and by car, though the privately-operated and meticulously policed pay-and-display car park was a source of continual complaint, until the law on clamping was changed.

The attractions are the cobbled Main Street itself and the Brontë Parsonage Museum, the perfectly preserved 18th century house in which Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë spent most of their lives.

The building and its surroundings were used as a location for the fondly-remembered 1970 film, The Railway Children, and, a decade later, by the director John Schlesinger for a wartime movie called Yanks, starring a young Richard Gere.

The village has been gentrified in recent years but retains its period charm. Main Street is a jumble of little cafes and shops, many selling handmade crafts and bric-a-brac and others named after the novels and characters created at the parsonage.

At the peak of the season, the junction by the red telephone box, where Main Street meets West Lane can be as crowded as Piccadilly Circus. And each spring, the village hosts a 1940s-themed “wartime weekend”, which attracts around 25,000, many in period costume.

However, the visitor experience is unlikely to be helped by Bradford Council’s decision to close the village’s two public toilets next year, local councillor Rebecca Poulsen believes.

“It’s absolutely crazy, she said. “The council claims to be fully behind tourism and then it does something like this. They wanted to close the tourist information centre too, but the Brontë Society has agreed to take that over.”

Haworth is a popular destination for coach parties, and welcomes a large number from Japan, but Coun Poulsen fears that the absence of a loo will hamper efforts to persuade coach firms to let their passengers linger longer in the village.

At one time, the influx of tourists may have been an irritation to long-standing residents, but most now take it in their stride.

“If you move to Haworth you know exactly what you are going to get,” Coun Poulsen said. “And many residents away from the centre don’t actually see that many tourists.

“It’s a fabulous place to live. My children grew up thinking that all trains were steam driven.”