Gomersal ‘Sisters’ House’ is a lasting link to the Brontes

Gomersal ‘Sisters’ House’ is a lasting link to the Brontes

Local historian Mike Popplewell takes readers on another journey into the Bronte connections of North Kirklees...

THERE are a handful of names synonymous with the Brontes’ connection to the Spen Valley, like Charlotte’s friends Ellen Nussey and Mary Taylor.

But one person more than any actually links them all – and that is Margaret Wooler, their teacher and friend.

Margaret was born in Batley in 1792 and, though she lived in many different places during her long life, she died at 52, Lower Lane, Gomersal, in 1885.

It is this house for which she is particularly remembered on the Spen Valley Society’s ‘Fame Trail’.

Although one of many children, Margaret distinguished herself by establishing her own school, which she moved to various locations like Roe Head and Heald’s House, and she became a close friend of the Bronte family, with Charlotte, Anne and Emily all studying and later teaching under her.

‘Miss’ Wooler, as she was known to the Bronte sisters, was a woman of ‘independent means’. She was one of 12 children born to Robert Wooler and Sarah Upton at Rouse Mill, the corn mill owned by the prosperous Maltster Robert.

But while she was independent in every sense of the word, she spent her last years in the company of two of her sisters in Gomersal.

The ‘Sisters’ House’, as it has become known, looks down over an area of parkland that was once a medieval showground and site of horse fairs.

As the land falls away toward the base of the Spen Valley, the Pennine hills beyond provide a view that must have been such an exhilarating sight to wake to each morning.

It was Dr William Carr who actually owned the house and even he had a connection with the Bronte family, for it was he who had delivered Charlotte’s elder sisters, who died in infancy.

Margaret and her sisters, Eliza and Katherine, moved to Gomersal in the late 1870s and though it had been more than 20 years since Charlotte had died, it is probable that the promise made to her widower Arthur Nicholls to ‘always grieve for her’ was fulfilled to the last.

Charlotte’s marriage to Arthur Bell Nicholls was not met by universal approval amongst friends and family. In fact, Charlotte’s father Patrick refused to attend the wedding and it was to ‘Miss’ Wooler that she turned to stand by her side at the ceremony and give her away.

Because of her frequent re-locations it is not always easy to find Margaret Wooler on the UK census returns, but the sisters are certainly there in the 1881 Gomersal census – albeit misspelt as ‘Wooller’.

Margaret (88), Katherine (84) and ‘young’ Eliza (72) were all described as ‘gentlewomen’, and living in the house with them were their 40-year-old unmarried niece Marian Allbutt, listed as a ‘voluntary lady help’, and 27-year-old domestic servant Eliza Hunter.

And so it was that the five women lived together until Eliza’s death in the summer of 1884.

Katherine then passed away in the November, leaving Margaret, the eldest, to live with her grief alone.

On June 6, 1885, Margaret was buried at St Peter’s Church, Birstall, alongside her sisters. She was 93.

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