Local historian Mike Popplewell takes readers on another journey into the history of North Kirklees...
FICTION writers often base characters and places in their stories on real people.
This appears to be particularly true of early 19th century writers – for where else would the likes of the Bronte sisters find their knowledge of the world around them?
There was no TV, radio, film or internet to inform them, only the people and places around them – and many of the people and places that featured prominently in their lives were based in the Spen Valley.
Take Blake Hall in Mirfield, for example.
In the Thornton edition of ‘The Works of the Bronte Sisters’ (1911), there is a photo of Blake Hall which the editors identify as the ‘Horton Lodge’ featured in Anne Bronte’s novel ‘Agnes Grey’.
Other places have claims to be ‘Horton Lodge’ – like the Robinson family house at Thorp Green near York – as Anne worked as a governess, like her hero Agnes Grey, for more than one family. But Blake Hall appears to have the strongest claim.
Anne was only a teenager in her time at Blake Hall with the Ingham family, and as it was her first job as a governess she was, not surprisingly, a little overwhelmed by the very ‘lively’ Ingham children.
In fact, she was dismissed after nine months due to her inability to control them.
Blake Hall was a large estate in Mirfield with a driveway passing through from Church Lane to Parker Lane, with another entrance in Pinfold Lane.
That driveway is probably what can be seen today as Blake Hall Road.
The property was built in 1745, and a prominent feature was a Queen Anne staircase.
The house was demolished in 1954, with a housing estate now occupying the site; the staircase was sent to an auction house in London where it was bought, in 1958, by an American couple and shipped to Long Island.
It was reported that a ghostly female figure in a long dress was later seen on that staircase. But suggestions that it might be Anne are a bit far-fetched, for she died, aged 29, in Scarborough in 1849 and is buried there.
The Spen Valley Fame Trail obviously has limitations – it could not have featured everywhere in the district with a story to tell – but it has at least opened up a doorway to further historical exploration.