Charlotte Bronte and Patience Kershaw

The moors round Halifax and Bradford are for ever associated with the Brontes.

But there’s also another history there, as for example in the Chartist inspired near insurrection of 1842 sometimes referred to as the Pull Plug riots, which saw soldiers fire on protesting strikers in Preston and Halifax and perhaps in other places.

The moors were not wild places but where coal was find close to surface, the site of small scale mining, and it was at one of these mines that Samuel Scrivener, investigating the employment of women and children in the mines encountered Patience Kershaw, a 17 year old hurrier, who routinely dragged wagons full of coal out of the mine for the miners who employed her.

And of course the Brontes, living in Haworth, could not have been unaware of both the 1842 insurrection or of conditions in the mines, even if Charlotte and Emily Bronte were both living in Brussels in 1842. They would doubtless have been kept informed of events by letters from home and from newspapers sent from home.

The miners for the most part lived among the community, besides the silk weavers (like J’s family who gradually made the transition from self employed weavers to mill worker), the wool combers and weavers, and the farm workers, rather than isolated mining villages, so the miners, the hurriers and the rest must have been a familiar sight going to and from the pit

In fact Charlotte, the most politically astute of the sisters, appears to have visited the village of Wilsden on the moors researching for a projected novel based on the Chartist events and certainly her 1849 novel Shirley, set against a background of Luddite machine breakings in the early 1800s could well have been inspired by the pull plug riots.

Charlotte Bronte most probably never encountered Patience Kershaw in person. But her father, a parson, must have officiated at their weddings and funerals, and Charlotte must have known who they were, and at least an inkling of the conditions that they lived in …


About dgm

Former IT professional, previously a digital archiving and repository person, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical medieval and nineteenth century historian ...
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