A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to enjoy a trip to Scarborough, a place that, for Brontëites, has become synonymous with the youngest member of the family, Anne. During my trip I visited the Anne 200 exhibition at the Woodend Creative Workspace and I also stopped off at Anne’s grave at St. Mary’s Church. Anne is buried away from the rest of her family but she lies in a such a peaceful and beautiful spot by the castle and the sea where she has a steady stream of visitors for company that I’m convinced she got the best deal.
Born in Thornton and raised in Haworth, Anne passed away in Scarborough on 28th May 1849 aged just 29. Her death came just months after the passing of her older siblings Patrick Branwell (24th September 1848) and Emily Jane (19th December 1848). During her final trip, Anne was accompanied by her older sister Charlotte, and Charlotte’s close friend, Ellen Nussey. There are numerous theories as to why this trip was made; was it in the hope of recovery thanks to the sea air? Could it have been Anne’s desire to see Scarborough one final time? Was it a desire to spare her father any more pain? Personally I think Anne chose to return to Scarborough not in the promise of physical recovery and life, but of spiritual recovery and to see a place she had fond memories of one final time. I also wonder whether the sea enabled her to feel some kind of connection with the mother she had barely known, and who had been cruelly snatched away from Anne in her infancy.
Maria Branwell Brontë was a native of Penzance in Cornwall, a town and port which is situated roughly 450 miles from Scarborough. On a map of England, you can pretty much draw a straight line diagonally from one place to the other. Haworth, of course, is nowhere near the coast, and as far as we know, Anne and her siblings were never able to visit their mother’s Cornish homeland. Anne did make trips to Scarborough though during her work as a governess. Perhaps a reason Anne enjoyed it there so much was a connection she may have felt to her mother and her spirit through the sea. Pure speculation of course but perhaps this is what drew Anne to Scarborough one final time; the spirit of her mother and a sense of freedom from inland villages such as Haworth, but also from their shared burdens and illnesses in life.
Wood’s Lodgings was the place where Anne, Charlotte, and Ellen chose to stay during that trip. It was also the place where Anne took her final breath just days after they arrived. Wood’s Lodgings would have enjoyed spectacular views of both the castle and the sea. Unfortunately, the buildings were demolished in 1862 and were replaced by The Grand Hotel which opened in 1867. Designed by Cuthbert Broderick, it was the largest hotel and the largest brick structure in Europe when it opened. The hotel’s design is apparently based on the theme of time. When built there were 4 towers (one for each season), 12 floors (one for each month in a year), 52 chimneys (one for each week in a year), and there were initially 365 bedrooms (one for each day of a year). Its peak period was probably the Victorian era when holiday makers would pack into the hotel during their stay in what was then a famous spa town.
Like its predecessor, The Grand Hotel enjoys views of the castle, St. Mary’s Church, and Scarborough’s South Bay. A blue plaque outside the hotel pays tribute to Anne. I do wonder what Anne and Charlotte would have thought of the Grand Hotel. In its glory days it must have been spectacular. Having never been inside before, we decided to step foot on the ground where Anne spent her final moments, and a site that is also synonymous with Scarborough. What met us was faded grandeur and a sense of a place stuck in time. Although there were a few visitors at reception and in the seating area and coffee area, the other public spaces were largely empty so we went on a sometimes eerie exploration of this once grand hotel. Now a Grade II listed building, the hotel is in desperate need of a refurb, but this isn’t likely to happen under the current owners, the infamous Britannia Group, who purchased it in 2004.
Above you can see the reception and seating area and the main staircase. We felt a bit like urban explorers as we poked about the rooms. Below is the deserted downstairs of the Cabaret Ballroom. I wonder what this was like in its heyday?
Below is the upstairs of the Cabaret Ballroom.
There is more evidence of faded grandeur here. The seats, a relic of their era, are well past their prime. I don’t know if the scaffolding is evidence of work being completed, or work that has been abandoned. I didn’t want to get too close just in case. The detail on the ceiling is beautiful. I doubt there are many who pass through the doors to appreciate it these days.
Above are views of relics in the corridors on the first floor. Below are images of staff members from years gone by which line the walls.
Above are more details from the corridors. Below are images of the deserted Palm Court Ballroom. The views from here over the sea are breathtaking. I wonder whether Anne enjoyed views like these in her final days?
A seat saved for Anne.
Above shows more reminders of times gone by from downstairs. Below is the deserted dining room.
See below for the beautiful detail in the Sea View Lounge.
Below is the door to what was the Cocktail Bar. And please don’t forget to return your room keys.
It was a fascinating visit to a place where time seems to have stood still for the last few decades. Although the views are very much the same as those Anne would have enjoyed, there is little else she would recognise. She may have enjoyed the hotel in its Victorian heyday, but sadly, there is little left to enjoy today except a nostalgic glimpse of times gone by. There is nothing wrong with tradition and nostalgia, but I’d hate to see this once wonderful place sold off and split up for apartments or offices. It needs refurbishment and regeneration to attract more visitors. Despite the Brontë connection, sadly it’s not a place I would like to stay in. A bit of TLC would go a long way.
In Loving Memory of Bob the Bichon (2007-2019)
A lover of life, the Brontës, and Haworth who knows that I’m just going to write because I can’t help it.
By Nicola F. a.k.a. The Brontë Babe.
Thanks for reading. I’d love it if you stopped by The Journal of Juvenilia Studies where you can read my essay, “Autobiography, Wish-Fulfilment, and Juvenilia. The ‘Fractured Self’ in Charlotte Brontë’s Paracosmic Counterworld”.
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