Evocative ruin preserved for future generations of literary pilgrims.

Posted: 6.12.11

Top Withens, an abandoned farmhouse on the moors above Haworth owned and cared for by Yorkshire Water, has attracted visitors from around the world for decades, despite the fact there are no direct links with the author or her work. In fact visitor numbers may well increase with a new adaptation of the iconic romantic novel released in cinemas this month, which is why the conservation work funded by Pennine Prospects, through the Watershed Landscape Project, and Yorkshire Water is particularly well-timed.

Carol Prenton, of Yorkshire Water’s land and planning department, said the work had now been completed. “We are managing the building as a ruin with a view to protecting it from vandals but at the same time making sure it’s accessible to visitors. People will be able to walk around the ruins but we’ve blocked off the cellar now.”

Robin Gray, project officer for the Watershed Landscape Project, described the scope of the project: “The work includes re-pointing the building with materials sympathetic to its original construction therefore making the ruin better able to withstand the erosive nature of the sometimes vicious upland weather.

“The works will ensure that the ruin remains intact for many more years to come and that those intrepid explorers that venture out into the wilds of the moors above Haworth can continue to enjoy and be inspired by the stories surrounding this atmospheric place.”

One of those intrepid explorers is Simon Warner, the fifth Watershed Landscape artist, who will officially begin his residency in the new year. However he has not been able to resist the temptation to start his research early.

“I’m fascinated by the literary landscape and the sense of wildness at Top Withens, which has undergone a process of ruination since it was abandoned in the 1930s. I aim to spend a lot of time up there to get to grips with the place; the elemental aspects of its remoteness,” explained Simon.

As a filmmaker and photographer Simon hopes to capture the spirit of Top Withens but he also aims to discover its allure for others. Situated on the Pennine Way Top Withens has hundreds of visitors every year, but why are they there? Simon hopes to find out.

“As part of a filming project I’ll be speaking to people to find out why they make the trip to Top Withens; are they making a literary pilgrimage to the site, or are they just out walking?

“There’s no doubt it’s an evocative site and on a good day the views are stunning. Over the years it’s been photographed countless times, offering us an archive of its advancing ruination. I hope to bring together these photographs as part of my exhibition.”

During the project Simon will work closely with the Bronte Museum in Haworth, where he will hold a conference next October.

Photograph: Top Withins, by Simon Warner

Yorkshire Water United Utilities Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council National Farmers Union
South Pennines Association Lancashire County Council Pennine Heritage Kirklees Council Calderdale Council
Bradford District Council Northern Rail Natural England Environment Agency The National Trust