Drawing of Roe Head by Anne Brontë (c.1835 - 1837).
History of Roe Head
Originally built on land bought from the Armytage family of Kirklees Hall in the mid 17th century. This house was rebuilt as an elegant Georgian Manor House by the Marriott family in 1740.
In 1830, afters years as a private home, it opened its doors as a boarding school for girls in 1830.The three Brontë sisters were all educated at Roe Head School over the period 1831 to 1838
Charlotte also returned in July 1835 as a teacher.
Again after years as a private residence, in 1960, this house became home to the Verona Fathers, as a seminary college for men training for a life in the priesthood.
Thirty-four years later, the house changed ownership and became the school and eventually head office for Hollybank Trust.
Brontë sisters at Roe Head
Roe Head School was opened in 1830 by Miss Margaret Wooler, who was both headmistress, and joint owner of the school and it had a reputation as a good educational environment. When Charlotte began there in January 1831, there were only ten pupils. Charlotte returned to the school in 1835 as a teacher, her salary allowing her sister Emily to attend the school. However the often sickly and delicate future author of Wuthering Heights lasted only a few months before she was forced to return home to the famous parsonage at Haworth 18 miles away.
The youngest of the 3 sisters, Anne, replaced her and remained as a pupil at the school until 1837, until she fell seriously ill with gastritis and was also forced to return to her family in Haworth. Charlotte left her job as a teacher at Roe Head shortly after.
However, her time at the school evidently made quite an impression and well-acquainted her with the topography of the Calder and Spen Valleys, which is believed to have provided the inspiration for her 1849 novel, Shirley.
Through the Brontës' time at the school, the top floor was believed to be uninhabited; the middle floor housed the sleeping quarters, and the grand ground floor contained the dining room, sitting room, and school room. The 'school room', where all the girls were taught, was located in one of the large front rooms on the double-domed side of the building.
The Ghost of Roe Head
During Charlotte’s tenure at Roe Head, it seems that the building had a reputation for being haunted: “The number of pupils… ranged from seven to ten; and as they did not require the whole of the house for their accommodation, the third story was unoccupied, except by the ghostly idea of a lady, whose rustling silk gown was sometimes heard by the listeners at the foot of the second flight of stairs.”
It is not clear whether tales of the haunting had begun prior the establishment of the school and sadly, no contemporary story to account for the haunting seems to have survived either, but many have wondered, if these tales of a mysterious ghostly presence in the attic might not have influenced Charlotte when she was writing Jane Eyre.
Charlotte’s close friend and fellow Roe Head pupil, Ellen Nussey, added a little further information in memoirs published in 1871; “The tradition of a lady ghost who moved about in rustling silk in the upper stories of Roe Head had a great charm for Charlotte. She was a ready listener to any girl who could relate stories of others having seen her; but on Miss W. hearing us talk of our ghost, she adopted an effective measure for putting out belief in such an existence to the test, by selecting one or other from among us to ascent the stairs after the dimness of evening hours had set in, to bring something down which could easily be found. No ghost made herself visible even to the frightened imaginations of the foolish and the timid; the whitened face of apprehension soon disappeared, nerves were braced, and a general laugh soon set us all right again.”
There has been little documentary evidence of the mysterious ghost whilst Roe Head was a private residence. However, the spirit has evidently returned in recent years. Today, Roe Head is a school once more and many staff tell stories and relate legends of the Ghost of Roe Head. Many strange noises have been heard from the spooky attic, and many report seeing strange apparitions, including feeling an inexplicable, icy presence which sometimes is felt around the bottom of the attic stairs. Whether or not these stories are true, luckily this building is used only as staff offices, and the children staying or being educated at Hollybank are in the newer buildings, so do not need to suffer the same chill as Charlotte and her friends.