NANCY De Garrs was one of 12 children born to a Bradford shoemaker. Aged 13, she was employed by Patrick and Maria Bronte as a nurse to their baby daughter, Charlotte.

When Nancy’s sister, Sarah, was taken on too, the siblings lived with the Brontes at Thornton, moving with them to Haworth in 1820.

Nancy outlived all the Bronte siblings, and died in 1886 at the age of 82. But, despite enjoying celebrity status in her later years - journalists visited her to interview the last living person to know the famous literary sisters - she ended up in Bradford Workhouse. For over 130 years, Nancy lay buried in a weed-choked unmarked grave in Undercliffe Cemetery. Now she has finally has a headstone, with a poignant verse by Charlotte Bronte engraved on it, thanks to volunteers at the historic cemetery.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The headstone being installed in the cemetery The headstone being installed in the cemetery

Destitute and elderly, Nancy revealed to the Pall Mall Gazette that she feared a pauper’s grave and the London newspaper appealed for public donations for a decent burial. The appeal was taken up by other newspapers, including the New York Times. How much was raised isn’t clear.

Nancy’s second husband was Irishman John Malone who worked in a wool warehouse in Cheapside. When he died she fell into poverty and, aged 80, she left her Manningham home for the workhouse.

When cemetery volunteer Stephen Lightfoot found an old newspaper article about Nancy and discovered she was buried at Undercliffe he and other volunteers spent several months researching her. Nancy’s plot was found in burial records, and waist-high overgrowth was cleared from it.

In 2019 the cemetery charity launched an appeal to raise funds for a headstone for Nancy. Her descendants contributed funds and now the headstone has been installed. Ian Galbraith of Galbraith Memorials in Bingley has made and installed the headstone, and contributed towards its cost.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Ian Galbraith of Galbraith Memorials with the headstone Ian Galbraith of Galbraith Memorials with the headstone

As well as Nancy’s name, the headstone bears the names of her relatives James Scholey, Mary Stocks (her sister) and John William Scholey. Nancy’s mother buried in an unmarked grave with another of Nancy’s sisters, Elizabeth. Engraved on Nancy’s headstone is a poem, Parting, written by Charlotte in 1838: “There’s no use in weeping, Though we are condemned to part, There’s such a thing as keeping, A remembrance in one’s heart”.

For most of Nancy’s life she had treasured gifts from Patrick and his children, including what is thought to be a photograph of Charlotte on glass. But these ‘Bronte relics’ end up with her nephew, John Hodgson Widdop, a Manchester Road draper. Through his research, Stephen discovered that Widdop was bankrupt and served time in prison. In the late 1880s he sold three Bronte relics, including a letter by Patrick to Nancy, to the Parsonage Museum. Nancy’s obituary in the Keighley News on April 3, 1886 read: “All her means were gone and she accepted the workhouse as an asylum wherein to spend the remainder of her days.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Mike Bennett, a descendant of Nancy's, unveils the headstoneMike Bennett, a descendant of Nancy's, unveils the headstone

Nancy has been added to a list of ‘Bradford Worthies’ at Undercliffe Cemetery, whose stories have been researched by volunteers. “Nancy was a faithful servant of the Brontes and had a significant impact on the children. She took them for moorland walks and was involved in their early stories,” says Stephen, who this week led a guided tour of the cemetery for Bradford Literature Festival. “As well as civic and industrial leaders we remember people like Nancy who did good things but, as ordinary working people, were erased from history.”

Emma Clayton