OPENING a museum was one of the central aims of the Brontë fans who came together in 1893 to start a society dedicated to their idols.

They succeeded more than their wildest dreams, eventually replacing their tiny display room with the actual house the family lived in.

Since then the Brontë Parsonage Museum has rarely closed for more than one month at a time - to allow for conservation work and re-display each January - until this spring when the Covid-19 lockdown hit.

The museum will reopen on Saturday August 29 and once again visitors will be able to walk through every room originally used by Charlotte, Emily and Anne.

The roots of the Brontë Museum are wrapped tightly with the roots of the Brontë Society itself, according to the museum's current Principal Curator Ann Dinsdale.

She says the opening of the museum was one of their main objectives from the start, the group of mainly Yorkshire people wanting to ensure the Brontës’ writings and other belongings were protected, and collected together for the general public to see.

The 1890s were a perfect time to set up the society because people who had held on to the sisters’ manuscripts, clothing, furniture and other memorabilia, such as the Brontes' servants and neighbours, were dying off.

Ann said: “It was really only on their deaths that these things found their way onto the market. Local enthusiasts realised that if they didn’t do something then a lot of of it was going to go to wealthy collectors in America and would be lost forever.

“They decided to found a museum and make things available for everyone to see. People were as interested in the Brontës’ lives as they were in the novels, and that made anything they used every day interesting.”

The enthusiasts came together in Bradford Town Hall in 1893 to form the society, and within two years they achieved their aim of opening a museum in a room above the Penny Bank in Main Street, Haworth, which later became the village's Tourist Information Centre.

Ann said: “It’s quite impressive that they managed to fill that room. There were odd bits of furniture including a chair, quite a lot of paintings and drawings by the family, items of Charlotte’s clothing including at least one of her dresses.

“It was quite a mishmash, quite amateurish compared with today’s standards, but it attracted a lot of interest – about 10,000 people in its first year.”

The fledgling society relied largely on donations, and by 1927 the collection had outgrown the single room.

Salvation came in the form of the Haworth Parsonage – the very building where the Brontë siblings grew up and wrote their famous novels – which by then had become a shrine for Brontë fans visiting the village.

Ann said: “The Parsonage had become quite difficult to live in. There were a lot of people calling at the Parsonage wanting to see inside, or looking over the garden wall.”

The Haworth Parish Church trustees announced they were prepared to sell the Parsonage for £3,000 – the problem was the Brontë Society’s cash assets stood at less than £50. Enter local philanthropist Sir James Roberts, who had run Salts Mill in Saltaire.

Ann said: “Sir James saw it as an opportunity to do something for Haworth, so he offered to buy the Parsonage for the society and pay £500 to fit it up as a museum and research library.”

An extension had been built since the Brontës lived in the Parsonage, and this became the library, allowing all the rooms actually used by the Brontës to be made available to the public.

Ann said: “It can’t be stressed what a difference this made to the society. Now many people felt able to give back some of the items they had bought, such as the sofa that Emily died on. There were a lot of donations at the time, and the society also made several purchases.

One of the donations was the Henry Bonnell Collection from America, which included Emily’s writing desk, a host of important manuscripts, letters, and poems written by the Brontës, first editions of their books, and books owned by the Brontës.

Ann said: “That was probably the most important collection of Brontë material that’s ever been put together. Henry Bonnell said he wanted it to be returned after he died. He died suddenly in 1926 and the collection arrived in 1929 just as the Brontë Society opened their museum.

“It was a bit of a game changer, it made the Parsonage an important place for research. At the time the society had been a small group. All the American libraries had wanted to get their hands on the collection but Henry Bonnell’s wife honoured his wishes.”

Visitors to the museum were able to enter each of the Brontës’ rooms, where many of the Brontës’ belongings and writings were displayed on the walls or in glass cases.

Ann said: “The plan was always to return the house to what it looked like when the Brontës lived there. Lack of funds meant that didn’t happen until the late 1950s.

“At that point there was a big move to refurnish the rooms, to use the Brontës’ own possessions to try to create a feeling of the family at home. By the 1950s they had enough of the furniture to create that.”

An extension at the back in 1960 created space for offices and a new custodian’s flat, allowing the existing custodian’s flat above the research library to become a permanent gallery for the display cases. This meant the Brontës’ original rooms could be laid out properly and give visitors an evocative glimpse of everyday life for the famous family.

The rooms became even more realistic in 2013 with a major redecoration of all the rooms after extensive historical research and detailed examination of the various layers on the walls.

Ann said: “The house looks closer now than ever to the days when the Brontës lived there.”

Museum bosses promise a “very special experience” when the Parsonage reopens on August 29 because – due to social distancing rules – groups of visitors could have each room to themselves as they move through the building.

In readiness for reopening, museum staff have been making major changes so they can provide a Covid-friendly experience, including perspex screens, changes to the shop layout, and timed tickets.

Entry to the museum will be by pre-booked, timed tickets that will go on sale at midday on Friday August 21.

The long-awaited public reopening of the museum and shop will follow a special preview day for Brontë Society members the previous day. Tickets for the August 28 event will also go on sale on August 21.

Visit the website to book tickets for the museum.