Rebecca Chesney

Rebecca Chesney

Hope's Whisper Bronte Parsonage Museum 2011 - 2012

In October 2011 I sited a digital weather station in the garden of the Bronte Parsonage Museum to collect weather data for a year.
Through collating both historical and contemporary weather records and cross referencing them with descriptions of weather in the Brontes' letters, poems and novels I spent time exploring the influence the weather had on their lives and work.
Taking into account the location of Haworth with its situation on the edge of moorland, the project looked at this unique habitat and how it was originally formed by the weather; how this finely balanced ecosystem is integral to the health of the planet; and how climate change could threaten the moorland landscape in the future.

Rebecca Chesney Bronte Weather 10

Rebecca Chesney Bronte Weather 01
A sorrowful sight I saw; dark night coming down prematurely, and sky and hills mingled in one bitter whirl of wind and suffocating snow
(Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte) pencil on graph paper 84 x 59 cm

From drizzle and mist, storms and gales, thunder and lightening, to sunshine and rain the Bronte sisters referenced weather types in their novels that I put into eighteen different categories.
Working out the percentage of each category, the findings were presented in three individual colour wheels: one novel for each of the Bronte sisters.
Films, TV dramas and book cover illustrations all provide us with the popular perception of a weather beaten, wind swept and rain lashed Bronte landscape. However, when the percentage data was visualised in the form of colour wheels it became apparent that each Bronte sister wrote about far more types of weather than just rain, snow and wind.

Rebecca Chesney Bronte Weather 05

Rebecca Chesney Bronte Weather 06

Rebecca Chesney Bronte Weather 04
Top: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Middle: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Bottom: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
Each gouache and pencil on paper, 42 x 29 cm

By reading their letters it became apparent just how much the weather affected their personal lives. Living in a time before Tuberculosis was recognised as a contagious disease, or before any cure and effective treatment was developed, the Brontes were acutely aware of the devastating effects of consumption (Branwell died of TB in Sept 1848, Emily died of it in Dec the same year and Anne died of it in May 1849). They often wrote about the weather in relation to the illness of a sibling: in this respect the weather could be a matter of life or death.

Rebecca Chesney Bronte Weather 07
"You say May is a trying month" 1849 Anne Bronte
Screen print, marker pen on paper 15 x 19 cm

Rebecca Chesney Bronte Weather 08
“Will the day be bright or cloudy?” 1836 Emily Bronte
Screen print, marker pen on paper 9 x 11 cm

To add to the weather data collected via the digital weather station, I also wanted to gather personal accounts of the weather for the duration of the project: individual descriptions from a relatively small area, every day for a year. How does the weather affect our daily lives and routines, how can it make us feel and what thoughts might it provoke? To achieve this a small group of ten volunteers were enlisted to help, all of whom live locally to the Parsonage in the villages of Haworth, Oxenhope, Ponden and Stanbury. Each volunteer was given a Brontë Weather Project kit consisting of an outdoor digital thermometer, specially designed weather recording cards and brief instructions. The ‘weather collectors’ were asked to note the maximum and minimum temperature every day; the location and time of recording; plus to give their own comments and description of the weather.
Record collecting started on Tuesday 18 October 2011 and ran until Monday 5 November 2012.
Rebecca Chesney Bronte Weather 09

A total of 2334 hand-written cards were completed during this time. These record cards provide an invaluable source of personal weather notes and observation that can be cross-referenced with the weather station data.


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