Scarborough, England: Anne Brontë’s Final Resting Place

How is it that Anne Brontë (1820–1849) was laid to rest in the seaside town of Scarborough, and not in Haworth, the enclave in the Yorkshire moors where the others in her immediate family were buried? Here we’ll explore how Anne came to be connected with Scarborough, and how she came to be buried there.

Anne Brontë, the youngest of the literary Brontë sisters, was often described as the gentlest and quietest of the trio, which included Charlotte and Emily. Unfortunately, the career of this talented writer was cut short, as she didn’t even reach the age of thirty when she died of consumption (pulmonary tuberculosis) in 1849. 

Following her brother Branwell’s death in September of 1848 (at the age of thirty-one), Emily, with whom Anne had always been closest, became ill. Wracked with misery, she refused medical attention until it was too late, and died in mid-December of that same year at the age of thirty.

The shock of Emily’s death weakened Anne, and she fell ill, and it was also consumption. Characteristically, she faced the news with courage, though she was disappointed that she would not have the chance to further her ambition as a writer. She wrote to Ellen Nussey, a dear friend she shared with Charlotte:

“I have no horror of death: if I thought it inevitable I think I could quietly resign myself to the prospect… But I wish it would please God to spare me not only for Papa’s and Charlotte’s sakes, but because I long to do some good in the world before I leave it. I have many schemes in my head for future practice — humble and limited indeed — but still I should not like them all to come to nothing, and myself to have lived to so little purpose. But God’s will be done.”

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Anne Bronte drawing
Learn more about Anne Brontë
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Over the next few months, Anne regained some strength and was even able to travel to Scarborough. The seaside town was a place to which she had traveled with the Robinsons, a family she had served as governess over a few years. The position became the veiled subject of her first novel, Agnes Grey, and though she loathed being a governess, she grew to love the picturesque town. 

As Anne sank with the illness, it was hoped that a change of scene and fresh sea air would improve her health. But it was not to be. When death was at hand, she was unable to travel back to Haworth and died in Scarborough on May 28, 1849, at the age of twenty-nine. Supposedly, her last words were, “Take courage, Charlotte, take courage…” Though she had been kept company by their mutual friend, Ellen Nussey, her elder sister made the trip when it was clear that Anne’s end was near. 

Anne wasn’t afraid of death and knew it was coming for her. She was, however, disappointed that she wouldn’t have the opportunity to continue her life as a writer. This is the last stanza of one of her last poems, “Last Words“:

Should Death be standing at the gate
      Thus should I keep my vow;
But, Lord, whate’er my future fate
      So let me serve Thee now.

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Scarborough Cliff Bridge today
Scarborough Cliff Bridge as it looks today (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
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It’s not completely clear why the decision was made to bury Anne in Scarborough, and not carry her back to be buried where so many of the immediate family had been laid to rest in Haworth (Charlotte and the father, the Reverend Patrick Brontë were the only two of the original family of eight still alive). Though it simply may be because such matters were far more complicated at the time; the decision perhaps hinged on practical matters like transporting a body.

After having her sister buried, Charlotte couldn’t bring herself to return to Scarborough for the next three years. But when she did, she was shocked to find five errors on Anne’s gravestone. The most egregious still stands, etched in the stone— her age at the time of her death. According to AnneBrontë.org:

“These mistakes were presumably a result of the memorial being arranged by Ellen [Nussey], and an indication of Charlotte’s state of mind when it was being prepared. We do not know what four of the mistakes were, as Charlotte paid to have them corrected – the spelling of the name is one obvious mistake that could have been made. One mistake famously remained uncorrected, however. Anne’s gravestone now is weathered and beaten by the salt air, rain, and sea frets …”

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Scarborough Castle
Scarborough Castle (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
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The following 1914 article from The Boston Globe reflects on Anne Brontë and her time in Scarborough, both in life and as her final resting place.

 

Anne Brontë at Scarborough:
Youngest of Famous Trio Was Buried There

From the original article in The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts), December 27, 1914: The outstanding feature in Scarborough, the English seashore resort on the Yorkshire Coast, is the old, half-ruined castle on the cliff. From the Grand Hotel nearby the summer visitor, in times of peace, can watch the old gray towers on the high promontory which juts out into the gray North Sea, taking on the colors of the changing sky.

To the north and the south of the castle stretch the curving sands of North Bay and South Bay, and behind the beaches are the broad streets and handsome buildings of the town.

Scarborough is no flimsy summer resort. It is a solid, beautiful, English city. There are parks and promenade piers; there are theatres and museums and a spa with assembly rooms. The high-lying moors and the wooded valleys offer pleasant excursions in every direction.

But aside from these summer attractions, this city has a sturdy, year-round life of its own. The fishing boats run in and out of the harbor in South Bay and fashionable life goes prosperously on in the handsome streets on the southern part of the town.

Much as we may know about Scarborough, we rarely connect it with the Brontë family. Yet in the churchyard of the old parish church of St Mary’s, which stands overlooking the sea on the landward side of the castle, is the grave of Anne Brontë, the youngest of that wonderful family.

To the east of the church, near the wall of the churchyard, stands a headstone with this simple inscription: “Here the remains of Anne Brontë, daughter of the Rev. P. Bronte, Incumbent of Haworth, Yorkshire. She died May 28th, 1849.”

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Scarborough North Bay at Dusk
Scarborough North Bay at dusk (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
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The place she loved

If Anne Brontë could have chosen, she would have been burled in Scarborough, for, excepting her own home on the Yorkshire moors, she loved no place so well. Three or four times she had been there to stay with the family who employed her as their daughter’s governess.

On the first visit to this cheerful watering place, she had made the solemn record following the brief statement that she disliked her situation. “l have seen the sea and York minister.”

As she came back summer after summer with the Robinson family, she grew to love Scarborough more and more. We can never know all the reasons for Anne, the pretty, delicate, fair-haired. violet-eyed girl, being so happy in Scarborough. Happiness blossoms sometimes on such a slender stalk! But surely she was happy there.

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The Bronte Sisters - The Brief Lives

10 Interesting Facts About the Brontë Sisters
(photo: Anna Fiore)

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The only jocund chapter in her two sober novels is that one near the end of Agnes Grey called “The Sands.”

Agnes Grey had stepped out of the house in the early morning, before the family were awake. “There was a feeling of freshness and vigor in the very streets, and when I got free of the town, when my foot was on the sands and my face toward the broad, bright bay. No language can describe the effect of the deep. clear azure of the sky and ocean, the bright morning sunshine on the semicircular barrier of craggy cliffs, surmounted by green, swelling hills, and on the smooth, wide sands, and the low rocks out at sea, who for two years had been tutor in looking, with their clothing of weeds and moss. like little grass-grown islands … and above all on the brilliant, sparkling waves …

“No living creature was visible besides myself. My footsteps were the first to press the firm, unbroken sands … About 6:30, however, the grooms began to come down to air their masters’ horses … one water cart coming out of town to get water for the baths. In another minute or two the distant bathing machines would begin to move, and then the elderly gentlemen of regular habits, and sober Quaker ladies, would be coming to take their salutary morning walks.”

Anne Brontë, quiet and gentle though she was, had a decided personality of her own, quite different from that of either Charlotte or Emily. The wild flashes of Celtic imagination that light up the somber pages of Wuthering Heights never flicker even for a minute over Anne’s narratives. Anne was a realist, pure and simple.

It is interesting to note that Anne in her mild verses accomplishes one feat her sister Emily did not even attempt. Longing unutterably for the tangled grass, the neglected dooryard of Haworth parsonage, she yet sees clearly and describes justly the things which are around her.

How brightly glistening in the sun
      The woodland ivy plays!
While yonder beeches from their barks
      Reflect his silver rays.

Emily’s barren room faded away when she wrote of home. She would never have bothered to notice just how the ivy and the beeches in an employer’s park looked in the sunshine.

So it was true of Anne, even though she never left Yorkshire except on that one hurried trip to London with Charlotte, that she saw more of the world than either of her sisters.

Anne never would have made Mr. Rochester’s guests talk in the quite impossible way in which Charlotte did. Her novels lack dramatic power. but her characters stand out clearly and each one speaks in a distinctive, true-to-life manner.

Four Crowded Years

After four years with the Robinson family at Thorp Green near York, the monotony of the situation which she did not like. varied each summer by some weeks at well-loved, cheerful Scarborough. Anne resigned her place and came home.

Shortly after, her brother Branwell, who for two years had been a tutor in the same family, was dismissed. That was in July 1845. Anne was twenty-five, but she wrote in strange contrast to Emily’s buoyant mood. “During my stay [at Thorp Green] I have had some very unpleasant and undreamt-of experiences in human nature.”

The next four years were the years of Branwell’s gradual decay in the midst of wild ravings, of the father’s failing eyesight and successful operation on the eyes. They were the years writing of The Professor, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Agnes Grey, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and the deaths of Branwell, Emily, and Anne Bronte.

What crowded, tragic years were those from midsummer of 1845 to mid-summer of 1849 were in that old stone parsonage standing behind the churchyard on the Yorkshire moors.

Yet Anne’s death. which came in May 1849, within sight of the old castle on the cliff and the dancing waters of the South Bay of Scarborough, watched over by Charlotte and Charlotte’s friend, was peaceful. “Have courage!” were her last words.

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Anne Bronte grave in Scarborough
The gravestone with Anne’s incorrect age at time of death
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The gravestone errors

Anne’s gravesite in Scarborough can be visited. Her grave is located in an annex rather than the main part of the churchyard.  According to AnneBronte.org:

“Charlotte could not bring herself to return to Scarborough for another three years, and even then she based herself once more in Filey. Upon visiting Anne’s grave, for the first and only time after her funeral, she was shocked to find that there were five mistakes on her gravestone.

These mistakes were presumably a result of the memorial being arranged by Ellen, and an indication of Charlotte’s state of mind when it was being prepared. We do not know what four of the mistakes were, as Charlotte paid to have them corrected – the spelling of the name is one obvious mistake that could have been made. 

One mistake famously remained uncorrected, however. Anne’s gravestone now is weathered and beaten by the salt air, rain and sea frets of Scarborough, but you can still make out that it says Anne died aged 28, when she was in fact 29.”

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Anne Bronte's grave, Scarborough, with corrective plaque

In 2013, a plaque was installed at the foot of the gravestone
with the error of Anne’s age corrected. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
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