Ellen Nussey
Ellen Nussey in old age (mid-1890s) Ellen Nussey - earliest known photograph  (c.1855)
Ellen Nussey
(1817 - 1897)

The photograph on the left was taken during the last few years of Ellen's life (around the mid -1890s). The one on the right is the earliest known photograph of her - probably taken around 1855.

Ellen Nussey has claim to great fame within the Brontë circles, and this she owes to nothing more than her close friendship with the three sisters. Her first encounter with the Brontës was when she met Charlotte while both were pupils at Roe Head School in 1831, and this led to their life-long friendship. She subsequently became one of the few 'close' friends of both Anne and Emily. In May 1849, at Anne's request, she accompanied her and Charlotte on, what turned out to be, the ill-fated visit to Scarborough. As Ellen lived to the ripe old age of 80, dying in 1897, she has been one of the most valuable sources of biographical information on the Brontë family, and in particular on Anne.

The Rydings Brookroyd

New York 'Brontë authority', Maria Torres, visits Ellen Nussey's homes in Birstall, Yorkshire (September 1999). On the left is 'The Rydings' - Ellen's early home where she lived until September 1836. Charlotte visited Ellen here in September 1832: she was escorted by Branwell, who, being so overwhelmed by the beauty of the place, told Charlotte he was leaving her 'in paradise'. After the death of Ellen's father, the family had to move to the much more modest 'Brookroyd' - seen in the photograph on the right. Charlotte visited here on many occasions, and it was in this house where she corrected her proof-sheets of Jane Eyre - yet we are still told that Ellen, at this point and beyond, had no knowledge of Charlotte's novel writing! Ellen invited Anne to visit and spend some time here, but for one reason or another - possibly Anne's shyness and inability to socialise - the visit never took place.

Below: The Nussey family tomb stands solitary in front of St Peter's Church, Birstall. This building is said to have been the model for 'Briarfield Church' in Charlotte's novel, Shirley. Ellen's inscription - on the left-hand side of the tomb stone (as seen here) is simple: 'Also of Ellen Nussey, youngest daughter of the above'. Maria Torres makes notes of the obvious error in the inscription for Ellen's brother, Joseph. It declares that Joseph died on 29th May, 1849 - which is the day following Anne's death. The year should read '1846' - clearly the stonemasons have etched the '6' upside down!

The Nussey family grave and St. Peter's Church, Birstall

Copyright © 1999 Michael Armitage

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