Overlooking the serene South Bay, nestled among the ageing headstones in what is now partly a car park, is the burial place of one of England’s great literary heroines.
However, the passing of time left Anne Bronte’s grave at St Mary’s Church almost undetectable, with weather scarring the headstone as crumbling chunks of lettering fell from the frontage.
The decaying dedication posed a dilemma for The Bronte Society, which wanted to preserve the grave but not disturb the tribute that had been put in place by Anne’s sister Charlotte.
The resolution was to place a new plaque at the site of the grave, carrying the wording of the original headstone as well as the correction of a few mistakes.
To mark the installion of the interpretive plaque members of The Bronte Society travelled from far and wide for a dedication and blessing service at the Scarborough church, paying respect to the author famous for writing Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
Led by the Rev Martin Dunning, the service featured prayers and readings of several of Anne’s works by members of the Society.
Speaking from the graveside following the service, Sally McDonald, chairman of The Bronte Society’s council, said: “Today is the culmination of several years of decision work about what to do to make sure that the headstone is preserved but that the grave isn’t disturbed.
“We hope we have provided a neutral compromise so everyone who comes will know where she is buried.
“I’m very pleased to see so many people here for the dedication and blessing. It just shows, on such a cold and wet day, the value people place on preserving this grave. It is a pleasure to honour her in this modest way, in the coastal town she loved so much.”
Anne Bronte arrived in Scarborough on May 25, 1849, accompanied by her older sister Charlotte and their friend Ellen Nussey. She was very ill having been diagnosed with advanced tuberculosis four months earlier, only a few weeks after the death of her other sister Emily.
She had travelled to Scarborough because she loved the resort and hoped that the air may improve her condition. However she died just three days after arriving.
Anne was buried in Scarborough by her own wish, to spare Charlotte the unbearable task of accompanying her coffin back to their home in Haworth, where the rest of the famous literary family are buried.
Anne had visted Scarborough many a time with the Robinson family, to whom she was the governess, and the seaside town became her favourite.
Despite knowing there was no cure for her illness Anne had hoped the sea air would give her a chance to regain a little strength.
The trip had, however, been put off as she was too ill to travel, but it became obvious that if there was to be any chance of the sea air providing some respite from her illness, there must be no further delay.
Anne, Charlotte and Ellen booked into rooms at Number 2, The Cliff, known as ‘Woods Lodgings’, in St Nicholas Cliff, which was where The Grand Hotel now stands.
Despite her short time in Scarborough on her final trip Anne still enjoyed the sights of the seaside. On May 26 Anne drove on the sands in a donkey-cart. On the following day, Sunday, she was dissuaded from going to church, but walked a little in the afternoon and sat on a seat in a sheltered and comfortable spot near the beach.
The following morning however it was clear a change in her health was taking place for the worse. A doctor was called, but nothing could be done, and she died, peacefully and serenely, at two o’clock in the afternoon. Her last words to her sister, who was almost overcome with grief, were ‘Take courage, Charlotte, take courage’.
Before her death Anne wrote of her illness. She said: “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.”
Anne’s headstone says she was 28 at the time of her death when infact she was 29. Her gravestone was refaced three years after her death, when Charlotte returned to discover five errors on it. The other mistakes were corrected but the age was not.
Rev Martyn Dunning said Anne’s grave is an important and popular site at St Mary’s Church. He said: “Her grave is very much visited. Lots of people very much enjoy visiting it and the church, they come from all over the world to see where Anne is buried.
“We have a Bronte corner in the church where we keep the words of Anne’s final poem. The space is a tangible link between the church and the grave.”
To see a video of the dedication service visit www.thescarboronews.co.uk