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Domestic servant in the Brontë household.
Born Haworth 1828.
Died Haworth, 19th January 1880.
Martha was one of the six daughters of John and Mary Brown of Haworth. John Brown was the village Sexton and, although thirteen years older, he was a close friend of Branwell Brontë . The Browns lived in Sexton's House, which John himself had built on the eastern end of the Church School, shortly after the school was built in 1832. Sexton's House is directly opposite the Church, and about a hundred yards from the Parsonage. The Sexton was responsible for the fabric of the church and the maintenance of the burial ground, where he dug the graves and carved memorials. Most of John Brown's daughters worked at the Parsonage at one time or another, cleaning, washing and running errands, but Martha was the only one to live in.
Living in at the Parsonage
Since 1826, Tabitha Aykroyd had been the only servant living in at the Parsonage. In 1836 she broke a leg very badly, which left her lame. Emily Brontë took on many of Tabby's duties, but by 1839 it was clear that permanent extra help would be needed, and eleven year old Martha Brown moved in to share the bedroom of sixty eight year old Tabby. This arrangement continued until Tabby's death sixteen years later, when, with only Mr. Brontë and Mr. Nicholls left to look after, Martha finally had the room to herself. Her duties ranged from basic washing, cleaning and laying fires, to running errands and, after Tabby's death, preparing food. She was also called upon to help nurse the sick of the household, and for all this she was paid £6 a year when she started, rising to £10 a year by 1858.
Life after the Parsonage
On the death of Patrick Brontë in 1861, the Brontë household was broken up, and Martha went with Arthur Bell Nicholls (Charlotte's widower) back to Northern Ireland. Whether this was just to help Mr. Nicholls settle in to his new home, or whether it was intended that she settle there as his housekeeper, we do not know, but by Christmas 1862, Martha was back in Haworth, living with her widowed mother at Sexton's house (John Brown had died of 'dust on his lungs' in 1855). Martha took domestic work in the village, including a stint with Dr. Amos Ingham (lately the Brontë family physician) at the Manor House in Cookgate. Martha's mother died in 1866, and in 1868 Martha, who increasingly by then was in poor health, went to live with her sister Anne Binns and her family at Saltaire. She stayed there for nine years, until the domestic tensions between her sister and her husband Ben became intolerable for her, and she returned to Haworth, where she spent the last three years of her life living alone in a small damp cottage in what is now Sun Street. She died there of stomach cancer on the 19th January 1880.
Throughout her post-Parsonage years, Martha and Arthur Bell Nicholls maintained a regular correspondence, and Martha visited Mr. Nicholls (and his second wife after 1864) a number of times. He always asked her to stay, and she always declined. Martha had featured in Elizabeth Gaskell's best selling biography, The Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857), and in her later years she became something of a celebrity. Martha treasured a large collection of Brontë memorabilia that she was happy to display, but reluctant to sell. On her death however, this collection was divided between her sisters and it gradually dispersed.
|© Митрофанова Екатерина Борисовна, 2009 ||