Thanks in part to a donation from the estate of one of England’s most esteemed poets — and some dancing cats — the Brontë Parsonage Museum’s doors will remain open, for now.
The estate of T.S. Eliot has gifted the struggling museum, which reopened in late August after being closed since March, 20,000 pounds (or approximately $26,000) last week. The donation was first reported by the BBC.
The parsonage, located in Haworth, said it was facing a loss of expected income of more than £500,000 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
There is a connection between Eliot and the Brontës: The “Bradford millionaire” who appears in the Eliot poem “The Waste Land” is thought to be Sir James Roberts, a Yorkshire philanthropist who was also a customer at the bank where Eliot worked. Mr. Roberts donated Haworth Parsonage — once the home of the Brontë sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne — to the Brontë Society, which operates the museum, in 1928. Roberts knew the family as a child.
But the Eliot estate’s gift didn’t come with any fanfare: Rebecca Yorke, the head of communications and marketing at the Brontë Society, said she discovered the donation when it showed up on the museum’s crowdfunding campaign page with a message of support. “Realizing that it was from the T.S. Eliot estate was a very special moment,” she said.
Yorke said the Eliot estate told the organization that the donation was possible thanks to the success of the Tony-winning Andrew Lloyd Webber musical “Cats,” which is based on Eliot’s playful 1939 poetry collection “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.”
The parsonage houses the largest collection of Brontë manuscripts and personal possessions in the world and attracts more than 70,000 visitors each year. “Jane Eyre,” by Charlotte Brontë, and “Wuthering Heights,” by Emily Brontë, were both written there.
The museum has been hard hit by the pandemic because more than 70 percent of the Brontë Society’s income comes from admissions, events and retail, according to its website. The typically busy spring and summer months normally sustain it through the slower winter season.
The museum has furloughed a majority of its staff and applied for grants and emergency funds, but still faces an end-of-year deficit of £100,000. As of Tuesday afternoon, its crowdfunding campaign had raised approximately £53,000.
Yorke said the donation from the Eliot estate gives the museum hope. “We are very grateful for the support,” she said, “and are pleased that there is still a connection between Eliot and the Brontës all these years later.”