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19 April 2014
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Legacies - Bradford

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Myths and Legends
Sex, Drugs, Poetry and Prose

Just one more for the road

The second area of Branwell’s life upon which people love to pontificate on was his fondness for opium and alcohol.

Branwell for rent
A common local tale is that the landlord of the Black Bull, Branwell’s favourite local pub, would advise travellers, who were in need to light entertainment and witty ripostes, to invite Branwell over for a drink. A kind of Victorian rent-a-drinking-companion!
Mrs Gaskell blames the events at Thorp Green as Branwell’s starting point for, “his career as an habitual drunkard”. She regales the tale that he received a message from Mrs Robinson whilst sat in his local, the Black Bull. Upon receiving the letter he locked himself up in a room there and whined and wailed, consuming large amounts of alcohol. She then goes on to talk about his devious behaviour in obtaining opiates, by conning local chemists or getting visitors to Howarth to unwittingly bring him small amounts of his drug of choice. Again however, her descriptions of his actions always relate back to how Charlotte suffered at the hand of them. Could this be a poorly painted picture of Branwell in order to display Charlotte in a virtuous light?

Branwell remained in Howarth from 1845, the year of his dismissal, until his death. His death, which most likely was caused by consumption, is often attributed to overuse of drugs. One popular tale of his time at home is the report of his waking comments after sharing, as was commonplace, a room with his ailing father.

"The poor old man and I have had a terrible night of it; he does his best - the poor old man! but it's all over with me;"

This is taken from Charlotte’s diary, but can this be a reliable source?
The Black Bull
The Black Bull was a favourite pub of Branwell's.
Written, as it was, from the viewpoint of a daughter who, according to du Maurier, was aggrieved and annoyed by the time and affection lavished on Branwell by her father and her aunt, whilst she, and her talented sisters, were ignored.

Juliet Barker mentions another tale of Branwell in which his delirium tremens have become so bad that he set his bed alight, and was rescued by Anne and Emily. She also refers to the stories, again which no-one knows if they are true or not, that Mrs Robinson repeatedly sent him money which he promptly spent on opiates.

If we are to believe these tales then Branwell was indeed a drunk, who abused the faith his father had in him and the love and affection of his sisters. But we must remember as Francis Leyland, biographer of the Brontė’s and brother of Branwell’s friend Joseph Bently Leyland, says that Branwell’s life had,

“been written by those who have some other object in view, and who, consequently, have not been studious to acquire a correct view of the circumstances of it.”

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Look back into the past using the Legacies' archives. Find nearly 200 tales from around the country in our collection.

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Brontė Museum
Branwell Brontė biography
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