VETERAN actress Sheila Hancock spent time in Mirfield filming a documentary about the Brontë sisters.
The programme will be screened by ITV on Sunday and includes ‘an encounter with a ghost’.
The TV star visited Hollybank Trust’s Roe Head building in Mirfield and the Red House Museum, Gomersal, where the sisters, especially Charlotte, spent some of their formative years.
The Shakespearean actress is narrating the documentary and visited key locations from their life stories to film pieces to camera for the programme.
The oldest building at Roe Head, at Far Common Road, Mirfield, was a boarding school for girls in the 1830s.
The Rev Patrick Brontë had been assistant curate at nearby Hartshead until 1815. He married his wife Maria during the time of his service there. The first of six children – also Maria – was born at Hightown.
The three Brontë sisters who grew up and became writers, Charlotte, Emily and Anne, were educated at Roe Head between 1831 and 1838, although Emily only stayed for a few weeks before succumbing to homesickness and returning to the family home in Haworth.
Charlotte returned to Roe Head in 1835 as a teacher.
The building is now used by Hollybank Trust office staff. As a listed building, it is not possible to adapt it for wheelchair use for residents and pupils.
The film crew from Blakeway North in Manchester spent two hours at Roe Head taking some general footage of the exterior and grounds of the 17th century building, then worked with Sheila as she spoke to camera.
Once her work was done, Sheila met some of the staff and also chatted to some pupils at Hollybank School, which educates children and young people with profound and multiple disabilities.
Marketing officer Rosey James pointed out mysterious aspects of Roe Head.
She said: “I pointed out the small attic door behind which the ghost of Roe Head is reputed to live. It’s at the top of a steep flight of steps which the story says is where a servant fell to her death.
“Sheila became very excited and insisted on going into the attic to see for herself.”
Sheila was shown round the attic rooms which used to be the servants’ quarters and part of the attic which is unused.
Through a gap in the wall, it is possible to see an antiquated, very dusty prayer kneeler covered in cobwebs.
Rosey added: “I pointed out the kneeler and told her that nobody would go near it now – apparently whenever it has been moved or even disturbed, there has been a terrible commotion from the attic, with loud noises and banging. This goes on until the kneeler is put back in its place.
“Sheila was convinced that there was a connection between this ghostly presence and Charlotte Brontë’s ‘mad woman in the attic’ Bertha in Jane Eyre. Both Charlotte and her friend Ellen Nussey refer to the ghost in their letters and these spooky stories could have inspired her when writing her great novel.”
The film crew also worked at Red House Museum, a house Charlotte visited regularly during the 1830s.
Red House featured in her novel ‘Shirley’ as ‘Briarmains’, the home of Shirley herself. Charlotte’s close friend Mary Taylor and family lived there at the time and featured as the Yorke family in the novel.
Perspectives: The Brilliant Brontë Sisters will be screened on ITV at 10pm on Easter Sunday, March 31.
Sheila Hancock, born in the Isle of Wight, studied at RADA and has performed in theatre, television, film and radio.
Her career spans Shakespeare, musicals, Carry On and comedy films and blockbusters like The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas.
She was married to actor John Thaw until his death in 2002, has three daughters and seven grandchildren.
She appeared on our screens recently in the Christmas edition of Strictly Come Dancing and is a regular contributor on Radio 4’s Just A Minute programme.