A day in the life of Emily Bronte ?

I have been working on displays for the day long Bronte event and thinking over possible subjects  .I decided a display on  “a day in the life “would be something that people would find interesting and which I could probably put together with a reasonable amount of accuracy having lived from time to time in a similar manner  to the Victorians ,,though with the modern convienances  of  plumbing  (usually) running water  and an inside toilet.For several years we lived in the very far north of Scotland in a tiny village at the end on a peninsula .(our house first house was near the blue house on the far left our second at the very far right on the seafront with a long front sun porch )



The long road to the village  meant that we were also at the very end of the power and utility lines .It was more common than otherwise to wake up in winter to have no power ,,indeed friends still living in the area reported waking up  with no lights or heating  on three days  last week .

We know that Emily got up early ,,before the servants to do the heavy work such setting the fires and that the Brontes like ourselves and our friends had pets and /or livestock so the early morning  and late night routine in  is probably a pretty accurate .I have based the later morning and afternoon on the average occupations of a Victorian lady and the night is again based on personal experience or that of friends.

(Image below From the BBC series Jane Eyre)

jane wakes

Emilys day

nightgown 1830

1/ Wake up,pull back bed curtains  light a candle ,put on thick socks ,warm shoes,dressing gown (or wrapper gown) and shawl.(there’s no point in washing at this stage in the day as everything your about to do is messy and it’s not impossible that any water in the bedroom kept for washing has a skimming of ice ,(,our washing up water  in the kitchen froze on a couple of occasions and our house had modern insulation).Pull the bed covers back to air the bed .


2/Take your candle and light a candle or lamp on the stairs so the next person up doesn’t need to grope around .Do this in all the rooms that will be used while it’s still dark.The image from Jane Eyre above is excellent as it show the ladies in their correct nightwear and the way everyone had candles to get around.

3/Stoke up the kitchen range and put the kettle on.


4/ Let the house dogs outside or if the dog sleeps outside let it in .Break any ice on the livestock  waterbowls,collect any eggs otherwise once theres no longer birds to keep them warm you end up with frozen eggs,we collected frozen eggs on occasion and they were not particularly pleasant.


5/ make a pot of tea (or coffee) to get warm , have a piece of bread and butter,then put on coarse cloth oversleeves and apron.

a_victorian_maid fires

6/We know Emily rose early to do the elderly servants morning jobs so she would  clean the grates and  tidy out the bedded down fires relighting the ones in rooms likely to be used  during the day and setting fires ready to light in the other rooms.She would need restock the coal scuttles , clean and dust the fireplace and sweep the hearth ,reuse large chunks of charcoal ,,, maybe add the removed tiny cinders to the paths at the back of the house .I would bring in kindling regularly to dry it for fire lighting and  I would also bring in logs to store  somewhere inside so they burned well but the Brontes probably used coal or at least had servants to bring in logs.


7/dust the areas of the room close to the fire to remove soot,peat dust etc which settles with alarming regularity each day.


8 /Trim the wicks, clean the chimneys and shades of any oil lamps and refill with oil, (pre paraffin oil was muckier than later paraffin) Most lighting in the Brontes era would have been by candles .Tidy any candles still ok  trim around the wick if needed ,replace all the used candles ,clean any wax off the candle holders

Luckily I didn’t have to do then next bit but Emily would need to bring in water from the pump for breakfast,I am not sure what the Parsonage water pump looked like but I didn’t see taps or tanks so water would have needed collecting from outside.

servant water

9/wash hands and possibly face  and remove coarse cloth apron and oversleeves ,put on new clean plain better quality apron  maybe do your hair at this point Emily wore hers  up at the back of her head twisted and held in place with a spanish style comb

perhaps now or soon after open shutters and any curtains

10/Set table for breakfast ,,have breakfast when everyone’s down .
Morning Prayers.

we know th Brontes had prayer time .


Housework next


while tabby and later younger servants would have done some of this ,while Tabby was ill and later too old for kneeling on floors Emily probably did some or all of these tasks at some point ,Daily work would typically involve sweeping the hall free of dust mud etc and I would imagine in wet weather scrubbing the hall floor and  kitchen floor as pets tread in mud .Then scrub the kitchen table  ,sweep the rooms floors and stairs ,maybe shaking out and beating any hearth rugs if any in the front room  and kitchen as they tend to get dusty from soot or ash ,wiping down any lower woodwork that might be mudded  by the dogs brushing against it or shaking themselves when coming in wet ,plumping cushions ,airing the beds making the beds  ,Donkey stoning the Front step.

donkey stoning

Donkey stone was a funny hard substance that when damp could be rubbed on stone a bit like chalk  to create a lighter  bright finish to stone flags ,,Its was a source of pride to have a donkey stoned clean step,,I can remember the women in my grandmas row of houses doing their steps,I did it a couple of times as it seemed fun  ,,at pre school age its was fun but hard on the hands .It didnt last long either and smudged

do nkey stone

The Parsonage definitely  “did its steps” as can been seen in the photo below

bronte parsonahe bronte era 1850

Sweeping the  outdoor paths would  probably be done by the servants as would black leading the range.polishing , front door  and its fittings ,knockers, boot scrapers etc.

Next as everyone is now up and about their day you can sort out the bedrooms ,Change the wash stand towels ,wash the washstand bowls,


Bring in water and ,refill the  wash stand jugs with water.Empty chamber pots ,swill  buckets,

collect and empty Hot water bottles ,


bed warmers ,foot warmers,perhaps fill dogs water bowls .refill flower vases check any flowers in vases to make sure they look ok.

(Probably on wash day you would now get dressed )

Once weekly wash day


washing clothes ,,ideally done by servants but they seem to have regularly been  helped by the Brontes,In North and South by Mrs Gaskel the heroine also helps on washing days of it seems likely that most young ladies from less well off families secretly did their bit  ,,likewise Ironing ,,not just clothing but bedding ,towels which were made from cotton or lien not the fully towelling of modern towels. several table clothes,tray clothes ,napkins,,  We know Emily ironed some items as she was using an Italian iron used for finer work when she was bitten by a dog .

This list below is a conservative estimate of a weekly Bronte  wash load for an average of two beds for the Brontes (women often shared beds )and one bed for a servant  or servants and assumes not all bedding was washed every week but in rotation

4 sheets

4 pillow cases ,2 bolster pillow cases


10  handtowels towels plus shaving clothes for the men

assorted Kitchen hand towels  tea towels,dish clothes ,glass clothes ,dusting and window clothes, and in addition probably towels or similar used for drying the dogs

at least 7 tablecloths,6 traycloths,10 napkins

(a clean fresh looking one would always be used for each main meal,,eating Breakfast and supper at the kitchen table would mean less washing of table linen.Tray clothes for Mr Bronte meals ,visitors afternoon teas ,napkins  for 4  people and Mr Bronte and those for guests at afternoon teas etc.

10  or more Aprons

(A clean one would always be used for  major batches  of baking and certainly a clean dress apron for smart day wear so for Emily ,Charlotte and at least one servant that would amount to at least 10 a week,probably more depending on how often the morning coarse aprons used for cleaning grates were washed .

5/6 pairs Under sleeves probably collars ,mittens,tippets etc as well

6 chemises

5  nightdresses, the girls plus servants

2 to 4  mens night shirts

6 to 8 petticoats

8 pairs stockings at least

21 or more handkerchiefs,,

4 wrapper dresses

most  of these items would also need starching,,collars cuffs, some petticoats,

Storing linen meant using lavender ,moth balls etc.

Once the housework was done

When the early morning  housework was done ,it would be time to dress properly go upstairs put on  a corset petticoats  a day dress ,collar ,cuffs or undersleeves  and mittens,perhaps also an apron.I very much doubt on days when there was no guests Staying or visitors expected that anyone would fully dress before the grates etc where done as its very hard to bend down for any length of time in corsets and wrapper gowns were  usually made of less expensive fabric with fewer frills,trims and flounces so where  easier to wash frequently than the more expensive gowns and certainly I can’t imagine anyone wanting to get too many petticoats wet and mucky from ,ash or soot or soapy floor cleaning water

Go downstairs do any baking ,bread ,pies for the days meals ,maybe custards ,ricepuddings,  some days also  the more in-depth weekly bake of cakes ,jam making, pickles making .We know Emily made bread from the story of her learning German from a book propped in front of her  while she worked.

mrsbeetonchops off head of turtle in bbc adaptation

Set table for lunch ,eat lunch ,clear table,wash ,dry and put away the lunch plates cups etc

kitchen maid pots

Light fires in rooms only used later in the day .

musical instrument practice maybe ,now or perhaps in the early evening


Now is the time to do essential  but Socialy acceptable  ladylike work  which would be ok to be interrupted  during should a visitor arrive. Light sewing (making household items or clothing such as petticoats  dresses etc, would be done in more private times earlier in the day or later after tea when the light allowed ) but crocheting lace,tatting,embroidering cuffs ,handkerchiefs , making baby clothes for the poor or for friends ,making pockets, purses, mittens etc was all allowable at this time of the day .


Some days you would probably receive visitors make and set trays for afternoon tea.Most visitors ,maybe curates ,people on parish business ,sunday school teachers, vergers, friends, all would require at the very least a  tea tray laying ,while many would also require cakes and possibly bread ,butter and cold meats or pies .On some other days you would make visits to parishioners, the sick ,to shops or friends.This ought to done in the afternoon as you won’t be catching the homeowners in their flurry of housework or during preparations for their evening meal ,though mill workers might be visited later in the day.


You would need to shop for items  either daily as  in most fresh  foods such as Milk Meat ,fish,fruit and some vegetables ,though some might be grown in a cottage garden and  many others might be delivered,also less frequently special trips for fabrics ,paper, medicines ,cleaning stuffs,

If going out ,put on gloves,bonnet ,shawl and cape or mantle,take muff in bad weather,if  formally visiting you should ideally change your  collar and cuffs for smarter ones,for  formal visits to upper class guests  perhaps even change your gown

Walk dogs, so again don outside wear  shawl ,bonnet ,gloves change shoes (I also think it likely there were designated walking clothes  which where older items already past their best,maybe kept in the back kitchen.As I have done a lot of Bronte work I have seen the damage done to petticoats and shoes etc by mud and peat ,even with a modern washing machine and stain remover I have never succeeded in removing peat stains from petticoats and gown and cloak hems .while soaked bonnets never again look their best ,so I think they had special bonnets ,gloves, stockings ,shoes ,maybe even petticoats and dresses in very bad weather)

muddy skirts

Make tea .evening meal

set table for evening meal,eat evening meal.

maid cleaning table

Clear evening meal plates wash and dry,scour any pans

feed scraps  to dogs and cats ,feed dogs

Light candles ,lamps etc ,maybe bedroom fires on cold nights,perhaps bring in some water ready for the next morning

put Hens chickens etc in their hutches or coups,lock doors,close shutters around the house


Free time for reading, writing ,talking,letter writing maybe ,it’s quite hard to sew by candle or lamplight so if any fine sewing was done I suspect it would be tapestry  or rug work where tiny stitches were not needed

before bed perhaps snack supper of Bread and Butter  in summer ,or bread or teacakes toasted on the fire  in winter with tea.

LP56-toast-toasting fork-fire-kettle

Evening Prayers

Let cats and dogs out

fill bedwarmers and hot water bottles ,wind clocks

,”bed down” the fires ,,covering with ashes to keep them barely in and thus avoiding having to kindle a fire in the morning and  making them safe to leave overnight without wasting fuel.

Bed ,take off ,shoes ,collar ,cuffs ,dress ,petticoats corset chemise,,stockings, put on bed socks ,nightdress ,night cap.make sure bedroom fire is safe for the night,put out your candle


About hathawaysofhaworth

I am a Historian and author living in the north
This entry was posted in 19thc, brontes, Hathaways of Haworth, history, Uncategorized, work and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to A day in the life of Emily Bronte ?

  1. Pingback: 392: chapters 29-30 - Sense and Sensibility | CraftLit

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