Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: Revealing former editor’s own story

nost 150 years'W W Yates - Editor(back) with the 1st reporters at the Dewsbury Reporter.
nost 150 years'W W Yates - Editor(back) with the 1st reporters at the Dewsbury Reporter.

On Saturday I was speaking at a literary festival in Red House Gomersal, where a great deal of history surrounding the Bronte family is stored.

Visitors were eager to know what this area was like in the early 1800s when Patrick Bronte first came here to become curate of Dewsbury Parish Church.

I was pleased to tell them that much of what had been written about Patrick’s stay here had come from the pen of a local journalist, William W Yates.

Willliam was editor of the Reporter for 36 years and in 1897 published a book about Patrick’s life entitled The Father of the Brontes.

The book had been painstakingly researched by William over a period of 20 years and he had interviewed people who had known the Brontes while living in this district.

The book contains not only details of Patrick’s stay in Dewsbury but also details of what Dewsbury was like when he arrived here in 1809.

Also a photograph showing the fireplace in the drawing-room of the old vicarage, since demolished, and an illustration of Roehead in Mirfield where Charlotte Bronte was both scholar and teacher

Mr Yates also learns from local people at that time that Patrick sympathised deeply with the working classes who were in a grievous state of poverty, ill-fed and poorly clad.

He never sought to cultivate the acquaintances of the wealthier people of Dewsbury, but instead spent most of his time visiting the poor in their humble cottages and holding prayer meetings there.

My talk the literary festival, however, was not about Patrick himself, but about the man who had used his influence while editor of the Reporter to highlight the Bronte’s connection with the town. Mr Yates was also instrumental in founding the highly respected Bronte Society which held its first meeting in Dewsbury Town Hall.

He also helped found the Bronte Museum in Haworth where Patrick was vicar for over 40 years.

Mr Yates was responsible also for bringing together many important Bronte artefacts relating to the family’s connection with this locality where the three Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne were educated.

Many local people may not realise that the Bronte Museum could very nearly started life in Dewsbury.

In the early days, when the Bronte Society was looking for somewhere to store their artefacts, the old Dewsbury Council offered the museum in Crow Nest Park.

But before the offer could be accepted, Haworth Parsonage,was put at their disposal, and everyone will agree that was the rightful place for it.

Mr William W Yates arrived in Dewsbury from Leicester to take over the position of editor of the Reporter in 1861, the same year Patrick Bronte passed away.

When he published his book about Patrick in 1897, he dedicated it “to the people of Dewsbury and District, amongst whom I have lived and worked for more than 36 years, and for whose sterling qualities of heart and mind I have great admiration.”

In the foreword to his book, he writes: “In the following chapters will be found the fruit of patient investigations, extending, with long intervals, from the year 1879, and it is hoped the perusal will enable the reader to form a clearer estimate of the man, Patrick Bronte, and remove misapprehensions.

“When the Reverend gentleman came to Dewsbury he was an entire stranger, and only the clergyman who engaged him would know anything of his past career.

“He resided here but a couple of years, and had it not been that he became the father of children who achieved fame in his lifetime, it is not at all likely that he would have had a place, however humble, in the literary annals of our country.

“Still, he was a man of considerable parts, of great strength of mind, undaunted courage, and true manliness, and it is well that those who worship his daughters as literary celebrities should know more than they have had the opportunity of learning about his character.

“Having riper knowledge of the father, they may be all the more able to appreciate the genius of the daughters.”

Mr Yates was self-trained, as most journalists were in those days, but rose to become one of the most respected men in the town.

He held an honoured place in the ranks of journalism, and with his pen, wielded great influence and earned a reputation for campaigning against abuse and injustice.

He held a number of high positions in the community, including being a member of the Board of Dewsbury District Infirmary, as well as becoming a member of the town council.

He lived in Vulcan Road, on the Flatts, within walking distance of his office, which in those days was at the top of Daisy Hill. He was a great promoter of education for the masses, and a great supporter of Dewsbury Technical School.

Sadly, when the newspaper he had served for 36 years was bought out in 1897 by a group of local businessmen, his services were not retained.

Letters appeared in the Reporter decrying this decision but the new owners stuck by their decision.

Mr Yates was 74 at the time and perhaps it was a case of a new brush sweeps clean and they wanted a younger man at the helm, we will never know..

He never worked in newspapers again but he did take the opportunity to at last publish the book he had been writing for 20 years.

In his last editorial before handing over the paper he had founded in 1858, Mr Joseph Woodhead, praised Mr Yates.

He said of him: “He has discharged his important and sometimes difficult duties with a conscientious diligence and devotion to the interests of the paper

“He has had too high a sense of honour to be a tool of any party, or the instrument of any faction, and whilst in full sympathy with the policy and aims of this newspaper, he has preserved an honourable independence which could not have been surpassed.

“His thorough integrity gained what it fully deserved, my entire confidence. My perfect trust in him has never been abused.”

Mr Yates continued to take a great interest in local matters and died in 1918. He is buried in Dewsbury Parish Chruchyard.

Perhaps someone, some day, will write a book about him.